How Fear Influences Your Everyday Life (1)

This is the first post in a two part series on how fear influences your everyday life. In this first post I will try to dissect how fear is wired in to our current life without a valid reason. In the second part I will explore how society is actually stimulating this fear-based lifestyle, at the same time offering us a solution in materialistic form, instead of supporting us to deal with it internally.

Fear in Everyday Conversation

We all experience a sense of fear on a regular basis. Popping up whenever we see something happen we do not like, or when we think of something that might happen in the future. We are afraid of an exam, afraid to tell the truth or afraid to change the way we act. The feeling of being afraid is so normal that there are sentences like: “I am afraid this is not going work” or “I am afraid I am not going to make it on time”. Whereas, these sentences are used as messages, the words they contain are connected to feelings deeper rooted in our organisms.

The simplicity of these messages and the frequency with what we use them is a sign of how deeply rooted fear is in our behavior. If we do not pay attention a lot of our behavior and decisions, unknowingly will be based on fear. I for example, notice that I often feel stress and act stressed when I have to get too many things done in “too little” time. This is an example of fear-based behavior. As soon as I realize that stressing it does not support me to achieve my goal in any case, and that time is a subjective phenomenon anyway, it becomes easier to let go of these feelings.

In general though, we might be afraid to engage in new ventures, relationships or a change of life direction, all leaving us paralyzed in the present. Regardless of the probability of success of the desired choice, the result will always be the same; no change.

Origin and Consequence

Fear can be the consequence and origin of a wide variety of feelings. Fear by itself, awkwardness, shame and insecurity are definitely feelings that are connected in a lot of situations. While these feelings are usually blacklisted in our life – we do not want to feel them – they corrupt our decision making and behavior even more this way.

I for myself, can feel insecure before engaging in a conversation, definitely when I do not speak the language fluently. Another reason might be, when I have to tell somebody something I think they will not like in that moment. I experienced this both in my personal life as at work. Whereas, in the former this would be about speaking true to my feelings, in the latter it usually meant speaking the truth, and supposedly provoking a feeling of disappointment in my client. On both occasions though, these short-term “negative” effects do not mean anything when compared to what is to be gained from knowing the truth.

Essential

However, fear is probably the single most essential feeling to ensure the progression of our physical life. This sensation focuses all our attention in the present, diminishes the importance of any other feeling, heightens our essential physical abilities, and inhibits conscious decision making. Because, it is time to run away from a charging lion, safe a child from a speeding car or to steer clear of a creepy person in the night.

Nevertheless, we now connect these primal feelings with none life-threatening situations. Feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence supported by unnatural expectations from our environment constantly trigger fear(like) responses. School, work, schedules, planning, culture, social values and traffic together with constructs like time and money create an environment full of “dangers”.

Where fear might be experienced as it is, it might also develop into different behavior. This makes it harder to see where the origin of the discomfort is. Possibly, even developing in to chronic health problems. Take a look around your social environment (including yourself), and you will definitely encounter somebody that lives a fear-based life. It should be no surprise that these people look and act tense, and eventually live tense, marking their body and behavior with fear.

Acceptance

Where it is hard to block out all sensations of fear, it is the blocking of these types of emotions that actually strengthens them. To me though, it makes more sense to feel the fear and then deal with it, instead of steering clear. As soon as we get comfortable feeling fear it gets easier to deal with situations that arouse it. At the same time, allowing us to question both the situation and the feeling itself. Where after, it is possible to see this feeling for what it really is, and we might get to a point where we realize that it is actually provoked by something else.

Next week I will continue with what “something else” might be. Please come back next week to read on.

What Is Authenticity?

Two blog posts ago I wrote about why I started Quest for Authenticity and I will now continue to explore what authenticity means and how I think going on this quest has already helped me live a more fulfilling life.

Awareness

To me, the thing that stands out most strikingly in this process, is the importance of becoming aware of what is ours in our lives, and what is not. Consequently, it is possible to make a conscious decision on what we would like to include and what to exclude. Because, from the moment  we enter this world up to this very moment there has been, and will be, continuous input from both inside and outside ourselves. Regardless of the origin of these inputs, their effects on us are all equally real. The problem is though, that in most cases nobody teaches us how to deal with all of these inputs.

When we zoom out though, it becomes visible that a lot of these inputs are results of a societal belief-system rather than the result of personal needs. In western society, our culture has become increasingly materialistic and focused on education, money, and performance whereas in Middle-Eastern society, for example, a more traditionally family oriented belief-system is still in place. The result in both occasions, however, is that we end up living lives that we think are ours but are actually far from it.

Authenticity as a Painting

I like to think of this way of life as a painting. When we are born we actually have a blank painting, nevertheless society drew all the lines already. The way it is now, we are only allowed to color in our painting. The idea of finding your own authentic way of life though is, to look at your painting and question every color and line in there. Is this what I want it to look like? Where after you can decide to keep it in this way, change it or erase it, leaving space for something new.

What is Normal?

Currently though, the first thing that will be decided on is whether we are normal or not normal. Normal in this case means that we are allowed to start the path into society along the most convenient way – starting in kindergarten until we get our degree. Subsequently, we are eligible to start producing and consuming to keep the bubble of our western society floating.

However, if you are not qualified as normal, you will either have to become normal by doing therapy, using medication or just pretending to be. After this, you might still be eligible to enter the “regular” path of life. If this still does not work out, there is an alternative trajectory which reduces your chances of a free life in almost every way. The criteria for normal and not normal vary depending on where you are from. In some cases skin color or the amount of money is already enough to put you in one of the categories, while in other cases a certain mental health status might determine your trajectory.

However, the way we view skin color, mental health, body composition, physical capacity and book-learning capabilities are all labels and measurements created by us humans. We have defined what is normal and what is not normal. This way, the reigning paradigm can be kept in place easier, and threats to it can be suppressed and quarantined. Think of all the medication prescribed for certain mental health “disorders”. In this, we are made to believe that there is only one reality, and that is the one that is systematically being forced upon us. At the same time we get the false idea that all of this is necessary for our own well-being.

So when we realize this we can come to a point where we might decide to view things a little differently. We can start changing, erasing and refilling parts of the painting of life. Do you agree with the normal – not normal division? Do you think that money is more important than health? Do you agree with the amount of hours we have to work every week? Do you agree with school being more important than playing at home? Do you agree with the idea that somebody who finished his Masters’ degree is smarter than somebody quitting high-school? And do you agree with the idea that when you are not working you are not productive?

These and a million other normal things within our western society are results of this belief-system silently agreed upon. However, when we become aware of this and actively use this awareness, we can make a conscious decision on anything in life. Therefore, my Quest for Authenticity is really about reviewing these concepts and to decide on their part in my life. While there are both useful and useless things to our western society, both of them are there without question until you start questioning them for yourself, and start to paint your own painting.

Redefining Continuously

Personally, in this on-going process I am redefining concepts like the importance of work, time, laziness, health, and money. I am trying to reduce the influence of the latter in my decision taking, by looking for alternatives when it comes to spending it.

Also, feelings of insecurity and fear I try to accept and retrace to it’s origin. These feelings are often based on non-personal beliefs and wreak havoc in my behavior and decision-making capabilities. Seeing them for what they are it is easier to reduce their influence. Still, there are so many other things that I at least try to approach without any preconception, until there is a moment I need to decide on the value of a certain idea. Because, the idea that once we have defined something that this is forever, is an invention of ours as well. We are actually free to redefine our authenticity at any moment.

Why I Try To Let Go of Expectations

I remember before I started traveling that I had high expectations towards rock climbing. I was really looking forward to spending time in one place climbing, continuing to the next spot to do it again. Also, visiting Patagonia was on top of my list together with my main goal to improve my Spanish. Before leaving these expectations and the following anticipation were huge. I could imagine this rock climbing lifestyle up to the cramps in my fingers, I could see the peaks in Patagonia, and I could feel the Spanish words I did not know yet, flow out of my mouth.

What Really Happened

I have been traveling for over four months now, and how different everything has been. I did not go rock climbing once yet, I learned Portuguese before I got to Spanish, and I am not sure if I will make it to Patagonia at all this trip. The irony here is, that when I wrote a first draft of this blog post, I was almost leaving for Patagonia. Two days before I left though, I twisted my knee and had to cancel that part of my trip. But, do I regret any of this? Not at all, instead I experienced a million other things that got me to where I am now, happy with whatever crosses my path. Leaving a big part of my life up to the unexpected.

The Origin of Expectations

When we take a step back though, it is interesting to see where these expectations originate. We create expectations in our mind by projecting the past into the future. Because, we cannot expect what we did not experience yet. Moreover, we can create expectations about expectations. Hereafter, we create an entirely imaginary world that is clear of any surprise but is far from reality.

When you realize this, you see how self limiting expectations can be. Where on the one hand they are a tool to invest “time” more efficiently, on the other hand they take energy by dividing our attention between the past and the future, leaving little for the present. Since we create the future by how we live in the present, living in expectation actually increases our chances on experiencing the same thing over and over.

Also, expectations are reinforced by our society. Contracts, appointments, clear trajectories in school, and at work allow us to know exactly what to expect before we experience it. Since we do not have to worry about what is going to come up next, we can turn off our brain, stop asking questions and do as we are being told.

Living in this expectation-based society, life might get a little boring. Luckily, there is a lot of entertainment around to thrill us nonetheless. Cinemas, music festivals, restaurants, streetplay, theater, and soccer matches are all there to be consumed. Of course, we expect everything to start on “time”. Otherwise, the day after we might be at work later than expected.

How Expectations Influence our Daily Lives

In our personal lifes we often let expectations direct our feelings aswell. Because, do we not expect our parents to know the way when we do not? Is not our partner supposed to be there when we are sad? And, should not our friends keep your secrets forever? Again, in this case it might be harder to see, but expectations in these situations can be limiting as well. When we stick to these expectations the chance is high that any given relationship will solely develop along preset lines.

Where betrayal of a friend would provoke disappointment and anger, it might actually be the moment he or she realizes it is possible to feel comfortable sharing his or her deepest feelings. And, what if you do not show up when your partner needs you most and he or she realizes an inner strength to deal with it alone. So much for expecting anything from your loved ones.

Living in this version of reality we are limiting our own view. Where there might be a lot of valuable lessons to learn, we usually stick to expecting what we experienced already. We end up either satisfied or disappointed with the outcome. This all seems so normal because everybody around us does the same. It has gone thus far, that we have created an entire construct of ethical and behavioral rules. We know exactly how we are supposed to behave before we enter any situation. The people that act differently are usually the ones we talk about when they are not there.

Putting Expectations into Perspective

Even though, certain expectations are useful, for example, when your mother tells you she will pick you up, it is useful to think that this is going to happen. Also, certain ethical and behavioural expectations are useful to live, at least in relative peace, next to each other.

However, I think we should stop valuing expectations as something important. When we do this, we can see and adept to what is happening in the present. Because, expectations by itself are not limiting, rather it is the level of importance we ascribe to them that limits us.

Personally, I still expect things to develop in certain ways. But the boundaries around these expectations are more transparant. In general the importance of expectations is on the decline in my life, and I intend to keep it going this way. Because, when expectations are not limiting our sight in the present, there is more energy to enjoy it. At the same time staying excited about everything that we do not know yet.

My Current Travel Philosophy

I have been travelling through South America with my particular travel philosophy for four months now. I experienced enough to write a couple of books already. During this time I had the opportunity to meet many people, listen to unique stories and experience a lot of things I could not even imagine before.

Some of these experiences still blow my mind when I think of them. Experiences like ending up in a car accident to joining family parties and a pit stop in juvenile prison. During these four months though, I always tried to travel my way, sticking to my ideas of what traveling is about.

Before I took of, I set myself the goal to try to stay with people in their homes as much as possible and to use hitchhiking as my main form of transport. At that time I had no idea how this would work out, because I had little to no experience with both of them.

Sleep and Transport

To stay with people at home I use Airbnb or Couchsurfing to get in touch with locals. Also, I have had the fortune that on several occasions people offered me to stay with their family just because I was travelling in that direction. On one occasion even, just because I was in the car with them, after they picked me up hitchhiking. Regardless if this fit my plans or not, the answer was always yes.

Why I Stay Away From Tourist Attractions

However, when I meet other travelers I sometimes get the idea I am doing something wrong. I am not running from one tourist attraction to the next one, and I do not live from photo to photo. On the contrary, my way of traveling usually takes me to places that are not pretty from a photographic perspective. At these places though, is where the people live, unbiased by tourism, and unbiased by the idea of how much money I might spent.

In these places the beauty of the experience is harder to capture in a photo. In these less scenic places I have to speak different languages, I have to continuously adjust to different life values, different daily routines, and I am confronted with a wide variety of perspectives. Where after, the reward is so much more than a pretty photo. Even though, there are times when I feel so tired of having to adjust, again, until I do.

Really, looking for discomfort rather than comfort, increases the travel experience a thousandfold. Hitchhiking is one of these “discomforts”. At times, I am standing in the burning sun, collecting layers of dust on my skin, blown up by passing cars. Where after, somebody will stop and give you another chance to learn a million things. Sometimes, taking a bus might be quicker or more convenient, it reduces the chance of getting in to unexpected situations. Getting out of these situations though, is how I become more confident in dealing with everything that comes after.

YES-philosophy

Together with the above I also try to stick to a “YES-philosophy”. Along the road plenty people have invited me in to their homes, to family parties, to the cinema, to barbecues, to dance, to sing, to play an instrument, to a friends’ house or to their work environment (where the last, on one occasion turned out to be this juvenile prison). Regardless if my plans are different, if it might complicate things or if I feel uncomfortable accepting, I will always try to say yes.

This discomfort and feeling of insecurity, is there because it is sometimes hard to see what is coming. Also, at times I am afraid to show my “weaknesses”. Nonetheless, I believe all these feelings to be natural and valuable. I try to deal with them my way. Not seeing them as a code red situation, but rather as an opportunity to learn. Handling from this perspective has made my life a lot more exciting.

However, I have certain things that are very important to me. Mainly the way I take care of my health. I aim to eat a whole foods plant based regardless if I am at a Brazilian barbecue (there will be just meat) or if somebody offers me “Dulce de Leche” while I am getting a ride from them, the answer is always no. I do not eat animal products and I stay as close to zero with the amount of processed foods I eat. This means that sometimes I say no in the midst of enjoying limitless hospitality. Even though, looking from the outside this might seem rude, people have always respected my decision.

Two-way Street

I am willing to try everything but I stick to my core values, because that is who I am. If they will not hold up anymore I trust to keep an open mind, and to replace them with different values. In general, sticking to them will show people who you are, and the beautiful thing about this is: as much as the people I meet enrich my life, I do a little something in their lives as well.