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What is Fear?

by Willard Barth

The first acronym that I was given for FEAR was False Evidence Appearing Real. At first, that didn’t really connect with me. I would ask, “False evidence appearing real… what is that supposed to mean?” It actually took several years before that statement truly made sense to me. What did impact me was the second acronym that I was given, which is what most people do when they feel fear, which is, “F- Everything And Run.” That I could definitely relate to. I had numerous personal examples of where I would run from what I feared and ignore the consequences. As I looked closely I realized that fear was something that affected me in many areas of my life. And yet I still did not understand the basic concept, what is fear?

There was fear of intimacy, there was fear of the unknown, there was fear of the past, there was fear of the future, there was fear of myself, there was fear of others, there was fear of success, there was fear of failure; the more I looked I realized that fear was present in multiple areas of my life, in many forms.

I was not aware of what fear was, what I was aware of though is what I did when fear occurred. Normally my response to fear was that I would run, I would shut down and I would avoid personal responsibility.

To overcome something, I believe that we need to have a starting point of understanding. What is fear? As I looked deeper at the definition of False Evidence Appearing Real, with the help of many teachers along the way, it began to make sense. I realized that everything that happens is recorded in our conscious and unconscious mind. All that information that is recorded becomes associated to the stimulus and environment of the experience and all that information is also stored in our conscious and unconscious mind. Right in this very instant as you are reading this article your mind is recording everything that is going on around you. You are not consciously paying attention to everything that’s going on, but your unconscious is recording it. Consciously you are taking in the words that you are reading, it is taking in the specific things that you are looking at, it’s taking in sounds that you are aware focusing on. But your unconscious is also taking in subtleties that you are not consciously aware of. Things like the room temperature, the lighting, the pressure of your clothing against your skin, the pressure of your body when its leaning on a piece of furniture and the pressure of your foot on the floor. All these experiences are imprinted into your unconscious mind and associated to what is happening in the present moment.

How does this relate to the question “What is fear?” Let’s use an example of a bad experience with a relationship. Let’s say that you have a break up with someone you deeply care about. Your unconscious doesn’t filter what is happening logically. It connects all of the experiences, emotions and stimulus/responses to that experience. So the next time that you come into a similar situation, your unconscious looks for similar experiences from your past to give you a point of reference in how to deal with the current situation. Since you have negative associations to the past experience, fear kicks in and you may not have any idea why. Since it is your unconscious bringing up all those past associations, this is what I mean when I say it is “false evidence”. Meaning, that this present moment is not the same as the past, but the “evidence” that is being presented to help you deal with this situation, is a representation from your past experiences.

Now, we don’t consciously think about this when the fear pops up, all we know is that we feel scared, and that fear is real. Now the question is what is fear for you? When this happens do you use fear as a trusted advisor, meaning do you use it to counsel you to help you move forward? Or do you use it as a jailer? Does it stop you? Does it prevent you from living the life that you desire?

Another acronym regarding what is fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. An example of this being fear of the unknown. This is where you don’t know what is going to happen, but you create all these mind movies, of what you think is going to unfold in the future, and most of the time when we do this, we don’t look at the best possible outcome for those situations. We usually create “worst case scenarios”.

Here is an experience of fear that I had for myself of both “false evidence” and “false expectations appearing real”. It was when we began filming the Self -Awareness 101 series. It hadn’t been long before we began that I had two of my front teeth removed because of gum disease. As we were getting ready to begin shooting I had a fear to face. Because I am someone who has spoken publicly in the past and who performs music publicly I have been quite conscious of my looks. Add to that the fact that all my life people have complimented me on my smile and my teeth; I became very self conscious when I had these two teeth pulled. All of a sudden when I looked in the mirror, I had this big gaping hole that was quite embarrassing. When the dentist pulled those teeth, he had given me a partial denture to use. But it was too painful to wear because the gums were settling from having the teeth pulled, and the other teeth around that space were shifting and adjusting. At times, even putting in the partial was a very painful experience. So I chose to not wear them until the gums had settled and it was comfortable to use them.

Well, as Jerry and I were getting ready to start filming Self-Awareness 101 I had a major fear I needed to deal with if we were going to proceed. I feared being judged, I feared not being accepted, I feared being ridiculed for my looks. I say that because I have “evidence” from the past of those kinds of experiences, of being looked at differently because of not having a leg. Our society is very visual, and I had painful experiences in the past where based on my physical body, people made judgments about me, and created perceptions of who they believe I am based on what they see.

Also, having been taught that as a speaker and performer that “image is everything”, you know, “If you are going to be taken seriously you need to dress this way, you need to make sure that your hair is perfect, that you look this way, and project this kind of image because you are representing such and such…” All these past experiences and future expectations created a large amount of fear for me.

We were preparing to film and I was thinking to myself, “Am I nuts? I’m going to sit down in front of that camera, and this series is going to be put on the web for everyone to see. And I am supposed to be representing myself as a teacher, and this will be on the Internet for God knows how long… And here I am with a big whole in my mouth… I’m going to look like an idiot with these missing front teeth.” I was scared of how I have been judged in the past, and I was scared of what people were going to think in the future. Would anyone take me seriously?

Ultimately the choice was to sideline Self-Awareness 101 because of my ego and my vanity, or just do it. Set aside the fear and create the best content possible, and hope for the content to be judged based on its quality. And as far as my teeth, I would address it whenever the time was right. And also share my experience letting people know that I didn’t want to give into to my own fear. I want people to be able to face their fears and I think this was a way of leading by example.

What is fear? It is an opportunity for growth. Face your fears and do what needs to be done. I am happy to say that in the past seven months, I have grown tremendously from this experience. Yes, there have been comments and jokes about my missing teeth, but the greatest feedback that we have gotten is that this series has had a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives. And if I would have bought into my fear and not done this series, that growth for myself, and the impact on others never would have happened.

So, how does this episode on “What is fear” relate to you? My first question to you is, what are you not moving forward on, because of a fear? What are you not taking action on because of false evidence from the past appearing real, or because of false expectations of the future appearing real? When we look at the fear and understand the question “what is fear”, we are already half way to overcoming it.

The exercise for this week is that I would like you to sit down and list five things in your life that you’re scared of. You may not think that you have that much you fear, but I am sure if you are honest, you will find areas that you may not have thought about before. Think about these kinds of fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of intimacy, fear of the unknown then sit down and ask yourself, “What is it I am scared of?” If there is something in your life that you know you should be doing… and you are not doing it… It is more than likely because of fear. Are you scared of getting into a more intimate relationship? Are you scared of what’s going to happen in the future in respect to your job? Are you scared of starting a new business? Are you scared of starting an exercise program or scared of quitting smoking? What is the fear? Write down five.

And then I want you to look at the fear and ask yourself, is it false evidence appearing real? Is it something from the past that you’re automatically presuming is going to happen when you try this time? Is it a false expectation? Is it something that has to do with the unknown? Use this experience of becoming aware of what that fear is to allow that fear to become an adviser, to help you gain the information that you need.

If you discover that it is false evidence from the past, what did you learn from that experience that can help you succeed this time? If it is false expectations, what information do you need to gather, what do you need to learn, what do you need to do to prepare yourself to move forward. What is fear? It is ultimately your choice. You can use fear as an adviser, or a jailer.

I look forward to hearing your feedback regarding what is fear. I look forward to hearing from you and I look forward to connecting again soon.

Take Care.

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