How to overcome fear
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
I first heard this popular ‘litany against fear’ when watching the Children of Dune miniseries that aired on TV over a decade ago.
This was back when the SyFy channel was still spelled as Sci-Fi and you recorded tv shows with blank VHS tapes. Needless to say, I went through a lot of VHS tapes for this miniseries.
Looking back on it, the protagonist Leto Atreides was nothing short of a self-help guru when he declared this litany against a very real threat coming his way.
Nowadays, not much has changed. We still face fear and struggle with it practically on the hour.
Don’t believe me?
I wouldn’t have believed it either just a year ago. Back then, I’d picked up Gabrielle Bernstein’s “Spirit Junkie”, in which she posits that we live every day in fear and don’t even realize it.
I immediately resisted the idea. Living in fear? Uhm, I don’t think so, I thought. I’m not afraid of anything. I’m certainly not some slave to any overwhelming, oppressive fears.
Besides, I came from a super-evangelical Christian background, where “God has not given you a spirit of fear” was drilled into my mind like war-time propaganda. So if I was afraid of something, it meant I wasn’t praying hard enough, didn’t have enough faith, or had missed out on the whole ‘anti-fear’ survival kit in the grand assembly line.
It was safer to believe I didn’t fear anything.
Until it wasn’t anymore.
Are you familiar with that tiny little voice in your head?
You know the one I’m talking about. It provides the inner-chatter, or self-dialogue, or cinematic voiceover for your every action:
What do I feel like eating? Maybe a salad. No, I want something hot. Baked potato? Soup?
I really shouldn’t buy this chocolate bar…
I’m running late! I hope I get there in time. I shouldn’t have stopped for breakfast. I hope my boss isn’t going to be mad.
Oh my God, he smiled at me. Okay, act cool. Play hard to get. I wonder what he thinks about me. Maybe I should ask him if he’d like to grab a coffee later? No. I should let him make the first move.
Sound familiar yet? We all have this voice, and however tiny it is compared to the cacophony outside of us, it’s this small voice that guides us more than anything else.
Unfortunately, that inner voice can be crueler than a high school queen bee and its perceptions of you, your situation, and the people around you are often laced with acidic judgmentalism and crippling fears.
Let’s visit some examples:
I don’t really agree with what they’re saying but I’m not even going to bother stating my opinion. If I do, it’s just going to cause conflict and I hate conflict. Plus, they’re going to think I’m weird. They won’t want to be my friends anymore. They won’t like me. I’ll just go with the flow for now.
She never approves of anything I do. I don’t even know why I bother. When I mention my newest plans tonight, I already know she’s going to ridicule me and be unsupportive.
This job opportunity sounds amazing but I don’t have all the qualifications they’re looking for. They’re probably going to think I’m a joke for even applying. They’ll just toss my resume aside because they’ll know I’m not good enough. Why even waste time? I’ll just keep looking for other jobs.
I really like him but I already know the relationship’s not going to work out. Any number of things will happen: we’ll grow apart, he’ll cheat on me or leave me, we’ll argue about stupid things, or I’ll lose my identity in the relationship. It’s better to just avoid relationships altogether. At least that way, I’ll never get hurt.
The possible scenarios are endless and cover every facet of life.
We all have something that we’re afraid of and most of the time, we’re not even aware of this internal monologue taking place in our minds.
Yet just like hinges operate a door and a tiny rudder operates a massive ship, this seemingly harmless small voice is wreaking havoc on our lives.
It causes us to close up against love. It causes us to project paralyzing fears onto others. It causes us to play small professionally. It causes us to be inauthentic in our friendships and relationships.
And you want to know the craziest thing about it all?
The things we fear are things that only exist in our mind!
Take another look at the examples I gave above. In each one, the fear stemmed from a situation that was entirely imaginary—it hadn’t come to pass yet; it in fact has never as of yet existed.
The person afraid of conflict with friends or co-workers is simply imagining the conflict happening, but there’s no guarantee it will.
The woman afraid of a possible new relationship is imagining all the sour ways it may end—perhaps based on the way other relationships ended—but she’s still imagining an end that may never come to pass!
We’re such imaginative beings, but more often than not, we’re telling ourselves stories with endings that are disempowering and we thereby never realize our potential or live the meaningful and fulfilling life that’s ours for the taking.
So my question to you is: what story are you telling yourself?
Here’s an exercise to help you find out:
1) What are the ways your inner voice is telling you a story based on fear? (example: if you share your opinion, people won’t like you; if you start dating, you’re going to get hurt)
2) How do you respond and how does that response feel? (example: you close yourself off to people to protect yourself from getting hurt but you feel empty, disconnected, and lonely as a result)
Continue the exercise until you’ve listed out all the fears currently affecting your behavior. Then go through each one and make this declaration:
“I choose to see this story differently. I acknowledge my fear but it will no longer write the ending to this story. I allow my fear to pass through me. I hereby take my control back.”
The last step is simply being aware from here on out of that wily inner voice’s commentary. And remember, it will make an appearance regularly throughout the day.
But YOU get to choose whether to follow along with its narrative or not. So the next time it starts to whisper to your mind, hit the brakes and declare, “I choose to see this story differently.”
And little by little…you will.
In closing, I leave you with an amazing clip from the 2013 movie After Earth, starring Will Smith. The 60-second speech on how to overcome fear here is amazing and life-changing.