Why would you want to examine your fears?
Remember that part in the scary movie when the hero suggests going down into the basement to take a look around and you cringe in your seat and mentally say “don’t do it”?
Tim Ferriss, who has bipolar himself, says that engaging with and examining your fears is how to stay mentally healthy in a fun and inspiring TED Talk.
Many years ago I ran across a therapy technique for dealing with anxiety that I have used with considerable success but which appeals to me, in part, because the technique is paradoxical. Faced with someone consumed with worry, you prescribe focused and dedicated worry time.
This at least gets people’s attention, but why would it be useful? It is useful precisely because the nature of worry involves not just thinking about fears but a process of both thinking about and then putting away fears which is very superficial and repetitive. The fear is never really looked at, it is glanced at, and then you look away.
Prescribed worry suggests that by devoting some time to really looking at the things that we are afraid of we will have a more realistic understanding of those fears, but also we may be able to “strike a bargain” with ourselves. A worry thought can “go on the list” of things to seriously consider at the next scheduled worry time.
Scheduling or devoting some time to examining your fears may allow you to put aside those worry thoughts when you really don’t have time to take a look at them thoughtfully.
Tim Ferriss says that this process has been the key to better mental health and mood stability for himself. He describes a time of frenetic activity, driven by fear, and then outlines the process that saved him from a breakdown.
A three step process to examine your fears
Begin by writing down those worst fears. Writing engages in different part of the brain, one that is more logical and less prone to emotion-based errors. Writing something also means that you can see if you’ve done a good job with an analysis. And you can revisit it in the future.
In addition to writing your worst fears, write down some thoughts about how you might be able to take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will happen.
Finally give a thoughtful analysis of the “worst-case scenario.” If your worst fear came to pass what would actually happen. And how might you be able to react to reduce the damage.
Now do a thoughtful evaluation of the cost of doing nothing. Over the course of the next few years what will happen in your life if you don’t deal with this fear. Will it affect your relationships, your emotional and physical health etc.
And now consider the benefits of trying front, even if that effort is the successful.
You may find, after you do the analysis, that you really don’t want to confront this fear. But if you do it a few times a year you may be able to whittle away some of those anxieties and successfully face some challenges which might otherwise have a big negative impact on your life.