As you go through life, you will hear people use words such as bravery or courage, or phrases around the importance of facing your fears. When you hear a complex concept or idea repeatedly from an early age, you tend to assume familiarity with that idea or concept. The result is superficial knowledge; a broad-strokes level of understanding which could in fact be stopping you from truly grasping very important concepts.
In his Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope wrote the following – way back in the year 1711:
“A little learning is a dangerous thing
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”
I remember reading this when I was 17 years old and it has stuck with me ever since. My world view changed because in the back of my mind, I understood that I must fully immerse myself in an idea before I can truly understand it.
If we are to apply this method to a concept such as facing your fears, we must understand fully what fear is, and what it truly means to face these fears. If our understanding of fear, bravery and courage is the one we’ve formed during childhood, we risk going through life without truly ever being able to deal with fear correctly.
So, let me begin by defining fear itself, in the simplest way I can.
Fear is an emotion. Fear is unpleasant. Fear affects our body physiologically and our mind psychologically, and the sum of the two results in an altered behaviour.
When we are afraid, we tend to hide, run away or freeze.
We all experience fear, make no mistake. The concept of bravery and courage that we so often hear about is commonly mistaken for the lack of fear. This misunderstanding stems from the fatigue we have accumulated from the overuse of these nebulous words.
However, bravery and courage are not qualities of the person who lacks fear. They are, in fact, habits or patterns of behaviour. A brave person is a person who, when afraid, does not hide, run away or freeze. A brave person learns to identify the emotion of fear, and instead of being ruled by the default response mechanisms, they have the ability to sidestep them. They will say: “I am afraid. Interesting. What am I afraid of? Let’s have a look.”
Facing your fears is the first step in shattering them. Realise that you are afraid. Examine what you are afraid of. Understand it. Analyse it and break it down. Know the face of your fear. That is true courage: a habit. And like any habit, you can learn to do it. When you do, go freely and conquer your nightmares.