The more I work with people who are struggling with habits or life problems, the more I see how fears are holding us back.
Fears stop us from building healthy and productive habits. Fears cause us to procrastinate, keep us from finding work that is meaningful (or doing that work if we’ve found it). Fears keep us from finding friends or connecting with people on a deeper level. Fears keep us from being happy in each moment.
Underlying all of those fears are a few key fears:
- Fear of failure or being unprepared
- Fear of uncertainty
- Fear of being inadequate or being rejected
The two key fears are the fears of uncertainty and not being good enough, and in my experience, they’re both the same thing. We’re afraid of the uncertain future (and uncertain situations) because we don’t think we’re good enough to handle whatever might come out of the chaos.
These two fears (uncertainty and inadequacy) affect our lives in so many ways, and yet we rarely face them. We don’t want to feel these fears, so we run. We distract ourselves. We keep busy instead of being still to feel them. We find comfort in food and smoking and alcohol and TV.
In the end, the running doesn’t work, but only makes things worse.
There’s an alternative: the Path of Fearlessness.
Three Keys to Developing Fearlessness
What would our lives be like if we didn’t have fear holding us back?
We might find the freedom and joy that comes in being present with each moment.
We might find the underlying goodness that’s always there in each of us.
We might be able to finally live the lives we’ve always wanted to live.
So how do we walk this Path of Fearlessness?
Three practices to work with:
- Facing the fear mindfully. The truth is, we rarely allow ourselves to feel our fears. We run from them, pretend they aren’t there, distract ourselves, lash out at others, trying to find control. But we don’t even admit we have these fears, most of the time, let alone actually allow ourselves to feel them. So the practice is to just sit there when you notice yourself feeling any fear, and see if you can stay with it for awhile. Don’t stay with the story about the fear in your head, but rather how it feels in your body. See that it is stressful or painful or uncomfortable. Notice the particular physical feeling of this fear, this time. See if it changes. See what you can learn about it. See if you can be compassionate with it.
- Seeing your underlying goodness. As we sit in meditation, we can see that this moment is actually pretty wonderful. And this moment includes ourselves. We are part of the unconditional goodness of every single moment, and if we sit still we can start to feel that. There is goodness in our hearts, all the time, if we allow ourselves to feel it. There is the ability to appreciate and wonder, to feel and to love, to be present and to be grateful. Start to appreciate this, and you’ll start to develop confidence that you’ll be OK, even in uncertainty, even if you’re being judged, even if you put yourself out there with vulnerability.
- Embracing the joy of groundlessness. Uncertainty is scary because we don’t like the feeling of not having stable ground under our feet. We want certainty, control, stability, permanence … but life is filled with uncertainty, impermanence, shakiness, chaos. This causes the fear. Instead, we can start to embrace this uncertainty, see the beauty in impermanence, see the positivity of groundlessness. This uncertainty means we don’t know what will happen, which means we can be surprised by every moment! We can be filled with curiosity about what will emerge. We can reinvent ourselves each moment, because nothing is set, nothing is determined. There is joy in this groundlessness, if we embrace it.
No, these are not easy practices. But you can practice with them right now, and set aside a few minutes each morning to practice. You’ll see your confidence emerge, your fears dissipate a bit, your ability to appreciate each moment and yourself grow.
The Path of Fearlessness is one of mindfulness, of daily practice, and of finding the courage to face and push past the fears into joy.
By Leo Babauta