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What Fear Means

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One of the best books I read while in Paris was The Gift of Fear.

It was recommended to me by Chris Penn a long time ago, and basically talks about how women can deal with creepy guys and/or stalkers. Chris said I couldn’t understand trust until I understood how people abuse and manipulate trust.

He was right. I learned a ton. But here’s something amazing I read that has more to do with fear than trust– something so fundamental you have probably never thought about it.

Fear means it isn’t happening.

Think about it. If you’re afraid you’re going to get raped while walking home at night, you clearly are not being raped. If you were, your animal instincts would kick in (if you listen to them) and you would try to escape, hurt your attacker, etc. But if you’re worried about it, you’re probably in the clear.

This was an amazing thing for me to think about. Just like everyone, I worry about regular daily stuff, I sit next to assholes on the subway, etc., and sometimes I think that something could happen. Since realizing this simple thing, though, I have relaxed significantly.

Let’s say you’re worried about not having a job, or going hungry. If that’s the case, then you are clearly not going hungry. If you were, you would find a way to find food. It’s that simple.

You can apply this to a lot of your life. If it’s happening, you deal with it. If you’re just worried, you’re already probably doing fine.

On the back of the book (which I have recommended so far to at least 5 people), it says: “Fear is a gift, but unwarranted fear is a curse. Learn to tell the difference.” How true– and how vital to the way we live our lives.

* Filed by Julien at 11:12 am under clear thinking, random


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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19 Responses to “What Fear Means”

  1. Eric Pratum Says:

    I’ve known people that seemed 100% motivated by fear…motivated to do nothing. They were paralyzed and left unable to accomplish most anything beyond the simple everyday tasks like showering, eating, etc. Think you could talk them into applying for a new job? Yeah right. They might get rejected. Their current boss might find out and fire them. A Kuiper Belt object might dislodge and crash into their house in some sort of weird butterfly effect instance.

    I’m not at all driven by the thrill of taking a chance, but fear plays almost no role in my life…except for in the instances when you accidentally hit your knife on your hand while prepping dinner, unknowingly step backward off a step, etc.

    If only a few people could learn from this book and your point, I’m sure a lot of them would be better off.

  2. Eric Pratum Says:

    Err…The beginning of that second paragraph should have read “I’m not just driven by…”

  3. Tamsen McMahon Says:

    In essence, that’s the difference between rational and irrational fear. Rational fear accompanies action–as you say, your animal instincts kick in and *do* something. Irrational fear leads only to more fear… and paralyzing inaction.

  4. Mitch Joel - Twist Image Says:

    I was given this book by a very close friend (and coach), Tony Blauer, when it first came out and I devoured it.

    Tony used to say that fear is just an acronym. He had two:

    False Evidence Appearing Real
    False Expectations Appearing Real

    I have been able to reframe the notion of fear ever since then (and yes, your post clarifies it even further).

  5. Joe Sorge Says:

    Julien, seriously man, you are clearly tapped into my emotions somehow this week. I’m addicted to your writing style anyway, so thank you twice.

    Hard to put words to it when what someone writes hits you that hard, at that level. For some reason, I had a physical reaction to this.

    Ordering the book immediately, do you have an affiliate link? Please email it to me if you’d like.

    Thanks again Julien, really appreciate you sharing like this.

  6. Eric Pratum Says:

    Julien, both you and Tamsen make the important point about rational versus irrational fear. Also, despite the fact that I imagine Mitch’s acronyms showing up on those office wall-esque motivational posters, those are pretty good.

  7. Dave Richardson Says:

    That’s a great way to turn fear around into a positive. And this applies to sports. From the world of golf:
    “Of all the hazards, fear is the worst” ~ Sam Snead
    Then cycling:
    “If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on” ~ Lance Armstrong

  8. Ryan G Says:

    What if rational and irrational fear are only on the surface? What about primal fear? Do you ever wonder about how your soul is affected in the afterlife and/or the underworld, if such things even exist. That is not the type of fear in which one can reason.

  9. Iliyan Says:

    Fear is my best friend – the more afraid I am, the more scared I am -> the more I do. Everytime I got so scared, like I am going to die, things hapend. When the crissis started I was unemplyed, yes I told myself: I am gonna find a job or I am gonna die. I trully did it. A few months ago I decided to hunt a 2nd job and did the same. All of my friends are whining about crisis..crisis my ass.

    Use fear as an ally, don’t let it get to you :)

  10. Jennifer Says:

    I loved how Gavin De Becker talks about the gift of intuitive fear as a positive motivating factor. The motivating takeaway I received was that if you are worried that you are in trouble – you are most likely right! Ask yourself the right questions and even then …Better to trust that feeling and take action (move seats, cross the street, take the next elevator) and be safe rather than sorry…esp. when it is simple to do so.

    Translated into business if you have a “bad feeling” about something the way to deal with it is the same…investigate and ask questions. Do whatever research needs to be done – quickly – to test out if the fear is real and then move on. If my feeling is well founded I can take action and if not, then great – worry loop ends. (ex: I’m scared. This project will never work! ok – is that true? why? what expert can you ask who would have good feedback?)

    Fear has received a bad rap, for good reason (paralysis!), but De Becker seems to say…there are times when there’s trouble… that is fine – just keep your wits about you and take the next elevator!

    • Julien Says:

      @jennifer– right, it’s a shockingly simple way to understand and deal with worry and fear. almost shockingly so. but once you do things this way, it seems so obvious that you wonder why you ever thought otherwise.

  11. Stacey Alex Says:

    This is an awesome thought. I’ve just had a “Doh!” moment and felt inspired at the same time. Thanks for sharing. I think I’m going to read that book.

  12. Ken Montville Says:

    Maybe so. Worry is gut wrenching, sleep depriving and a general pain in the butt.

    Sure. If you’re worried about bad (or unpleasant) things, that means they aren’t happening (yet). The same would be true for good (or pleasant) things like worrying about finding true love (or fear of never finding true love), financial security, the optimal body weight, fulfilling job, etc.

    I haven’t read the book so, perhaps, I have no standing to comment but it seems this “fear” works both ways.

  13. Ike Says:

    I can’t count how many copies of that book I’ve handed out to people.

    I watch the bookstores, and snag several copies when I see them in the bargain bin.

    It’s a life-saver, and a life-changer.

    • Julien Says:

      @Ike — totally agreed. I want everyone to read it. Fear is so fundamental a problem in this society (terrorism, violence, etc.) that it’s practically essential to our thriving as individuals and groups.

  14. Susan E. (commoncents) Says:

    I wrote this about fear last January. It was in answer to a challenge to overcome your fear by facing it. Jump off that cliff! or pet a snake! or speak in front of an audience:

    Rational Fears are Good
    Fear of falling. Fear of deep water. Fear of wild animals. Fear of strangers are all rational fears. Imminent danger! WE could actually get hurt or killed. ———– Fear of speaking on stage. Fear of being alone. Fear of changing jobs. Fear of telling someone no. Those are irrational fears. They have consequences but there is no imminent danger. We usually don’t die from those consequences.

    Lots of people have a fear of flying, when they should have a greater fear of driving a car. Death is much more likely in a car on the ground. (contrary to media reports) We should definitely overcome our Irrational fears if our lives are hampered by them. We should keep our Rational fears, cause our life could depend on them. I fly and I drive and I have a healthy fear of riding a motorcycle, so I don’t ride one. Why put myself in harms way? I have a fear of success in a new venture, so I don’t start one and stay with what I know, What is the worst that can happen?——– Thanks Julien.

  15. Joe Sorge Says:

    Julien, can’t tell you how many times I’ve recited parts of this post this week, thanks again for bringing the book and the thinking to my attention.

  16. Carla Castro Says:

    Preoccupied! (pre – occupy…with thoughts, with fears…) It means get worried before it happens (IF it happens!); been taught by my mum, from an early age, that fear is alright, but no need to worry until it really happens. Because when it does, we will deal with it and everything is going to be fine anyway. When looking back (which we shouldn’t) the realisation of trivia is more astonishing than the fear itself. Thank you, mum. Thank you G Becker and you Julien to refresh good moments of infancy that can never come back, neither my mum.

    Striking, harden style. Like it!

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