Are You Living According To What You Want Or According to What You Don't Want? - Don't let fear run your life.

It may seem like a pretty silly question, but let me explain. Let’s assume that the basic goals in life are to be loved, to be happy, and to be financially secure – whatever those may look like to you. Surprisingly, many of us go through life making decisions trying to get to these goals by putting energy into dodging their opposites because of fear. A scene from my sons’ computer games comes to mind with the main character wildly zigzagging to avoid an explosion every couple of feet and a zombie around every corner.

Living A Fear-Based Life

People stay in relationships in which they are miserable because they don’t want to be alone.  Many continue at jobs in which they aren’t happy because it pays the bills. All too often, we stick to the safe path, inside our comfort zone, avoiding discomfort whenever possible.  Living this way can lead to a numb life where a person may feel like they are just existing, sleep walking through life.  I know.  I did it.

This is a fear-based existence where life becomes a marathon obstacle course of trying to avoid instead of trying to achieve.  Trying to avoid pain.  Trying to avoid loneliness.  Trying to avoid failure.  A person can focus on and exert so much energy avoiding what they don’t want that what they do want becomes secondary with pitiful little progress made in that direction.

Although I am not a strict believer in every word of the law of attraction, I do agree with the basic principle implying that a person draws the undesirable into their reality by placing their attention on them and by putting energy into (avoiding) them.  The unwanted becomes the focus instead of what is desired.

I was the world’s best at this.  Staying in a marriage for far too long, I was unhappy and severely limited but it was my comfort zone, even if it was uncomfortable as hell.  After I did get the guts to leave, I jumped right into a three-year relationship that also wasn’t healthy because I was terrified of being alone.  Fearing aging and losing what I thought were my most valuable assets, my looks, I thought I’d better land and hang onto the best thing I could right then with what I still had.  Then, I tried to kill myself rather than face that breakup and more legal entanglements with the ex-husband.

OK, these are some pretty extreme examples, but I was quite the expert.  Unconsciously, avoidance can be the motivating factor behind much of our lives.  Instead of thinking of how we want to be and making decisions accordingly that may involve some risks and discomfort, too often, we make fear-based decisions which limit us and our happiness.  These fear-based choices may guide our actions and behavior in a direction which allows us to avoid that uncomfortable feeling, but which also doesn’t provide opportunities for growth or the achievement of our goals.  So we stay safe.  Stagnant. Comfortable. 

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, in her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, likens this to living in a cocoon.  She writes:

We stay in our cocoon because we are afraid – we’re afraid of the feelings and reactions that life is going to trigger in us.  We’re afraid of what might come at us.  But if this avoidance strategy worked, then Buddha wouldn’t have needed to teach us anything, because our attempts to escape pain, which all living beings instinctively resort to,  would result in security, happiness and comfort, and there would be no problem.

She advises us to see these uncomfortable, fearful situations as opportunities rather than obstacles. She encourages us to “get comfortable with, begin to relax with, lean into whatever the experience may be.” She advises us to drop the knee-jerk reactions, drop the story lines, to pause, breathe and be present.  Be awake and aware, be conscious and brutally honest with yourself about your intentions, reasons, and actions.

Fear Is All In Your Head (and can end there)

These feelings of fear and dread are actually the amygdala in the brain acting up and telling you to steer clear of danger.  But is there really any danger?  Or is it just an instinctual reaction to the unfamiliar and the unknown?  In his book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, Taylor Clark writes:

In a sense, then, being afraid of something doesn’t necessarily constitute proof that the thing is inherently bad; it just means that you haven’t spent enough time hanging around it. …to get over a fear, you have to expose yourself to it, and you have to feel afraid.  ….[M]oving through fear is the only way out of it.

I know from my own experience, that this is true.  I make a conscious habit, now, of pushing my limits and doing things on a regular basis which scare me. And you know what?  The fear disappears.  Maybe, not totally, but it sure lessens each time. I refuse to live a life guided by and limited by fear anymore.  Been there. Done that.  It didn’t work.

I have found that, in order to feel joy and love fully, I have to allow myself to feel everything fully, pain and fear included.  In my opinion, this is what being really alive is all about.  It is exhilarating – all of it.  By avoiding any part of it, I was denying myself a full life.

image source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/seyyed_mostafa_zamani/

28 Comments

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      So true! So we have to learn to make the best use of the time we have!

  1. This is a topic well worth considering, Debbie. Fear-based choosing (also known as risk aversion) rules not only individual lives, but the actions of entire nations. It is the reason we live with enough weapons to blow up the entire planet several times over.

    Right now because the economy is bad, people are afraid to try things to fix it permanently, afraid to examine what’s gone wrong dispassionately, and afraid to look at the big picture in general, preferring to latch on to oversimplified views of complex problems.

    Accepting that there is much we simply do not know, and can not individually (or globally) control requires more than an average amount of courage. I do think learning to allow ourselves and others to be mistaken, and sharing forgiveness and encouragement defeats fear by fostering wisdom.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Mikey, thank you for expanding the concept for me. I had not thought about how this plays out in our culture and in our government. You are so right. This type of fear based policy on a larger scale leads to a hostile world with much inequality. If we could make policies guided by the desire for peace, understanding and cooperation instead of fear and lack, it would be a very different world. Better!

  2. Debbie,

    Thank you for this thought-provoking blog. I, too, will strive to pursue the good in life rather than spend all my energy avoiding the bad.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Brandon, thank you for stopping by and commenting. I know, for me, it was an “aha moment” when I had the understsanding and relization that this is what I had been doing. It is so empowering and positive to not be guided by fear. It has allowed me to go from the victim mentality to being the creator of my life.

  3. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Again, you have such insight and wisdom. Just think where all this may lead !

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Better late than never, huh?! Gonna be good. Already is.

  4. Hi Debbie,
    Facing our fears is the only way we will ever grow in consciousness.
    What we focus on expands and then that focus becomes our personal reality. That’s not to say that this focus IS reality – it’s just our own personal illusion that we’ve manufactured based on how we perceive and relate emotionally to our circumstances.
    When I first read about the “maya” of reality I was a teenager. I understood what I reading but I didn’t really “get it.” I spent the better part of my youth, like you, trying to “manage” my fears instead of jumping into the ring with them. It has taken several decades for me to truly “get it.” Overcoming my fears by facing them head on has resulted in removing the self-imposed limitations I placed on myself. It has been the most liberating experience of my life. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had done it sooner.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      It is amazing to me that I spent all that energy and so many years trying to manage and avoid my fears. By “jumping into the ring with them” as you say, they become tools for our growth and benefit. I have found that moving through them actually is motivation and puts me further towards my goals in life. Imagine that?! I am not sure that I even intellectually understood this before. Even if I had, I know I would not have acted on it. Like you, I wish I understood this and used it to my benefit much sooner. But, it is all part of the journey, eh? I sure am going to make good use of it now.

  5. And I thought I was the King of Avoidance! I continue to evaluate and re-evaluate my beliefs and actions to see if I’m avoiding or pursuing. It’s fun being scared. Now I feel as if I’m standing on a mountaintop, looking over the edge with the hounds of hell racing up from behind. Do I jump or die from what I was trying to avoid. Gret information.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I would bet that there a lot of us who could win an award at this! I like how you put it : “I continue to evaluate and re-evaluate my beliefs and actions to see if I’m avoiding or pursuing. It is a never ending, life long process, eh!? Sometimes, I am suprised to find that I may still be doing this upon initial reaction, but upon conscious awareness, I can then choose my path. I, too, think it is kinda fun now going into the fears and unknown!

  6. To be alive, means to live and burn for yourself and others, feel the life, not follow the running of the life … Just don’t close your eyes to the life – the better way is to feel it … 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Natia, thank you for commenting!It is ALL part of being alive and what make it rich and gives it texture.

  7. Hi Debbie,

    Thank you for such a great article on fear-driven lives. It gives a wonderful message of looking honestly at our choices and learning from them. Fear or love…although not always easy and, at times, challenging to say the least. We all fall down sometimes, but your words inspire people to get up again. I had a Nana that would always say, “Face your fears.” She was so ahead of her time and lived to be 96! Be well.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Cheri, thank you for your comment and kind thoughts! I like your Nana’s philosophy. She knew what she was talking about. We would all be wise to heed her words! 🙂

  8. What a great article, Debbie. You’ve covered so many aspects of avoidance and negative focus. I love the, “Drop the story line,” suggestion. So many of us get caught up in an old dialog we’re having with ourselves on auto-pilot. And then one day it hits us that we’ve moved on but forgot to bring our whole self with us. I have realized that blessings and lessons are two sides of the same coin and more a matter of perspective. Your words of wisdom come on the perfect day for me. (You’ve left me thinking of the Hokey Pokey song, “Put your whole self in.” Thank you!

    • Jeanne, thank you for your kind words. I have learned the hard way that ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING is a blessing in disguise. As you put it, it’s a matter of perspective. It’s up to us to broaden our view, consider alternatives, persevere and turn what could be stumbling blocks into stepping stones. It is our thinking that limits us.

      I love your Hokey Pokey analogy. Perfect! 🙂

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  10. Great Article ! Thank you Debbie!
    Just came as a big Aha! moment, it unmasked the pain avoidance tune I’ve been dancing to for a long time, disguised by smart “story lines” that made it all sound “logical”. Why would a sane person repeat a potentially painful experience?, the logical answer seems to be obvious, but it’s also robbing me and us of the life changing potential hidden in every well worth risk we are brave enough to take.

    • Thanks, Eve. Glad you found this helpful. It was a big “Aha moment” for me too when I realized what I had been doing. I had been making all my decisions out of fear trying to avoid rather than achieve what I did want. It all seems so obvious in hindsight. Even now, I will think a decision is positively motivated and then I will come to see that it was fear based or security seeking. I am so good at fooling myself! (But, it does keep me on my toes!)

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  13. Hello Debbie,
    first of all thanks for sharing all of what you’re sharing!
    I would like to ask you specific questions, because, no matter how much i agree with the ideas you expose, i can’t see how i can apply it to my real struggles. For example i am drawn to someone i love and of whom i appreciate the company, but at the same time, the person, or the relation, keeps hurting me. As i am analysing it i see that i am not with this person from fear but because i long for it. But, it is hurting me. What do i do? And i question myself even more because it is not just one person and one relation but a lot of my friendships. Should i turn myself to other people or what should i do?? I ‘m very tired of all this hurting.
    Thak you a lot!
    Have a nice moment
    Sincerely

    Jehann

    • Jehann,

      Thank you for your message. I want to point out to you are assuming a passive, powerless role in the whole process. You say “drawn to.” That is your subconscious feelings /urges. You don’t have to heed them. You are not a slave to your subconscious. You can insert conscious choices by becoming aware of your thoughts, urges, desires, exploring them, and acting with conscious intent. The point is not to never have “not-good-for-you” desires, you will have them, but they will lessen. The point is not to act on them reflexively without conscious thought. The hurt is in your thoughts and is not bad. It too is a tool for you to explore, and help guide you.Start practicing mindfulness, meditation, and working with your thoughts. http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/free-yourself-from-mental-slavery/

      • Thank you very much for your answer! I will take the time to let that sink in and blossom.

  14. Hi Debbie,

    It ‘s one thing to acknowledge to yourself the loss and waste of your life, it’s quite another to see it verbalised (similarly, by another) into print. Many thanks.

    Julie J

    • I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Did I verbalize it – about me, right? Is that helpful for you?

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