(as published in Best Self Magazine 29 June 2017).
Try these 3 easy steps to cultivate fearlessness in your life by: releasing control, nourishing faith and having the courage to design a life YOU want!
What’s the big deal with our emotions?
So many emotions rush in and out of our lives on a daily basis: anxiety, joy, sadness, boredom, surprise and despair are just a few. Yet if we trace these emotions back to their origin, they either come from love or fear. Take anxiety for example. We may feel anxious about how others view us or about the result of an action we have taken or are about to take. These negative thoughts and feelings are often irrational and not based on facts. They are manifestations of fear, and we all have them from time to time.
Negative emotions make the body contract, the stomach knot and the mind worry. Joy, on the other hand, is a positive emotion. It comes from love (for a person, an event etc.) but can be short-lived like a sugar high and followed swiftly by a sudden drop in the emotional state to encompass its more negative counterpoint of despair. When we experience a positive emotion like joy, the physiological effects are quite different from experiencing a negative emotion: we may feel a pleasant warmth in our body, as well as relaxed muscles and little awareness of time passing.
Many psychologists and self-help teachers tell us that a state of emotional equilibrium is best for our mental health. This means not allowing ourselves to be buffeted by high and low swings of emotions but rather to remain more detached and therefore less affected. This certainly has been the case for me. During the past seven years of coming to terms with life-changing ill-health, I have ridden the roller-coaster of (among others) depression, despair, anxiety, joy, indignation, kindness and finally calmness. Looking back I can see that I was on a treadwheel of fear and only my determination, resilience and an acceptance of the need to surrender control to a higher power saved me.
Fearlessness is having faith in yourself—or a greater power—that everything will turn out for the best in the end. Nowadays when I am fearful I hand it over to God and trust in Him. Here are 3 ways you can cultivate fearlessness which will change your life for the better:
1. Release control
Many of us have issues with control, and I count myself among them. I can trace this need for control right back to childhood: controlling the games we played as friends, making lists to follow, using petulance and bad moods as ways of getting my own way, making snap decisions about people and about whether I liked or disliked them and so on. These poor habits of behavior continued into adulthood. I was repeating the same patterns over and over and yet change continued to happen and I continued to allow myself to be stressed by it! It’s only recently that I’ve realized that life is change. That’s how we grow. We cannot remain ‘in stasis’ for we would not grow. Further, I have realized that we can control very little about events occurring in our lives and in those of others around us, and that what do have influence over does not even bring lasting contentment. We can control our thoughts and emotions however, and thoughts are extremely powerful. Thoughts often become words, words often become acts, and acts repeated over and over become habits (good and bad). So, it’s vital to trace and then change the thoughts and resulting emotions if we want to rid ourselves of bad habits, including living in fear.
My advice is to:
- Throw away the lists, or at least adopt more flexibility towards them, enabling you to change when you do things or if you do them at all
- Stop having bad moods to get your own way (I relied on this tactic for so many years before eventually realizing that it drives people away)
- Don’t make snap judgements about others (we all wear masks to present ourselves to the world. Try to see and understand the person behind them)
- Let others choose what activities to do sometimes (even—especially—if it’s not what you want to do!). This allows you to practice releasing control and nurturing other positive emotions like friendship and kindness.
Can you do all that? It’s quite a daunting list at first glance. Perhaps take one item at a time from the above and work on that for a week or so. Concentrate on bringing positivity into your life as you release the control which these bad habits have held over you for so long. And breathe a long sigh of relief as each is released. The more you practice releasing control, the more peaceful your life will become. It’s wonderful!
2. Nourish sparks of faith
I was raised a Catholic and participated in all the ceremony and worship services which this entailed. I am so grateful to my parents for raising me to believe in a higher power, and yet—like so many of us when we enter adulthood—I turned my back on the church and its teachings as life’s challenges rained down on me. In my naiveté when faced with each small challenge, I thought that God was punishing me, that somehow I wasn’t good enough. So, in the end, I set myself on the materialist treadwheel of acquiring ever-more expensive possessions and climbing the career ladder. What was the result? I was completely miserable, restless, discontent, anxious and intolerant of others from whom I felt different or separate.
This may sound familiar to some of you. It seems we have to wander off down this road to nowhere in order to discover that actually the other way would have been better! The other way for me came by means of small sparks of faith reigniting as I learned to meditate. Unlike my childhood upbringing of communal worship, meditation has enabled an individual relationship with the Creator to flourish, which has grown and grown over the years. And the result? A deep, lasting joy and contentment like I’ve never felt before.
Try these tips:
- Start meditating (there are plenty of apps and CDs available). Even short periods of quiet time enable us to look within and be at peace.
- Listen to your intuition. This is how God speaks to us.
- Be aware of what you can learn from everyone who crosses your path in life. They have not come to you by coincidence.
- Practice seeing the Divine in others, especially those from whom you feel different or separate, for we are all born equally.
3. Dare to have courage
Steps 1 and 2 above pave the way for a renewed sense of optimism and courage to grow within you. Once you discover that there is a higher power (whatever name you give it: God, the Creator, Universal Consciousness and so on) who is the Director of this play called Life on Earth and that you are only one of many actors on stage, it changes how you view everything and everyone!
Yes, as actors we should do our very best to play our part well, acquire new skills and help others around us to achieve their best too. And yet ultimately, we have the safety cushion of the knowledge that whatever happens (good or bad) will be in our best interests because it’s part of the overall plan, of which only the Director has all the knowledge at His disposal. If an event is what we might term ‘bad’, then know that it’s a specific challenge which we are invited to learn and grow from; if it’s something ‘good’, again the lessons to be learned from it are key, and how we can use what we’ve learned to help others. By helping others, we also help our souls to grow and become closer to God.
Courage to dare when we know there is someone there to catch us when we fall—and we will, many times!—is the ultimate way to counteract fear. Courage requires strength, determination, resilience to keep going, keep trying despite failures, to achieve our goals.
Here are some suggestions on how you can dare to have courage in your life:
- Sail your own course through life (do not be swayed by others’ opinions, ridicule and so on).
- Keep in mind: “What’s the worst that can happen?” when faced with difficulties and: “What am I to learn from this challenge?”. These two questions will help you to be more courageous and determined in your efforts.
- Separate yourself from people who are not good for you: those who speak and act negatively (out of fear); those who make you feel ‘contracted’ and ill-at-ease when in their company. Instead, nurture relationships with positive people who make you feel uplifted and content.
Cultivate fearlessness in life
By following the 3 easy steps above (releasing control, nourishing sparks of faith and daring to have courage), you will be loosening the tight control which fear has held over you for so long. This may have felt like trailing lead balloons behind you through life. These have been dragging you down and holding you back, and yet you are the one who attached them to yourself! You can let them go now. Hand them over to a higher power, breathe a long sigh of relief and start down the path of a new, positive you, filled with the thoughts, emotions, words and acts of love for yourself and others around you.
I wish you well.