Nature has equipped us with an internal red alert system. Fear.
When an out of control truck careens towards our car we get that rush of adrenaline that helps us think fast and take evasive action. Fear saves the day.
However, there are times when the same alarm bells go off and scare us unnecessarily. Here our fears are triggered by faulty perceptions. In such a case fear is totally useless and a waste of energy.
For instance you walk by your boss at the beginning of the day and she has a dark look on her face. She is totally preoccupied with something and is not even aware of your presence. Based on some difficulties you may have had with her in the past you say to yourself, “Is she mad at me because I missed the project deadline last week?” So begins your migraine or digestive problems.
Your fear is real but your perception of its cause may not always based on reality.
Reflect on the following acronym.
Fears based on false evidence feel VERY real. Your gut churns as much as it would with the runaway truck scenario. Our physical systems cannot distinguish between false or true fear situations.
But our minds can be trained to distinguish between the two.
Years ago when I worked as a psychologist I learned a powerful strategy Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). Use the ABC’s of this theory to analyze your irrational fears that feel very real to you. Then learn how to choose a more productive response.
A = Activating event. The trigger in our case was the boss in a bad mood
B = Belief. What you believe about the situation, “She is mad at me.”
C = Consequence. Your fear causes you to have a bad day.
Now did A cause C? Obviously this is not the case.
It was your interpretation of the event that scared you. It was the B=Belief part of the sequence that kicked in. When you examine the situation more carefully there could have been a dozen reasons why the boss was in a bad mood. She may have just had a fight at home. Her boss could have just chewed her out. But you chose to think that it was about you. So continue to follow the ABC process.
D = Dispute your belief. Engage in some reality testing. Do a sanity check with a colleague with a question like “Is it just my perception but is the boss in a bad mood today or what?”
E = Establish a new belief. After a thorough sanity check you may receive information that contradicts your belief that you caused the dark cloud over your boss’s head.
Managing the Fear Factor –Control Your Beliefs.
Here are some additional simple mental maneuvers that help ground your fear in reality. Each one represents false evidence about the perplexing situation facing you.
- Challenge your beliefs. Have you ever said, “Things come in 3’s”? What law of the universe supports that belief? Granted you may have had a string of bad luck or even tragedy. But does that really destine you to repeat the same story?
- Recognize old dramas. We all have hot buttons. Experiences from the past come back to haunt us. The struggle with a controlling relative in the past is reactivated by certain controlling situations in the present. The belief that needs to be challenged and changed is “this situation will play out like it did in the past.” Establishing a new belief goes something like this. “I don’t have to fear this. I have options like leaving, detaching, or pushing back. I am not the helpless child I once was. At the end of the day I do what is right for me.”
- Put your feelings on hold until you get more evidence. You really do not have to be held hostage to your feelings. So when the fear response is activated don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make the logical error that takes as particular circumstance and generalize it to what is going on right now. Develop a strong hold button for your emotions while you search for other evidence
Recognizing and managing the fear factor does not happen overnight. Some of your old hurts and beliefs run very deep. They have morphed into bad mental habits. But slowly, and at times with professional help, you can change your thoughts and in so doing change your life. Don’t stop at C but move to E.