Friday, June 21, 2024

What Are You Afraid Of?

I’ve had an exceptionally good week. Everything that could have gone right did. A few times, I had to pause to ask myself what I had done to deserve it; and then I realised that was the wrong question.

What I should have been asking myself is, why now? What had changed in my life to prompt this avalanche of blessings? I knew that in order to see a difference in my life on the outside, first, I had to change on the inside.

Then it hit me: I had let go of my fear.

This was not a huge, cataclysmic event. It was a subtle, gradual shift that came about as I consistently tried to stop negative rumination.

I stopped anticipating the worst and began considering more positive alternatives.
Often times, especially when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, we start to think about what could go wrong and how to avoid it. I’m not an expert on paranoia, but here’s where I believe it stems from.

The temptation to compare new, unfamiliar experiences to past experiences; and to use those past experiences as a basis to predict how the present will turn out, can be overwhelming.

We may do this because we have been disappointed, either by an unfaithful partner, a tyrannical supervisor, or some such person in our lives. We go into new relationships expecting old dynamics, even though we’re dealing with completely different people.

Have you ever wondered why the same relationship patterns seem to play themselves out in your life?
You change jobs but end up with the same oppressive boss; or you change your spouse only to have the new one exhibit similar behaviour to the old one? It’s because everywhere you go, you take yourself with you. They’re not the problem; you and your negative expectations are!

Often, we try to use our past experiences to navigate the present; and to predict how the future will turn out.

Mostly, we’re not imaging how well things could go; we’re trying to minimise our turmoil down the road.

Drawing on past experience can be a very good thing. It’s how we manage to tie our shoelaces, brush our teeth and drive to work every day without having to relearn the same thing every morning. The trouble is, we do this with more than our shoe laces. We also extend it to our experiences with people.

We create mental files; and the longer we’ve been around, the larger our files; and the more entrenched our views on the world and life in general. We start to think in a certain way; our thoughts become habitual; and our habits become our beliefs.

I used to form opinions about people within minutes of meeting them. Most of them were not very charitable. They were based on ‘evidence’ I had gathered from dealing with ‘the same kind’ of people, evidence contained in my mental files. I was suspicious and determined to foresee every possible disaster. I lived in fear.

Despite my objective of trying to pre-empt disaster, I actually felt worse, not better, as a result of my morbid imaginings. I developed testy relationships, not due to anything people had actually done to me, but to what I expected they might do.

If the actions of one person disappointed me, my guard about people went up; and that became reflected in my actions towards others. This naturally elicited the reaction that I feared; and so the vicious cycle continued.

Our past experiences have absolutely nothing to do with our present or future experiences. Focusing on them does not prepare us to deal with tough situations. In fact, all it does is erode our happiness in the moment.

In many cases, the things we fear never come to pass. However, the longer we ponder fearful thoughts, particularly if they are accompanied by strong negative emotions, the quicker we draw the very things we fear into our lives ÔÇô they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

And then we use this as ‘evidence’ to prove to ourselves that this really is a dog-eat-dog world; that people simply can’t be trusted.

What are you afraid of, your partner being unfaithful, or people getting the credit for your ideas? Do you go through your partner’s cell phone looking for incriminating text messages; or maintain a distance from people who could enrich your life?

You need not live in fear. We have absolute control of what happens to us through our expectations and beliefs. This week, I received evidence of that.

I was thrown into a project with two strangers. Initially, I worried about all the things that could go wrong. I feared I would be exposed as incompetent; and that we would have personality clashes. However, I changed one key ingredient ÔÇô once I became aware of my negative thoughts, I started looking for more positive (more plausible) alternatives.

For example, my results to date did not suggest that I was incompetent in this field; and the friends in my life meant I couldn’t be so bad. I started disputing my own negative thinking.
I looked for more positive scenarios, not necessarily related to the project. If I couldn’t muster positive images, I simply observed the present moment. I noted that none of the terrible things I was imagining even existed, and perhaps never would.

This small but persistent action caused a shift that paid off. I had one of the best working experiences ever; and I feel empowered to deal with other situations that may arise.
It’s not that my colleagues were perfect ÔÇô nobody is. It’s that I started to look for the good in the situation, and I found it, for we always find the evidence to support what we think.
You create your reality, so stop being afraid. Change your mental files and develop new, more empowering beliefs.

It takes time but I guarantee you, if you stick with this, you will finally know the true meaning of freedom!


Read this week's paper