Breaking Free of Life’s Fears
The three things you can do right now to change your life by changing your thinking
Previously, I published an essay about the issue of sex before marriage, or more specifically, the avoidance of marriage within long-term relationships that we see increasingly in our society. At the conclusion of the post, I mentioned that my wife Rosemary would be joining me for a follow-up discussion of a more widely-applicable topic: how to recognize fear-based thinking as you contemplate important life decisions, and steps you can follow to arrive at a more courageous, truthful, or strategic frame of mind.
Kicking off the discussion: What are some fears you’ve identified and faced within yourself?
Rosemary: Fear is being in the dark about something. People are afraid of what they don’t understand or know about. Or they’re afraid of something or someone because they’ve had a bad experience in their past with something similar, which they associate with the new experience. They don’t want to repeat a bad scenario.
So, the only way to get past your fear is to identify what you are avoiding or afraid of, and create steps to educate yourself about what it is that’s keeping you from getting past the roadblock.
On the subject of marriage, actually, I was afraid of marrying the wrong person — I didn’t want to marry a man that would end up being just like my dad (aka, behaving like Scenario #1 in the previous article). That’s why I did my research and asked Jared a lot of questions before we got engaged (Jared: yeah, she asked me, I think, like a million or something!), and even ahead of time in my single years, I had compiled a list of qualities, interests, and skills that I hoped for in a future spouse. In friendships with different guys prior to meeting Jared, I knew pretty quickly they weren’t “the one” and I didn’t want to lead them along thinking something would work out when, ultimately, it wouldn’t.
A big part of moving past this fear was identifying my purpose in life. I came to realize that I needed to marry someone whose goals in life were similar to my own, whose spiritual convictions were the same, and whose skill sets would help us move forward towards accomplishing those goals together.
Jared: Yes, I think that’s tremendous: being aware of what you’ve been called to do with your time and your talents, and identifying those things which will either hinder or help you move forward towards achieving your vision.
A significant source of fear-based thinking in my life, one I only became aware of within the last few years, was my hesitation to unleash the ”full force of my personality” because I was afraid I would overwhelm people. So I would hold back on options, try to be a “nice guy” all the time, not put myself out there too much with new ideas (especially if they were controversial), and so forth. I thought this is was a positive type of behavior and actually prided myself on how nice I could be, when in actuality I was simply being a people-pleaser with a touch of dishonesty because, truth be told, I wasn’t revealing what I really thought to the people around me!
This only began to become clear to me through two sets of experiences: the first was a spiritual one of asking God to take my life to another level because I was sick of feeling like I was acting far lower than my potential. Call it the “I don’t like me anymore” syndrome. Whoever I was supposed to be, in a public sense, I just wasn’t it, and that was really bothering me. The second experience, which helped being closure to the first experience, was a cascade of deteriorating relationships with close family members. I discovered that not only had I been trying to be ”nice” and not the rock the boat, other family members had been doing the same thing, and finally the pot boiled over.
At that time, it became crystal clear that honest communication about what you really care about and what really matters to you, even if it might meet with disapproval from others, is vital to letting go of fear-based thinking and embracing positive change towards a more mature personality. (I’m since thankful these relationships are being re-built on a much more solid foundation.)
So how can someone apply these principles to their own life?
Rosemary: Let’s sum up. There are three steps to breakthrough:
- Identify what your fear is. An example might be speaking in public, or becoming like (the negative side of) your parents, or being in a marriage that falls apart, or having little impact on the world by the time you grow old.
- Identify at least one thing you can change. To illustrate based on that last fear, say about yourself: “I am going to identify one thing that I know will outlast or outlive me that will be an influence on others.” (Jared: for me, I know I want to influence others by telling stories that challenge assumptions and get people thinking outside the box. Doing the same thing over and over and over again, knowing it’s not working but not realizing the need for change or simply not caring enough, is a mindset I’ve made my life’s mission to eradicate!)
- Communicate honestly about this change to someone you trust who will keep you accountable. You want to share it and possibly even give them a written copy of your plan (if necessary, with a time goal). Check in with this person every six months or so, and prepare to be open to them regarding the progress you’re making. I would definitely recommend a person of the same gender (unless it happens to be your spouse).
And finally, pat yourself on the back for actually going through with this! A large part of conquering fear is knowing what it is and how you’re going to deal with it.
Jared: You did such a good job with that summary, Rosemary, I’m not sure I have anything to add! I will say that one observation I’ve made over the years is some fears that I thought I’d long since done away will surface again when the context of events in my life are very new and different than what I’ve experienced before. At first it is depressing to feel weighed down by issues once dealt with, but I’ve found it really helps to go back to the original principles and the thinking I had when I faced those fears before and reaffirm those positive decisions I had made to change my life. That might mean going back to reread works by certain writers, or certain Scriptures that had been beneficial. Perhaps it means rededicating to a more disciplined prayer schedule, or reaching out again to friends who had been there for you in the past. Whatever you do, you simply cannot afford to say to yourself “I’ll never be able to break free of this burden.” Remember, the things you say about yourself will define who you are, so it’s unwise to limit yourself when God has something so much better for you. Embrace the hope of a brighter future!
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” Jeremiah 1:5,31:3
And that’s a wrap for our discussion today. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to talk further about this or have ideas of your own for this topic. We really would love to hear from you!