Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Don’t fear the ‘ultimate fear’



John Bittleston,

WHAT is most important in your life: Health, love, money, security, happiness? All are important, but before you can acquire any of these, you must have freedom from fear.

Fear of rejection, of failure, of loss, of self-dislike — they all drive us. Parenting, education, religion and management involve elements of fear. Too much fear.

The ultimate fear is of fear itself, telling us that we are not happy with who we are and that we are unprepared for who or what we may become. Ultimate fear is increasing because of the threats to our way of life. What can we do about it?

People handle “ultimate fear” by ignoring it or pretending they know the answer when they do not. Both ostriches are acceptable, but neither is very satisfactory. Like unpaid debts, they postpone the time when we must face up to them. Fear does not go away; it multiplies until we deal with it.

To face fear successfully, we must take action. Uncertainty, the main cause of fear, is part of our lives. We cannot, or do not, forecast very much. Our analysis of the consequences of what we do is inadequate. Uncertainty exerts pressure on us; we need to deal with that pressure with grace. In fact, the definition of courage is “grace under pressure”.

To realise that there is no guaranteed security is itself paradoxically reassuring. We learn to cope with what comes our way, get the right help and free ourselves from the dark unknown.

Here are five ways to deal with fear. Professionals can help, too, and you may occasionally need to call on them. Try the following first.

1. Write down what currently worries you. Be honest. Do not pretend that one thing worries you when it is quite another.

2. Against each of your worries, write the very best and the very worst possible outcomes. Be sensible; exaggerated extremes do not help solve the problem. This is the real world, not a paralysing nightmare.

3. For each worry, write what you think will be the outcome. Your forecast will not necessarily come true, but nobody else is going to forecast better.

If your forecasts are all gloomy, predicting that the worst will happen with each worry, you have a problem. It may be a little one, cured by a couple of days on Valium tablets — only your doctor can tell you that.

On the other hand, you may have clinical depression. This is not a sin or a judgment; it is a medical condition and requires professional treatment. About one in every 250 Mentees who comes to me needs therapy, generally only for a very short time.

4. If you do not need professional treatment, consider the most important of the worries, and write down what you could do to reduce the problem. Maybe a lower targeted wage, perhaps a word of apology or even a friendly chat with the boss or spouse could make the outcome a little more acceptable.

The point is not whether that will solve the problem; the sort of problems you are likely to be dealing with are not that easily solved. The point is that taking any helpful action, however small, will reduce the worry somewhat.

5. Show you care for someone a little more than usual. When all is said and done, our lives are not much more than loving and being loved. We all know that, but we sometimes forget it. The best action we can take to distract ourselves from worry is to care for someone else.

It is useful for them, too.

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 04-May-2009

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