“Whenever you’ve felt profound fear, it was usually linked to the presence of danger, imminent pain or death, said security firm founder and author of the classic book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin DeBecker. In a National Public Radio interview he said, “When you feel fear, try to ‘link’ it back to a past situation where the feeling that was similar to see if your fear is, in fact, justified.”
Honing this ability may not protect us from some kinds of acts of violence such as the Orlando shooting, or the horrific, perpetual shootings and executions in Syria. Yet it can help us to recognize when threats from employees, nearby strangers or others we encounter may turn to violence. Protect yourself from being a victim. Anticipate the patterns of impending danger in most cases, by listening to your instinct of genuine fear and take action. DeBecker’s book offers specific criteria for how you can better protect yourself by learning to recognize and act on the intuitive signals you pick up but reject as unfounded.
Worry, on the other hand, is the fear we manufacture. Worry, anxiety, concern and wariness all have a purpose, but they are not fear. Any time your dreaded outcome cannot be reasonably linked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, then it really should not be confused with fear.
See Worry As a Form of Self-Harassment
Worry will not bring solutions. Worry distracts from finding solutions.
To free yourself from worry sooner, understand what it really is. Most people worry because it provides some secondary reward such as:
- Worry is a way to avoid change; when we worry, we don’t do anything about the matter.
- Worry allows us to avoid admitting powerlessness over something, since worry feels like we’re doing something. Prayer also makes us feel like we’re doing something, and even the most committed agnostic will admit that prayer is more productive than worry.
- Worry is a cloying way to have a connection with others. Worry somehow shows love. The other side of this is the belief that not worrying about someone means you don’t care about that person. As many people who’ve been worried about know well, worry is a poor substitute for love or for taking loving action.
- Worry is a protection against future disappointment. After you complete an important project where the success of your approach won’t be known for some while, for example, you can worry about it.
Ostensibly, if you can feel the experience of failure now, rehearse it, so to speak, by worrying about it, then failing won’t feel as bad when it happens. But how would you want to spend the time while you find out: worrying, playing or initiating another action on another endeavor?
There is a Pay-off for Worry But Not a Healthy One
For some people, worrying is a “magical amulet”, according to Emotional Intelligence author, Daniel Goleman. Some people feel it wards off danger. They truly believe that worrying about something will stop it from happening.
Most of what people worry about has a low probability of occurring, because we tend to take action about those things we feel are likely to occur. This means that very often the mere fact that you are worrying about something is a predictor that it isn’t likely to happen.
The connection between real fear and worry is similar to the relationship between pain and suffering. Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary parts of life. Worry interrupts clear thinking, wastes time, and shortens your life. When worrying, ask yourself, “How does this serve me?”
To be freer of fear and yet still get its gift, consider these techniques:
- When you feel fear, listen.
- When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it.
- If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why so you can step away from that preoccupation.
We Choke on Anxiety
Anxiety, unlike real fear and like worry, is always caused by uncertainty. it is caused, ultimately, by predictions in which you have little confidence. If you predict you will be fired and you are certain that your prediction is correct, you don’t have anxiety about being fired, but about the ramifications of losing a job.
Predictions in which you have a high confidence free you to respond, adjust, feel sadness, accept, prepare, or to do whatever you need to do. You can reduce your anxiety by improving your predictions, thus increasing your certainty. It’s worth doing, because the word anxiety, like worry, stems from a root definition, “to choke,” and that is just what it does to us.
Our imaginations can be fertile soil in which worry and anxiety grow from seeds to weeds, but when we assume the imagined outcome is a sure thing, we are in conflict with what Proust called an inexorable law: “Only that which is absent can be imagined.” In other words, what you imagine — just like what you fear — is not happening.