Is Fear a Choice? (#870)

There is a trailer for Will Smith’s new movie, After Earth, which contains the following lines:

“Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.”

It’s a beautiful sentiment, but each time I watch the trailer, the same question occurs for me:

Is fear really a choice?

In order to answer that question, let’s first take a deeper look at the nature of fear.

What is fear, really? Have you ever wondered where it goes when it’s not there anymore? Or where it comes from in the first place?

One of the most interesting things about fear is that it always seems to either come from something outside of us (an environmental stimulus) or from something inside our heads but separate from us – what my mentor George Pransky calls “psychological bogeymen”.

Yet when you look closely, you’ll find that every fear you experience is actually made of thought. It’s not “false evidence appearing real”, as the acronym suggests – it’s thought appearing real. We react to the thought of a raccoon biting or dentist drilling or person shouting as if it was actually happening to us right here, right now, and then attribute our fear to the raccoon, dentist, or person shouting.

In The Inside-Out Revolution, I share the analogy of a person drawing a picture of a monster on a piece of paper and then running out of the room in terror. The exact moment the person sees that the monster is just a drawing and can’t hurt it, the fear is gone and there’s nothing left to be done.

imagine waking up from a nightmare. One moment you’re totally engrossed in fighting off vampire zombies and the next your eyes are open and the vampire zombies are gone. You may still have a little bit of adrenaline coursing through your veins, but there are no lasting after-effects. No healing is necessary. You just get up and get on with your day.

We notice a scary thought in our mind, and because we do not recognize thought as the creator of the feeling, we are run ragged by it.  We do all sorts of things to avoid an imaginary consequence that has been constructed in our own mind. But the moment we recognize that only thought can create feeling, the very same thing that was so frightening becomes fascinating.

And the same possibility for freedom exists at the heart of all fear. The moment we see that our own deepest, darkest fears are 100% made of thought, we open up the space in our minds for our innate health, wisdom, and well-being to come through. There may well still be things to do in the world to create the outcomes we desire – but we will do them based on what is actually wanted and needed in each situation, not as a knee-jerk fight or flight response to our own unrecognized thinking. And in the very moment we recognize that thought is the only creator of our experience, the same world that once seemed so frightening becomes an endlessly, wonderfully fascinating place to be.

Which brings us back to our initial question:

Is fear really a choice?

Well, In those moments where i recognize thought as the source of my fear, we could say I can choose whether or not to indulge them – but that’s like saying you have a choice between hitting yourself in the head with a 2×4 or not hitting yourself in the head with it. In those moments where you’re aware that’s where your headache is coming from, you’re extremely unlikely to choose to keep doing it.

Since I don’t even know what I’m going to be thinking sixty seconds from now, it’s apparent to me that the vast majority of the time, I don’t choose my thoughts. And since fear is made of thought, it seems to me that the majority of the time, I don’t really choose whether or not to feel afraid.

But here’s the good news:

Since I can at least intellectually recognize that the source of all fear is thought, I don’t have to make a big deal out of being afraid. I neither need to hide from seemingly scary things nor “feel the fear and do it anyways”. I can simply move forward in the face of all my ever changing thoughts, including the scary ones. And because I’m not scared of fear, I am left with something even more powerful than choice – true and absolute freedom.

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy the ride!

With all my love,
Michael

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