How much is fear affecting your daily life?
Jane and I recently spent several days on a trip to California. It was an amazing trip. One we were fortunate to take. But towards the end of it, I reflected on how I could have enjoyed myself even more if I hadn’t been so afraid of so many things.
Sounds like a funny statement, right? Fear, in sunny, gorgeous California? How does that compute?
Well, it hit me one night after a long day of walking around San Francisco. Jane and I had settled into the hotel room to watch Vertigo, which is not just a classic Hitchcock movie but also a classic San Fran movie. The main characters are paralyzed by fear. One fears heights, and the other fears being exposed as a fraud and losing her man (yeah, it was the fifties).
It was easy to mock these characters—until I thought of the ways I myself had been fearful during our West Coast adventures. For someone obsessed with the potential paths to heroism, I sure had been acting like a ‘fraidy cat.
I’m going to focus on just one type of those fears today. Does the below sound familiar? And how can we counteract it?
Fear of failure
Now a lot of this is going to sound silly and first-world-problemy. Because it is.
Our friends were getting married in Big Sur, and they needed a lot of help setting up for the wedding. So a whole crew of folks set to work. I started to help Jane with stringing up some lights, and creating streamers to string up as well. But I was afraid I’d mess it all up. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it right and would thus displease the couple of honor.
I ended up feeling most at ease while literally bashing a rock in the ground to make holes for wooden stakes in the ceremony area. I was sure I couldn’t mess that up. Talk about a low-stakes task. (HA! What does he win, Johnny?)
So what did I have to be afraid of? A scolding from the bride or groom? They were just happy to have so much help from everyone. Humiliation in front of my wife? Well, she’s seen me with my pants down before.
Nope, the harshest critic of my actions was bound to be the voice in my own head.
This same voice popped up numerous other times during the trip. Hurry up, you’re never going to make that bus. Don’t even try that activity, you’ll look like a jackass. Don’t bother striking up a conversation, that person doesn’t want to talk to you.
Hell of a voice to bring along with me on vacation. But my head was the suitcase, and I couldn’t very well not bring that along. Hmm.
Fighting the fear
Now, of course that voice telling me I’m going to fail is the same one that nattered in my ear during the years I spent writing draft after draft of my novel Player Choice. Personal and professional fears often spring from the same well of anxiety. And the professional side is what much of the advice online addresses, if you ask the internet “How can I fight my fear of failure?”
But instead of “visualizing obstacles” or writing your inner voice’s statements in the second person or performing any number of other convoluted exercises, you might find a simpler suggestion far more helpful:
Focus on the present moment.
My therapist once told me (okay, it was actually just last week) that “Anxiety lives in the future. Depression lives in the past.” Only by living in the present moment can we hope to achieve anything resembling calmness. Because when we’re inventing stories about what will happen if/when we fail, we’re completely ignoring the present.
Mindfulness is the term for focusing your attention on everything happening in the present moment. It comes from Buddhist traditions of meditation. But it’s actually becoming more accepted—and supported by data—as a secular psychological means of treating anxiety and stress.
It was right here in New England that Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn used mindfulness as the basis to establish the Stress Reduction Clinic, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Apparently now there are mindfulness instructors across the country and in thirty other countries, too. Though you definitely don’t need an instructor to get started.
I’m going to be giving mindfulness a shot. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’ve had any similar struggles with fears that have been holding you back, maybe you’ll want to look into it too.
Here’s to peace in the present moment of reality (while still putting our fictional characters through hell, of course).
P.S.: The first part of my new book is out now on Amazon! Check out The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley: Part 1 — it’s got a bunch of five-star reviews already. Don’t worry, ol’ Mark won’t be getting over his fears anytime soon . . .