Face Your Fears

I’ve always been someone who faces my fears.

I have a moderate case of arachnophobia. I don’t run away when I see a spider, but it creeps my out when one is crawling on me. When I was in college, I decided to buy a tarantula to attempt to get over my irrational fear of spiders. I thought I’d be able to get more comfortable with the tarantula over time, eventually to the point of letting it crawl on my arm. It didn’t work. Although I did find that my fear of tarantulas is rational — I got a terrible case of hives just from touching the urticating hairs that fell off into its water sponge.

Last week, I was on vacation in Mexico. One of the excursions we took involved jumping in the water a lot. I’m not a strong swimmer — mostly because I have a hard time closing my nose; I hold my nose when I jump in. We zip-lined into the water a lot. At one point, there was a cliff to dive into the water from. It was about 15 feet above the water. It didn’t look so far down before jumping. But it felt like a really long way down the first time I jumped from it. It was pretty scary for me. So I did it a second time. There wasn’t any peer pressure to jump a second time. I literally jumped a second time specifically because I was scared.

Fear is a weird thing. Fear is there to protect us. But it’s there to protect us from the dangers of the African savannah. Most of the things our fears protect us from don’t exist in our everyday modern lives. So maybe we should work to gain a better understanding of how our fears work, to figure out when to pay attention to them and when to ignore them.

Fortunately, our brain has a good mechanism to help us do this. Our brains basically have 2 main processing systems. The first one is for quick reactions. This one involves things that are nearly reflexes. Fear is in this system. The second system is our analytical reasoning system. This system takes longer to process, but is able to take on more information.

Whenever the situation allows us time for both systems to work, we need to listen to them both. We need to listen to our fears, because they’re there for a reason. But that reason might not pertain to our situation. So we need to realize that, and let the slow analytical system determine if we should ignore our fears.

If we don’t allow both systems to work, we’re not taking full advantage of our brains; we’re not taking full advantage of the situations that life is presenting to us.

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