In this episode, Commander Divine discusses the different aspects of fear and anxiety. They are based on false expectations or perceptions, and are solely based on thinking either in the future or the past. When we are experiencing the present-moment directly, we can overcome fear. How can we use that energy to fuel ourselves for peak performance in the present? Don’t miss this solocast.
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Fear & Courage with Mark Divine
Hey folks. Welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me. I super-appreciate it. I know your time is valuable. We got lots of cool things to talk about today and we are doing a solo cast today, so taking a little break from the guests. Giving them a breather from me.
And today we’re going to talk about fear and courage. How do we overcome fear, and develop courage in our life? So this is going to be a lot of fun. Looking forward to the conversation and hopefully you’ll get something out of it.
And if you do, pass it on. Let other people know about the podcast and about our work here at SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind. A great way to do that is to send them to our website. unbeatablemind.com/podcast. They can check it out there. Download podcasts from there, or iTunes, or Google Play or a number of other places.
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What is fear?
So my question is, what is fear?
I’ve always loved the acronym “False Evidence Appearing Real.” F.E.A.R. Or “False Expectations Appearing Real.” I heard that one from my friend Tony Blauer.
And so one way to look at fear is that you have an unrealistic expectation or a false expectation. Or unrealistic evidence of what’s about to happen or about something in your life. And so therefore you’re taking information in and you’re processing it improperly. And so this leads to what I call a “gap.” And fear, essentially, is a gap between the known and the unknown. Or between a false expectation and reality. Or false evidence and reality.
And so in this kind of level of definition, basically we’re saying that
fear is bullshit. It’s made up. And that if you just shed a little bit of light on that which you fear, you’d realize that there’s nothing to fear at all.
And I think there are certainly things that fall into this category. The metaphor of peeking your head into the barn and seeing a coiled snake in the corner, because the lights are out, and it’s kind of dark or you can’t see very well.
And you’re terrified of getting bitten by a snake. A lot of people are afraid of animals that have sharp teeth. That’s pretty normal. That’s another kind of fear, but this is the false evidence appearing real.
Because when you flip on the light, and you realize it’s actually a coiled rope. Then you feel like a dumb-ass. “Oh my gosh, I got all scared over a coiled rope, because I thought it was a snake.”
So I guess the first thing to ask yourself when you’re experiencing some fear-based reaction, is “is it a false expectation or false evidence appearing real?” An example of false… so that’s an example of false evidence right. The snake is actually a rope.
A false expectation would be to think that you’re going to go up… and you’ve got a speech to give, and everybody’s going to judge you. Everybody’s going to ponder every single word you have to say. And if it’s not utterly brilliant and groundbreaking and shocking them and transforming them, that they’re going to hate the speech, and they’re going to hate you. And they’re going to boo you off the stage.
Well that’s a false expectation, you know? Most people are there to be entertained when they’re listening to speakers. And they’re frankly more interested in themselves… They’re going to cut you a lot of slack. And so people tend to think that public speaking is just extremely hard and you’re going to get really judged. And the point is that people are actually pretty kind to you if you’re kind to them. And sensitive to their time. And sensitive to the fact that you’re just trying to be real and share some information.
So there’s a false expectation there that could appear real to you, which is creating anxiety or tension for you around speaking. Couple interesting examples there.
Other gaps between the known and the unknown exist, of course. There’s a whole slew of these. And I think it’s interesting to kind of trace the route of the fear of the unknown back a little bit. But before we do that, let’s talk about some other gaps. Let’s see.
Fear of heights. That’s a good one. So fear of heights.
It makes sense that one would have a fear of heights because of the law of gravity. Law of gravity doesn’t work in your favor the higher you go. If you’re 2 feet high, then the law of gravity isn’t going to have much of an impact if you step off that height. But if you’re 20 stories high, yeah, big impact. Literally.
So there is this fear of the unknown. What happens a) on an impact. If you did slip or slide or fall? And b) of unknown safety factors. And trust in people who are maybe setting up the risk management or safety factors if you’re going to go high. Like, if you’re going to go to the top of the World Trade Center or the Empire State Building, it’s a gap in the unknown to think, “Okay, what is it going to be like up there? Is there a railing? Can I slip through the railing? Or over it? What are the safety protocols? What am I going to feel like and experience that many stories above Manhattan?” And so this gap creates an anxiety or tension which we can experience as fear. Fear of heights, right? Some people have a tremendous fear of heights. You might be one of them. And so there’s good reason for that.
Fear and Anxiety
But when you trace that back, what we’re really talking about is a certain anxiety. The experience, that tension you feel, is an anxiety feeling. It’s a feeling of constriction in your stomach and heart region. And your eyesight kind of narrows. So all the fight-or-flight symptoms come into play when you experience these fear moments. And so really what we’re talking about is a sympathetic reaction which causes anxiety. An extreme imbalance because of the hormones and the systemic things that are happening in your body.
And then anxiety then is getting translated due to this gap between the known and the unknown or false expectations or false evidence appearing real. And it’s getting translated into what we would call an emotional energy or an emotional language. And then cognitively we relate that, and we say, “Oh, that’s fear. Because what is causing that is this height that I’ve got to go to.” Let’s say I’ve got to jump out of an airplane for the first time, and I’m terrified of heights because of the unknown. Then it causes this massive anxiety experience through our sympathetic nervous system. And then that encounters then, our cognition which is then going to further interpret it in a way that’s probably going to be detrimental. Cause you’ve got some inner dialogue around that anxiety.
So that’s how we experience fear. Like an intense anxiety or… doesn’t have to be intense. Could be low-grade… that then gets put through our cognitive faculties. Our neocortex, and we then have a certain set of thought patterns that interpret that as bad and as a fear thing. Something that we fear.
But ultimately, when it comes down to it, there’s only a couple things that I can think of that we’re anxious about.
But then these 2 things cover a lot of territory.
The first is anxiety around loss. Anxiety around loss. So the fear of heights is so powerful, because the thing that we’re afraid of losing is our life.
And same thing with the snake, so loss of life really is one of the… probably the biggest driver of fear.
But then there’s also other losses that are very powerful, too. Like in the context of giving that public speech, it’s loss of reputation. Nobody wants to get booed or laughed out of a room. So we have this false expectation around what the audience is going to think of us, and so we… that creates a tension or anxiety around loss of reputation.
Many warriors experience tension and anxiety around loss of liberty. Not just warriors, but those of us who grew up in a free society, fear loss of liberty. And so we don’t trust societies where liberty is constricted or taken away. And we’ll fight for that. So there’s another one. We’re fearful of loss of liberty, which is essentially autonomy. Cause we really value autonomy and freedom. And so loss of freedom or autonomy is something to fear. It creates the anxious tension of fear.
Loss of happiness, right? That’s another interesting one. If you’re feeling generally happy then you don’t want that taken away. So you’ll great pains to avoid losing those things that make you happy.
And what are those things? Well, friends, toys… these are generally kind of egoic, stage development issues, but they create a genuine sense of fear.
Another great example is wealth. So if you’ve got wealth–let’s say it’s not hard-earned wealth, but it’s like… it came too easy. So maybe it was handed to you in a trust fund, or someone earned it in a lottery. Or young, financial executives who just hit it big, but hadn’t really maybe cultivated that character and gone through several periods of loss. Where you had a million bucks, then all of a sudden you didn’t. So you had to make it back. And then all of a sudden you didn’t. And then… now you’re on your 3rd round. Which is kind of like my situation, which is pretty funny.
So at any rate. People will horde it and they’ll fear that loss. And that creates a lot of stuck energy and anxiety around even the smallest modicum of wealth. Or just what that represents.
Loss of friendships. That’s another really interesting one. Loss of friends. Even if the friend isn’t serving someone well, people will often stay in a relationship for a long period of time in a codependent sense, because they just fear the loss. They fear what would happen. They fear being judged. There’s all sorts of things around that.
So anxiety around loss is a major cause of this experience we call fear.
Anxiety of Not Enough
And then the other one is not losing something, but anxiety about not having something. Like, not having enough of something.
So back to the money. You can have anxiety around having wealth, or too much wealth and losing it. Or you can have anxiety around poverty. And not having wealth.
And guess what, that anxiety and that fear usually trap someone in poverty because they obsess about it. Most of us on this podcast know that if you obsess about something and put a lot of attention into it, chances are that you’re attracting that into your life at some level. Or creating it.
Another one is worthiness. The feeling that you’re not worth a lot. Or not worth a certain level of respect. And maybe it’s because you haven’t earned it, right? Maybe you don’t feel worthy as a young warrior, cause you haven’t earned the trident, or you haven’t…
But generally speaking, that self-worth is coming from somewhere else. It’s not just because of the outward, you know, objective reward or accomplishment that you don’t feel worthy.
When I went through SEAL training, I felt worthy to be a SEAL… and I’ve talked about this at length in Unbeatable Mind and my podcast… I felt worthy because I felt like I had won it in my mind beforehand. I’d done the work, and I really humbly went through that program feeling worthy to be a SEAL. So I didn’t have the low sense of self-worth around that.
But other people did. They just didn’t feel worthy to be a SEAL even though they had the physical skills to do it, and I think that lack of self-worth, or confidence we could call it, was a large reason for their failure. Of not becoming a SEAL.
And another one… Not thinking that you’re lovable enough. Or that you’re capable of being loved. And this is one that sticks people into dysfunctional relationships. And going after people or pursuing relationships that are not going to be healthy for them. Cause they just feel like they’re not up to the level of maybe someone who they could or should be with.
So anxiety and fear about not being enough. That’s another really interesting one. And I’m sure there’s others, and I’d love to hear your feedback on this on the Facebook group. But this is… these are the big ones that I can see. Anxiety of losing something, anxiety of actually not having something. That’s pretty broad. And they cover a lot of territory.
Another thing that causes this tension that we’ll call fear is this need or desire for control.
And not experiencing that control. Now this is a big one that we work with in Unbeatable Mind. Cause quite frankly, you really can’t control anything but your mind and emotions. And that takes work. That takes a lot of work.
And so… and everything’s always changing. Life is a constant state of change and impermanence. And yet we have this false perception of things being stable or permanent. And when things are stable and permanent and we like them. For instance, we have life, liberty, happiness, wealth, friendship and love… then we want to kind of keep it that way. And so we tend to try to control the environment… we try to control the people in our environment. And we try to keep it the same. We don’t want it to change.
And then, guess what? Change comes anyways. And then we fear what’s on the other side of that change. Because we don’t know it, and there’s that gap again.
So our desire to control the material world or things outside of us leads to a lot of fear and anxiety. Because ultimately we can’t control any of that stuff. And then we also fear that lack of control.
And so it’s like a double-edged sword.
So the warrior learns to realize that everything is impermanent. Change is perpetual. And the only thing we can control is our own ability to maintain a proper mental and emotional state around what’s happening.
And a positive outlook… abundant positive outlook around the change that’s happening. And that’s essentially the definition of resiliency.
And so resiliency leads to a degradation of fear and anxiety around those things we can’t control. Or the gap between the known and the unknown.
Now another way to look at fear… and I think this is really interesting… is looking at fear in the context of time. What I’ve noted is that when I’m in a very present state. Like, right here, right now. Whatever’s arising this moment, this moment, this moment. I am in a state of pure awareness. Pure energy. A flow state.
Anxiety and Flow
And in a flow state, I don’t experience fear. Cause fear… I experience the energy that you might call anxiety. But I don’t experience as fear or as negative. I don’t personally think that you can be in a negative state, in a present-moment flow state. I don’t think it happens. I don’t think it’s possible. And I’d love to get some pushback on that.
What I think, though… is what happens is the energy is transmuted into something that is useful. Because in the present moment, we are in an action-flow state, and so we’re using the energy of the universe to accomplish a task. Even if that task is sitting in meditation.
And in that task state, the energy is experienced in a practical manner, and so what in a past or a future states, you experience as anxiety or fear, in that present-moment state, you’re going to experience as determination. Or as the energy of the flow. The movement of energy through you.
And so this is a really interesting thing that I’m playing with. In a present-moment state, energy flows through you. And you can tap into that energy. That’s why you have so much power. And since the energy is flowing through you, it’s not getting stuck and interpreted through your brain-housing group. Through your cognitive faculties as “good” or “bad.” It just is.
And so you don’t have the luxury to process it as anxiety and as fear, because you’re not stopping time to think about it and go back into a past state to think about it, or into a future state to obsess about it.
So I believe that fear is your ego. It stems from your ego’s interpretation of past events or potential future events. Loss or gain. And the processing of that creates and interpretation of the energy, and the energy gets stuck because it’s not flowing because you’ve stopped time, essentially, by thinking into a past state, or thinking into a future state.
So that’s an interesting concept that I’d love to explore further some time. This whole notion of how time will get us stuck. When we begin to engage in too much past thinking or too much future thinking and move away from the present. And the present always feels energy as flow, and engagement, and that’s neither positive or negative. It just is. Or it’s experienced more as… I guess it would probably be experienced more as positive, but that’s something to be discussed a little bit further.
So in this present-moment state, if we freeze… think about the fight or flight. Let’s say something happens. A crisis. “Boom” There’s a car accident right in front of you. And you were in a present-moment state. Maybe you’re cruising along, box-breathing and everything’s good. And all of a sudden there’s this accident. And so if you immediately freeze, right? And you jack your body up with adrenalin and epinephrine and everything that happens with the sympathetic nervous system in fight or flight. Or freeze. Then immediately you click out of a present state and you go into a fear-based state, right? Thinking, “Oh my God. What’s going to happen?” This is now a future thing, but then some past memories of accidents or maybe like a past thought about your lack of training and how to do emergency response.
Now that’s all going to create doubt, and that doubt is going to widen the gap between the known and the unknown. “What do I do? I don’t know what to do? I’m not sure how to do this. Should I wait for the MTEs? I guess I’ll call 911, right?”
And so now you’re stuck in a fear-based situation because you just don’t know what to do, and so you’ve stopped all movement. You’ve fallen out of flow or you’ve prevented potential flow.
And what we’ve noticed through our training as a SEAL warrior is that movement keeps you in a more present-moment state. Because you’re essentially reducing your mission or your overall objectives down to these micro-tasks. And so you’re constantly moving forward and learning in the present moment. And what we’ve found is that
movement eradicates doubt, and then will help turn that fear of the unknown into determination.
So let’s go back to the example of the crisis. You see the car accident, you pull over and you just think, “Okay, what can I do right now?” Well, park the car. Okay, park the car.
‘What can I do right now?” Get out of the car and move toward the accident so you can assess the situation. Okay, you get to the accident. “What can I do now?” Well, assess the situation. Don’t freak out. Control yourself, control yourself.
“What can I do now?” And so by asking yourself just what’s next? What can I do now? What’s next, what can I do now? You’re essentially taking a big problem that has many, many moving parts and all sorts of perceived danger, and you’re turning into accessible chunks that can be dealt with in a more present-moment determined manner. As opposed to freezing in fear. So you can overcome some serious fear-based situations like this.
I’m thinking of my friend who dealt with the active shooter situation in the school. And this is really kind of how it happened, right? It’s a situation that would send most people into complete fear-lock, brain-lock. And yet the trained warrior will essentially methodically move toward the threat assessing the situation every way, and just asking “What’s next? What action right now can I take that’s gonna lead me closer to truth? Closer to the knowledge that I need to solve the problem at the next level?” And then the next level and the next level. And through this way–taking these micro-steps–you can defuse a crisis fairly easily, or help people out of a sticky situation.
Embracing the Suck
So that’s kind of the practical side of how do you handle fear is to first assess what it is, and understand what it is. This anxiety around loss or anxiety around not having enough. And desire to control that which we can’t control. So the attitude is getting clear that impermanence is the only thing that’s permanent. And change is the only thing that we can’t help from changing. And fear is basically your ego being stuck in a past or future state.
And so… and one way to eradicate that energy, or to get past that is to move forward. Move toward the danger. Move toward the sound of gunfire. Move toward the crisis. Move toward that which you fear.
And when you move toward that which you fear in micro-bites… those micro-goals or micro-chunks, you learn about it. You get intimate with it. You learn your way forward. You fail your way forward.
This is the same principle… general success principle is “Hey, you don’t know how it’s going to work out all the time, but if you’re not moving forward, you’re not learning.”
So move forward. Failure’s not an option because it truly is not an option because it truly is not an option. It just doesn’t exist. Failure is an old concept. It’s rusty. Get rid of it.
Turn anxiety into determination by moving forward. And that’s practical.
I mean, literally, moving toward it. And by taking steps. Real steps with your feet and real steps with your hands.
But there’s another way that you can simultaneously work to overcome fear and develop courage, and that is this whole notion of “embracing the suck.”
So what we mean by “embracing the suck” is to take… it’s a mental attitude to understand and appreciate what you perceive that you fear.
So to understand… and attitude to understand and appreciate that which you perceive you fear. That’s what embracing the suck is. And what that means is all of the above, everything I’ve said earlier is germane in that first it helps to get… it’s imperative to get clear about what it is you fear. Most people have a sense that they know what it is they fear. But in some cases, you just don’t know. The fear can be pervasive and you can’t identify what it is that’s causing it. That’s going to take a little bit more work. That’s where contemplation and meditation and therapy will really help. Like, if you have a broad anxiety and you just can’t pinpoint it, then you might need a little bit more time for this “embrace the suck” principle to work.
But generally speaking what I’m talking about is when you can identify that which you fear. And it worked for loss of life, loss of liberty, loss of wealth, friendship, love. Anxiety around not being worth enough. Or worthy or lovable. As well as something just like “I fear snakebites,” or “I fear sharks,” or “I fear that person” for instance. Even. Or “I fear getting in a fight.”
There’s a lot of things that you could put into this category. And so this principle of “embrace the suck,” it supports the movement in the present. And because it’s meant to be done kind of simultaneously, both in a run-up or in practice to overcome something you fear. Like fear of public speaking, you’re not going to overcome that just by getting up on stage once. So you move toward it time and time again in successive, ever more challenging steps. You might just talk to yourself first in the mirror. And then you’re going to go join Toastmasters, right? Which is a pretty safe environment. And then maybe book your first gig. And then, next thing you know, you’re in front of 500 people.
So that’s the moving toward, but while you’re doing that,
you’re embracing the suck by essentially visually facing… emotionally, energetically facing that which you fear.
And then moving toward it in that inner domain.
So this is similar to the concept of winning in your mind before stepping onto the battlefield. And so let’s use the speech example.
You decide that you need to be a public speaker, because you’ve identified that as something you fear. And some people, I’ve heard, fear that greater than loss of life. I doubt that’s true, but I think, frankly, it is something that causes a lot of anxiety and tension in people, that is interpreted as fear.
So let’s say your first movement. Your first outer movement is to decide that you’re going to become a speaker. Now, your first “embrace the suck” movement is to visualize yourself speaking, and visualize the fear around speaking. Sp visualize yourself subjectively speaking and visualize this objective fear. And it could be just a dark cloud. Or it could be the word in bold letters. Shining, speaking. Or it could be an audience. And what you’re going to do is visualize yourself merging with that which you fear, okay?
So in this sense you’re entraining a new mental image and then you’re going to add the dialogue. So as you merge with that image, you’re going to be saying to yourself, “I got this. Easy day.” You’re going to use the positive self-talk that we have talked about with Unbeatable Mind. You’re going to get the internal dialogue to support that image. And then over time, you’re going to add that emotional pattern to it. And so instead of feeling weak, you feel powerful.
So essentially what you’re doing is–in winning in your mind in this manner through embracing the suck is instead of doing something that you love to do and practicing it, you’re doing something that you hate to do, or you’re terrified of and you’re practicing it. And you’re not just practicing it, but you’re merging with the energy of what you fear. Until you get intimate with it in an internal sense.
Meaning the energy of fear becomes, “Hunh. I got it. I feel that anxiety. I’m still here. I got this. The internal dialogue’s there. And emotionally, I’m feeling powerful.”
And so what you’re doing is you’re taking the anxiety, the energy of that anxiety and the fear and you’re absorbing it. And you’re translating it into courage. It’s coming out as courage.
Because just the act of stepping into that cloud of fear, or stepping onto that stage mentally. And seeing the audience react to you positively is transmuting that negative anxiety into courage. That’s cool.
So we “embrace the suck” by using the Big 4 skills of, of course, breathing deep into your breath. That’s going to begin the entrainment process.
And then the internal dialogue of saying “I got this. Easy day. Gonna do this. Piece of cake.”
And then that image of you merging with that which you fear. And then the next task for you–which is the 4th of the Big 4–is to figure out how you can move toward it in the real world again. So that’s… then your next step might be to choose the Toastmasters. Okay now you’re going to continue the process of embracing the suck, and merging with that which you fear.
And by doing this 2 simultaneously… the outer movement and the inner movement. The working out and the working in. The moving toward through action and embracing the suck through imagery and internal dialogue and energy, you can eradicate pretty much any type of fear and turn it into more courage. Power.
Now, I’ve often stated that even a Navy SEAL feels fear when they jump out of an airplane. And I think what I’d like to revise that statement… say, you know what? It’s true, they feel the anxiety… they still feel that tension. But they’ve reinterpreted it now, because they’ve done this forward motion through practicing and moving toward the fear. And they’ve embraced the suck by visualizing it and merging with that fear.
So they wouldn’t say they feel fear. What they would say is they feel a pit in their stomach. And that pit in their stomach is exciting to them, right? They’ve overcome the fear. But on that first jump? Oh yeah. It is definitely fear. But on the 100th jump? Or the 500th jump? It’s excitement, right. That energy of excitement.
And also, you know, it keeps you alert and alive, and you’re very present. But you’re not sitting there obsessing and sweating bullets and terrified about each jump. Doesn’t happen that way.
All right. I hope that was interesting. I certainly find this stuff fascinating and interesting. If you like it and it’s helpful, then pass it on, and let other people know about the Unbeatable Mind podcast.
And we’ll be doing more of these solo casts in the future.
Thanks very much for your time. You guys were awesome. Train hard, stay focused, do the work. Every day. And I’ll talk to you next time.
Coach Divine out.