News Flash: I am afraid of Donald Trump. There. I said it. Truth be told, Hillary Clinton scares me too. I’m also tired of the endless stream of political posts in my social media news feeds. Somehow everyone has an opinion or a reaction to a political story so it ends up in my newsfeed. I bet you’re experiencing the same thing. The fact is, I’m trying to limit my exposure to the political campaigns. They are fear-based and I’ve spent the past two years trying to shift my life away from one that is driven by fears.
What I’ve seen of the presidential campaigns is about who is the better of two “worst case” scenarios. The campaigns are focused on how we should be afraid of who becomes our next president. They are campaigns about fear. They’ve got our ear though, right? We are standing at attention wondering how afraid we really need to be.
However, what are we really afraid of? Is it the actual person? Maybe. But beneath that, I think we are afraid of the uncertainty and the unknown of a candidate like Trump becoming President. And we are afraid of more of the same with a candidate like Clinton becoming President (never mind some alleged legal issues). But there’s something deeper. For me these generalized fears are covering up what I’m truly fearful of: losing my freedom, losing a sense of security, the unknown, something happening that’s out of my control, something happening that causes me to lose something or someone I love. And those, my friends, are false fears. They are stories swirling in my head that create worry and struggle. Those false fears are the core of my fear about our next President.
I see the presidential race as evidence of how false fears drive many of us to act and make decisions in all areas of our lives. Although our false fears have no immediate basis in reality, they feel as if they do so we act to avoid those potential fears coming true. However, they are not real fear. Real fear is what arises when you feel the tremor of an earthquake or start to lose control of your car. Your body instantly jumps into action. The part of your brain that initiates the fear response, the amygdala, sends signals to your body that you are in danger. Your flight or fight reaction is triggered. You prepare to fight for your life.
The stories I’ve heard from the media or other people are about what “might” happen. These are the “what if” scenarios that keep us awake at night and are things that, 95 percent of the time, do not come true. But here’s the rub: they MIGHT come true. Right? There’s always the possibility. And that’s what keeps us up at night and creates the false fear in our minds and hearts.
When we make decisions and live our lives based on false fears, we are not living our most fulfilled life – trust me, I spent most of my adult life living in fear and even wrote a book about it. We do not have to live in fear. Yet many of us do, often unconsciously. False fears were once the driving force in my life. I had my own fear campaign going for many years, until I finally woke up and realized there was a way to live that was not based on avoiding fearful scenarios created in my head. There is a way to live that does not include anything related to fear.
So, how do we NOT allow fear to drive our decisions, especially when it’s all we see around us? One thing we can do is choose to see the fear for what it is: a story we are making up in our head. Or, a story someone else tells that we choose to believe, regardless of how that feels. What we fear from such stories is rarely real. If that doesn’t help (or if the fear has some factual basis and a probability of occurring) then ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if this actually came true?”
Answer that question right now about whatever false fear keeps showing up for you in the middle of the night. How would you feel? What would you do? Usually the story is much worse swirling in your head than if you play it out and explore what would happen if it came true. If you allow yourself to fully explore your fears, you will likely discover how resilient you are. Even if a fear came true and everything fell apart around you, the sun would still rise the next day. In most cases, you’d continue to evolve and grow. Just think back over your life to when things fell apart around you or to when something you feared came true. You survived and grew. In most cases we do. We pick up the pieces and come back together.
Getting back to the fear campaigns that are playing out around us, it’s intriguing to think about what would happen if any of the worst case scenarios on social media and in the news came to fruition. Considering how divided our country is on so many levels right now, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we need something like this election to tear us apart so we can pick up the pieces and come back together stronger than ever. I guess only time will tell…
In the meantime, I vote we stop the fear campaigning. I vote for each of us choose to stop feeding into the fear-based scenarios and instead, choose to understand what we’re individually truly afraid of and decide to NOT let that drive our behavior. Maybe it’s driving the political campaigns but it definitely doesn’t need to drive you.
To find out if fears are driving your decisions and behavior, take this assessment.
** This post first appeared in The Huffington Post on Aug. 16, 2016.