Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, said it succinctly: “Back in the Serengeti, the animals that were relaxed and unconcerned got eaten, and the nervous vigilant ones survived.” Fear for our survival is wired into our DNA!
Just ignoring a fear and pushing through it may work fine for brute force labor, but if you are serious about increasing your impact and influence in the world, you’ll want to sift through the fear that shows up around being more exposed to find the wisdom buried within.
Clients often wonder, how do I know when to listen to a fear about getting “bigger” and when to ignore it? Sometimes fear shows you where to pay attention and what to avoid. Fearlessness is not always a good thing!
I remember reading a news story about a young pilot who crashed a helicopter, killing 2 patients and a medic along with himself. It was a preventable tragedy because during the time of flight planning and while airborne, he sent 58 texts to a friend about dinner plans!
Even though he made a stop midway to his destination, he missed two takeoff checklist opportunities to notice that he didn’t have enough fuel to complete his journey. This is a perfect example of how lack of vigilance costs lives. The equivalent in your business could be ignoring industry best practices which cost you your income, health, and life balance.
But at the same time, fear and hyper-alertness can be paralyzing and counterproductive.
How do you know when to stop and when to go?
Curiosity clears the way to truth, and cats in new territory are a wonderful example of the interplay between curiosity and fear. Feral cats are especially adept at this because survival skills are a real life-and-death matter for them.
A few years ago I took my formerly feral cat Minka to his new home on a farm because he was getting too wild for indoor life. He’s a brash rough-and-tumble guy, but it took us nearly 20 minutes to coax him out of his carrier into a much larger 3-level temporary cage. He would poke his head out and peer around, then suddenly jerk back into the comfort of the carrier.
It was clear that Minka wanted to see what was out there, yet he kept diving for cover at regular intervals just in case. It was an amazing dance to watch because no external threat caused his abrupt retreats, only the wisdom of his DNA. And, over time, his curiosity led him to realize that no threat existed.
Curiosity has the power to navigate and even overcome fear in two ways.
First, curiosity about a fear leads the way to realistic assessment of what’s blocking an opportunity. Here’s an example — is stage fright showing you need some training before starting your book tour, or are you a seasoned speaker who just needs to calm your nervous system? Get curious. Is this fear a realistic warning of impending bad results, or is it simply old wiring that needs to be healed?
Second, curiosity about an opportunity can inspire you to get past the numbing influence of fear, just as Minka couldn’t resist poking his head out and looking around. When fear gets the upper hand and keeps you from moving forward, that is the time to cultivate curiosity. What would this opportunity feel like if I had no fear? Who would I be if I stepped into making a difference in many more lives than I reach now?
The world needs your gifts – stay curious about what’s in front of you, and the wisdom within your fears will be revealed.