So why do so many people struggle with anxiety and fear? Well, from time to time, we are all foolishly fooled into choosing fear over freedom. But imagine for a moment if fear and anxiety were no longer an issue for you. Think of all that you could do! Fortunately, once you understand fear, you have nothing to be afraid of.
Let’s get clear on fear. While it’s instinctual, it’s also learned. Regardless, most fear falls under the category of perceived threats. The pivotal word here is “perceived.” Our ancestors had good reason to fight off an attacking animal, flee from a hangry hippo, or freeze when hearing the sound of a snake’s rattle. Long ago, those where legitimate threats. If our fight-or-flight survival mechanism didn’t kick in, we were at serious risk of death. But these days—unless you are living in the wild—it's just no longer the case. Most things we fear are nowhere near life-threatening. We simply perceive them to be.
CRASH COURSE ON FEAR
“Jeffrey, STOP!” my mom shouted as I pushed the pedal even harder. That was followed by “I can’t believe you did that!”
I was 13 years old when my mom gave me permission to drive us to the local bank just up the road. After getting us there in one piece, all seemed well in the world . . . until it wasn't. When it was time to leave, while backing out, instead of slamming on the brake, I panicked and accidentally slammed on the gas! The poor car waiting for our spot in the parking lot never had a chance. SMASH! My first crash.
I couldn’t believe it. My mom couldn’t believe it. The guy I rammed into couldn’t believe it. It was unbelievable.
“What the hell was that!” a stranger's voice yelled as he attempted to assess the damage. “This isn’t even my car! It’s my father-in-law’s car. He’s going to kill me. I was finally earning his trust!” His voice began to fade as he was overtaken with concern. I felt horrible.
Thoughts sped through my mind as my heart nearly exploded from my chest. There goes my chance at a normal life. It’s all over now. Handcuffs. Prison. That’s all that’s left for me. I’ve gotta get out of here!
My flight response kicked in, and I ran into the nearby grocery store to hide. After what seemed like an eternity (which in reality was however long it took for them to exchange insurance information), my mom came to get me.
Somehow, she amazingly convinced the driver SHE had been the one driving. We both learned a lot that day, especially what NOT to do. Thankfully things didn’t turn out nearly as bad as I thought they would. No handcuffs… and no jail time.
The point is this: our minds are continuously playing out worst-case scenarios almost all day long. We’ve become experts at it. And even though reality rarely reflects those worst-case scenarios, our imaginations often cook up nightmarish meals that are almost impossible to digest. What’s the worst part about all of this? Our insides can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, so it’s as if we really are experiencing that nightmare over and over again. The same thing happens when we replay a bad memory: our brain tells our body it’s actually happening. (As if it’s not bad enough that it actually did happen to us once . . . ) No wonder we are so anxious.
But watch what happens when we shift our focus!
What do you know about focus? For the next minute, if you're in a safe place, I want you to remove any and all distractions and just focus on this exercise… on focus.
Look around the room and pick an object to focus on that is at least 10 feet away. Got it?
Now, with your thumb up, stick out your fist and point it directly at that object so it almost disappears behind your thumb.
Next, without moving your hand, focus on your thumb for a few seconds. Watch how everything behind it begins to blur.”
Now keep your thumb there, but focus on the object for a few seconds instead of your thumb. Watch how your thumb begins to blur.
Lastly, try as hard as you can to focus on your thumb and the object at the same time.
How did it go? Did you notice anything interesting? The point of this exercise is twofold.
You cannot focus on more than one thing at a time.
When you focus on one thing, everything else becomes a blur.
FREEDOM from FEAR
It’s been scientifically proven that Fear and Gratitude are mutually exclusive. Which means…You cannot experience fear and gratitude at the same time. Which means…If you are filled with worry, full of anxiety, or focused on fear, gratitude is literally out of the picture; when you focus on fear, you cannot focus on gratitude. But now for some good news: this works both ways. If you focus on gratitude, you cannot focus on fear! Which leads to one of gratitude’s greatest benefits, namely that when you choose gratitude, you experience freedom from fear.
Choosing gratitude furnishes freedom from fear! In addition to science, Scripture even backs this up. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, I find it fascinating that it says: Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything—with gratitude—and you will experience God’s unfathomable peace.
BONUS TIP (Anxiety vs Excitement)
Did you know that anxiety and excitement manifest identically? In other words, your body can’t tell the difference between the two. However, if you’re like me, you much prefer excitement over nervousness. So With that in mind, the next time you’re feeling nervous, simply replace the words “anxious” or “nervous” with “excited.” Rather than think Boy, oh boy, am I nervous! think Boy, oh boy, am I excited! The change is subtle, but the resulting difference is not.
So allow fear to fade out of focus. As you choose gratitude more and more, you experience fear less and less. And with gratitude in your future, fear becomes a thing of the past.