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Living Without Fear

A couple of decades ago a patient referred to as SM went to doctors in Iowa with a rare condition. The disease causes lesions in a particular area in the brain called the amygdala. Through working with her, doctors and scientists discovered that the amygdala is the area in the brain that allows us to feel afraid, and because of her condition, SM has not ever have that feeling. This is not to say that she cannot be startled or does not understand the concept of fear, just when she sees a snake or a spider she is not scared of it like the rest of us might be. These studies, in combination with our ever-advancing medical capabilities, have lead theorists to ask the question: if you could have the amygdala removed from your brain, and never feel fear again, would you do it?

At first, the question may seem easy, why would I want to ever be afraid? However, her doctors quickly explained that her fearlessness has also gotten her into trouble. One story cites that she readily returned to a parking lot after just being assaulted with a knife there the night before. Ultimately, fear is an important part of our life, but it can also hinder us when we are trying to live our lives to the fullest. The real question we should be asking is: where and how can I take fear out of my life?

Know who you are

You have been living with yourself for a very long time, so why is it so hard to know who you are? We have covered up our true selves with different “masks” and personalities for so long, that sometimes we forget who we actually are. We cannot even remember what is truly important to us, so we end up in a whirlpool of discontent. I know you may not think you have enough time, but do what it takes to find yourself again. Go to therapy, go to church, or dedicate time in the morning to meditation or prayer. Find yourself again and not only will you be happier, but also you will not be afraid to show others who you are as well.

Do not value the opinion of others so much
The fears of intimacy, public speaking, rejection, and commitment are four major fears that come from valuing what others think too highly. The fact is that every person deals with the same issues and fears as you do; even my most social friends often express how lonely they feel. Realize that everyone you see or speak to has the same need for emotional stability as you do; you are just as strong as they are. Rarely do you meet someone as wise as Socrates, so do not value what they have to say anymore than you would value your own opinion. However, do not reject every compliment or opinion that you receive, because they can help you know yourself better.

Recognize what is out of your control

90% of all fears are about things that will never happen. The fears of death, flying, heights, the dark, and even spiders often stem from our fear of things that we cannot control. Know that a time will come for all of us where we will get injured or pass away, and though we should live as though we would never die, we cannot control when that time comes.

This past Christmas day marked the anniversary of the death of an incredible young man named Ben Breedlove. You likely have heard how just four days before his passing, he posted these videos discussing his life and his previous 3 run-ins with death:

Years ago, he and I went to the same school and I was able to witness the pure and energetic way that he lived his life; a life without fear because he knew that death could come at literally any time. He was not afraid because he knew that no matter what he did, it was out of his control.

Recognize failure for what it is

The final way to live fearlessly is to recognize that failure does not exist. That seems easy to believe when everything is going well, but much more difficult when life is hard. We have all failed at some point in life and will likely fail again, but understanding that failure is an opportunity for change is how we rise above our mistakes. I could surely reference how Steve Jobs was originally fired from Apple before returning to the company with the idea for the iPod; however, you likely know from your personal experiences that failure brings out the best in you. Think on your life, where have you failed? And what did you do about it? In high school I got kicked off of the varsity football team, and then returned the following year to become a captain. The fear of failure is not a fear of making mistakes; it is fear of inspiration.

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