Of all the emotions that influence our everyday decisions through life, the most limiting is undoubtedly fear. It’s the reason we often refrain from trying new things, meeting new people, or opening ourselves up to different ideas. This can definitely be a problem for those of us that are trying to make the most out of every day. Because unfortunately, some of the things that are most worth experiencing these days come with a little fear on the side, and if we aren’t able to push ourselves past this feeling, we really miss out. So what are we to do about these fears that nudge us toward the easy, boring paths in life and prevent us from fully experiencing everything existence has to offer?
Recently I had a close encounter with fear that completely changed the way I look at its role in my life and how I approach my fears every day. One hot day this past summer, a couple of friends and I took a trip to Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Minnesota to enjoy the simple pleasures of jumping off cliffs. Now I’m all for outdoor swimming, picnics on the shore, and lying under the hot sun, but cliff-jumping was new and a little less appealing to me. It became even more dreadful as I got closer to the popular diving areas. Naturally, not having gone cliff-jumping before, I stood at the top of the diving area, watching children show me up one by one as they took the jump without hesitation. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to think as I worked up the nerve to bring myself to the edge, and I had a few life-changing realizations about fear that have helped me branch out more every day since.
My first epiphany about fear is simple: our fears are outdated. Fear is now an obsolete emotion that was originally designed to keep us safe in a world full of deadly obstacles. It encouraged us to run from hungry predators, kept us away from poisonous insects, and motivated us to take shelter from the dangerous forces of nature. It guided us to act in accordance with maximizing our ability to pass our genes on to future generations. But we live in a changed world. We have progressed to a new point in civilization where these ancient threats are minimal in our lives and don’t deserve the amount of fear that our bodies think they do. We live in a different world but still have the emotional tools from thousands of years ago. In this sense, our fears are not very applicable to most situations that we face today.
The conundrum that I faced in the moment of this realization is that it helped me make sense of my fears and recognize how meaningless they are, but failed to help me overcome them. It sure didn’t get me any closer to the edge as I stood there with these exact thoughts running through my mind. Then I made my second discovery: fear, like all emotions, is not rational. What I mean by this is that fear is not a logical calculation done by your brain to guide you through the correct choices day by day. Rather, it is an innate response from your brain to a certain general stimulus, such as height in my case. What I gathered from this idea in that moment was that no matter how much I tried to reason myself toward the edge of that cliff, my fear wasn’t going to budge. No matter how much I thought about the softness of water or the relative sizes of other cliffs, that fear that was holding me back wasn’t going to leave.
So there I was, getting awfully hot under the summer sun, still just as afraid to take the leap, convinced that there was no way to reason myself out of this fear, when my friend Jacob stepped in with the final piece of the puzzle: just stop thinking. And before I could say: “You know me too well,” I was soaring through the air, trying to take in every last drop of my first experience with flight before I would splash into the depths of the quarry. I’m not sure which felt better; the cool and bubbly water against my sunburnt skin or my newfound freedom from fear.
This is how I found success facing my fears, and how I feel that everyone can quickly learn to acquire a greater freedom where fear has little to no role in the choices they make. The key to this personal freedom amidst a sea of these fearful emotions is through spontaneous action without thought. So next time fear stands between you and experience, shut your brain off and follow your own desires without second thought. There is no reasoning your way out of fear, and I have found that the more practice you get with this spontaneity of action without thought, the easier it becomes to live freely despite these outdated fears. So go find a cliff, preferably next to a deep body of water, and take the first leap in your journey toward a life of freedom and experience; a life without the restraint of fear.