“Don’t be scared,” was a message our parents told us over and over, writes Jay Shetty. Fear and anxiety often come hand in hand with each other to the party. We all have so much to offer the world, but fear and anxiety disconnect and limit us from our abilities. When we allow fear and anxiety into our lives, we slowly find ourselves facing our challenges less and less.
Fear is a natural part of life. It can even be a helpful guide in certain situations. So why were we taught that fear is negative and should be avoided at almost any cost? It’s ingrained in us from childhood that we need to find a way around our fear without facing it and “giving in”.
We are rarely taught that fear has a flip side. In Chapter 3 of Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty explores the flip side of fear and shows readers how to come to terms with it in a healthy way. Fear can either tear us down and keep us from our full potential, or it can build us up and be used as a tool to get to know ourselves deeper and become stronger.
Don’t Hide From Fear
Many of us spend our lives trying to avoid fear, totally ignoring the fact that fear can be used as a tool to examine and work through so we can become better and stronger versions of ourselves. We cannot fully escape fear in our lives.
“We will never fix our world to be in a place that we will live without uncertainty and fear,” writes Jay Shetty. The key here is to realize fear isn’t always bad. Jay Shetty encourages readers to think about fear as a warning we need to pay attention to and a tool to help guide us and shape us on our journey. How we move forward from the initial fear and anxiety is what truly matters.
Use Fear as a Warning
Humans are only born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises1. All other fears and anxieties are acquired throughout our lives. As we get older, fear appears over everyday, mundane things and holds us back from truly reaching our full potential and purpose. Jay Shetty writes that this often happens because we fail to see fear for what it really is – a warning.
Fear triggers a stress response like fight or flight – something that’s very important when danger is near. It gets our attention, allowing us to pivot and survive true danger. Humans developed a fear response out of a need to keep ourselves safe. When we allow fear and anxiety to hold us back, however, we are allowing it to block our true emotions around situations. The longer we hold on to fear, the more toxic it becomes.
We consciously avoid things instead of tackling our fear and moving through it. Everyone on this planet faces doubts and uncertainty, but it’s how we deal with it that defines us. We think that by avoiding things we are protecting ourselves, but is that right? In Chapter 3 of Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty encourages readers to reflect on their fears and where they may have been taught wrongly how to deal (or not deal) with fear.
Fear of Fear
Fear of fear keeps us in a cycle of misguided self-protection. We’re taught that fear is bad, so we avoid it at all costs, eventually becoming afraid of it. Eventually, we’re driven by fear to the point that we stop focusing on the real problem. We may notice fear’s warning but fail to see its guidance and apply that guidance to our lives.
Fear can show up in many different ways, but one of our primary reactions to fear is avoidance. When we think about fear, we often don’t look at everything fully.
Some examples that further explain what Jay Shetty is describing are: We aren’t scared of the dark, we are scared of what’s hiding in the dark. And sometimes when we are anxious or nervous about something, it’s actually because we are scared of not fitting in.
“When we are scared of something, we usually hide it or bury it and run away,” says Jay Shetty. This generally only amplifies the fear and anxiety around the issue because we are not actively dealing with it. What if, instead, we begin to see fear as an opportunity?
“Fear can help us identify and address patterns of thinking and behavior that don’t serve us,” writes Jay Shetty.
We let our fears drive our actions and reactions, but the truth is, fear is not our real problem. We fear the wrong things, and eventually over time, we become afraid of fear itself. We learn to let fear drive our lives and our thoughts.
“What we should really fear is that we will miss the opportunities that fear offers,” Jay Shetty explains.
Fear isn’t something to be scared of. Fear is a way for us to look at what is going on around and inside of us and use that information to change. Our fear of fear is what holds us back. Jay Shetty gives an example of how this works:
- First, we avoid adversity because we know adversity will challenge us, and that’s scary.
- When we avoid adversity, however, we fail to grow the strength we’d have gained by facing the challenge head on.
- This cycle repeats itself over and over in our lives because we want to keep ourselves in a safe bubble. This wastes a lot of time and energy.
We want to protect ourselves, but our self-protection is an illusion. We are actually holding ourselves back when we give in to fear. Much of the time, the stresses and challenges are in our lives to make us stronger. Making your fear a productive part of your life can propel you to the highest possible levels, even higher than you’ve dared to dream.
Fear keeps us from our dreams. When we allow fear into our lives, we allow ourselves to shrink back from our callings, our passions, and our dreams. When we change our perception of fear and how we react to it, however, we can keep climbing and keep going after our desires.
Stress and Fear
Stress doesn’t do a good job of classifying our problems. When we’re stressed, we don’t see things as clearly.
“When your brain shouts ‘Fear!’, your body cannot differentiate between whether the threat is real or imagined,” writes Jay Shetty. Once that signal is set off, the human body goes into fight, flight, or freeze. This reaction is a biological safety mechanism, but what happens when that mechanism is stuck in the “on” position?
Fear elicits our fight or flight stress response. This response is extremely valuable when we are in true danger, but this can become a problem over time when fear takes hold of our lives over the everyday things. The stress response can happen at any time and our body will react to the perceived danger.
Fear and Overall Health
If we stay in a state of triggered fear response, it can have a negative impact on our overall health. It becomes hard to differentiate between true danger and minor fear and anxiety, and the worst part is, we’ve let it happen.
When we allow stressful fear reactions to become commonplace, it can weaken the immune system and open the door to sickness in our lives, which creates more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.
But what would happen to us if we handled fear and stress in a productive manner?
Handling Fear Productively
When you allow yourself to deal appropriately with fear and hardship, you quickly learn that you can handle what comes and get through it.
“This gives you a new perspective: the confidence that when bad things happen, you will find ways to handle them,” writes Jay Shetty.
By changing how we react to fear, we can set ourselves up not only for increased confidence and peace of mind, but better physical health as well. We do not all have to live with the belief that fear is bad and should be avoided. Fear can be a powerful guide to self-improvement.
Fear is natural and important, but we cannot allow fear to control us and take hold of our lives. We need to be able to recognize fear and the warnings and guidelines that it is trying to bring our attention to. By recognizing and working with fear as it comes up, we are able to go farther and accomplish more!
Jay Shetty does a masterful job of taking readers through fear, its effects on us, and how to turn fear into a positive tool in Chapter 3 of his new book, Think Like a Monk. This chapter is full of great advice and wisdom to help readers recognize fear and anxiety for what it really is and use it for growth.
More From Think Like a Monk
Jay Shetty’s new book Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day will be available soon online and at all major book sellers. Pre-order your copy today by visiting the website at https://thinklikeamonkbook.com/.
1 Kounang, Nadia. “What Is the Science behind Fear?” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Oct. 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/10/29/health/science-of-fear/index.html.