“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light” ~ Plato
For a lot of people, making these changes is inexplicably difficult. We see the changes we want but do not take the steps to realise the changes.
Why do we know the changes we want to make and see them on an intellectual level but find it so difficult to make the change a reality.
I can only talk from subjective experience and my own conclusion is simple, it comes down to fear and a fixity of thinking.
The thought of changing the status quo and the work needed to change can bring up an almost silent fear wish we find difficult to recognise.
We can be the most masterful of procrastinators. Getting in the way of yourself is oppressive and will prevent you from becoming who you want to be.
That is not to say that there is anything wrong with who you are right now but if there are goals you have, or habits you’d like to change that you are doing nothing about then you are getting in your own way.
I smoke. Despite exercising regularly and eating well I smoke between 5 and 10 cigarettes a day. I don’t even enjoy it. I put off the first cigarette of the day usually until 10am as I find the taste disgusting. I know I should stop and I want to, I’ve known this for years but have not even tried. This is a perfect example of knowing intellectually what the best thing to do is and not following through with it. I have recognised a fear of losing a crutch I have had for years but one that has been, by my friends that have given up and become non-smokers, proven to be a completely false idol.
I have wanted to start my own business selling on eBay so I can earn additional money to allow me to do the things I want to do. I have researched the subject to death and have found numerous products I could sell and profit from. I have a fear of mis-living which you would expect would be a motivator for change. It sounds ridiculous to know what I don’t want and to have some ideas on how to change but to not follow through on things that could bring me what I want in life, things like freedom and time to enjoy the other activities I want to pursue in life.
So how can we stop getting in the way of ourselves?
To me, again on that intellectual level I keep mentioning, the answer is simple; stop dreaming and act. There is research by psychologists, Oettingen and Meyer in 2002 that shows that fantasising about the future can hinder motivation. In their research they differentiate positive expectations which is built on past achievements and positive fantasies which are not.
“Positive fantasies about the future are positively experienced mental images of future desired events that emerge in the stream of thought (Klinger, 1990, 1996; Oettingen & Mayer, 2002). They depict an idealized version of the future that may include the attainment of desired future outcomes, as well as smooth, idealized processes of working toward these outcomes. In such positive fantasies, people hardly question whether a desired future can be achieved, nor do they imagine that the path to the desired future may contain obstacles,setbacks, pain, or effort (Oettingen & Mayer, 2002, Study 4).Importantly, idealized does not necessarily refer to an unrealistic version of the future. Rather, idealized positive fantasies about the future depict the best and most wonderful form of the future, which may be realistic or unrealistic. As images that emerge in the stream of thought, fantasies are mute to the realism of their content.”
This makes complete sense to me because fantasies can you leave you feeling like you’ll get what you want but with no thought to how you would do it and how difficult it might be. I am not saying that you shouldn’t do something because it is difficult but rooting your fantasy in the future will not help you to get there now. All steps towards future successes and experiences only happen now.
Once we start doing something we go beyond intellectually recognising potential and start to become aware of it in our reality.
Taking the first step beyond fear can be challenging but once you start and see some progress you may well get left with a feeling of “what was I worried about” a feeling which can be applied to many areas of life and help you to overcome similar fear in the future.
If you find whatever it is you want to do difficult, you may become even more fearful of following through with it. Things can be difficult and require work but even if you start moving in the right direction and go beyond the fear you will get somewhere.
All it takes is a little action on a consistent basis. Once we see development or change we can be even more inclined to increase our activity in a certain direction. The important point is to start. Starting does include seeing something on the intellectual level but the trick is to go beyond that and not let fear get in your way. These kinds of fears are completely self created, whether it is a fear of failure or a fear to show certain people, or the world, who you are. We need to go beyond fantasy, we may be scared but if we try something and don’t do as well as we had hoped what do we lose? I’d say we gain knowledge that we can learn from and apply in the future.
Another factor which is beyond the scope of this article is knowing why you are doing something. It’s all very well and good knowing what you want to do but not knowing why can leave you with a lack of direction and motivation.
I have wanted to write for a long time but not know the purpose of doing so. Once I realised I could write to share my experience and discuss problems a lot of us face, going beyond the fear and picking up the pen was easy.
Don’t day dream, instead act upon what you want. There is way more to lose by doing nothing than by failing. Sure failing might hurt but not trying at all will lead to one sure thing further down the line, in my opinion something we should all do our best to avoid, which is regret.
How have you experienced fear and how has it stopped you from going after what you want?
How have you stopped yourself from getting in your way?