Fear, Anxiety and the Power of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
How to make sure your fears don't paralyze your life.
Many of us are afraid today. We live in an uncertain world and in especially uncertain times. Yet our fears could cost us this year in ways we cannot comprehend yet.
Beth Moore, well-known Bible teacher and author, sent a tweet earlier this month which produced a tremendous reaction. I scrolled through many of the 800-plus replies to Moore’s tweet. The stories and experiences of the people I read were gritty, unfiltered and gut-wrenching.
People talked about financial hardships, terminal medical diagnoses, losing their jobs or their health insurance. They shared internal struggles like identity questions and angst about self-worth. They described their fears for friends and family members.
As I read through these responses, I thought about my fears and how I would answer the question. I thought about my insecurities when it comes to my career. My ambitions and fears when it comes to my side-hustle as a writer. I reflected on my marriage, my role as a father, my new beginning in a new place last year and so much more.
A tweet reply only allows 140 characters and I felt like I had enough for 140 separate tweets!
Why Are We Afraid?
Our fears are at their worst when they paralyze us.
Afraid of being rejected? We won’t put ourselves out there—too much exposure.
Afraid of some powerful person making a decision which will harm us? We become obsessed with their every move, word and action.
Afraid of making the wrong decision? We begin to struggle to make any decision.
Afraid this year will be worse than last year? We live with bated breath, never really present in the moment, unable to enjoy what we have.
When fears dominate us, they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. We twist events to match our worst expectations. We write a narrative of actual events which fits our point of view. It’s a terrible place to be, but, in a sick and twisted way, we at least feel we’ve regained some control!
One of the things fear often does is convince us we’re the only ones. After isolating us, fear tells us we will never overcome our struggle.
Take for example, public speaking. For some people, they’re more afraid of speaking in public than dying. This is why Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
So, what can we do with those fears?
Determine where you’ve placed your hope.
I’ve found the one way to defeat fear is to choose hope instead. But one of the problems with hope is when we put our hope in the wrong places.
So, it might be a good thing to ask yourself, “What is the object of my hope?”
I’m really proud of myself because I restrained myself and refrained from making any political Facebook posts throughout the 2016 election cycle. But when President Trump said in his inauguration speech, “I won’t disappoint you,” I shook my head in disbelief. I think I literally laughed out loud, too.
It’s totally untrue. Because we’re all going to disappoint each other. We’re going to disappoint the people we love—our family, spouses, and friends. We’re going to disappoint the people who work for us and the people we work for.
I disappointed at least seven people last week. How do I know? They unsubscribed from my email list. I’m not sure why last week’s email caused them to say “bye!” but whatever motivated them to sign up for the list no longer was present.
We should not place our hope in people because people will always disappoint us. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way is “the strength of your hope is based upon object of your hope.” If your hope is fixed on a person (or a president), then you’ll be disappointed eventually.
We have to determine where we’ve placed our hope. And crisis often helps us. Crisis reveals where we’ve placed (or misplaced) our hope. When we place it in something that is weaker than we realized, then we discover a possible reason for our continual defeat at the hands of fear.
Defang your fears.
There are two different approaches to defang or neuter your fear I want to explore here.
In Steven Furtick’s book, Crash the Chatterbox he encourages his readers to ask two questions when facing fears. The first is “What is the worst that could happen?”
After answering the first question, ask yourself “And then what?” Keep asking the second question until you get to an ultimate outcome. Many times, the ultimate outcome of our fears aren’t nearly as terrifying or debilitating once we name then and get them out in the open.
As we engage in Furtick’s exercise, we arrive at the same destination. We become aware of how our minds trick us into thinking the worst-case scenario leaves us permanently defeated. Fear deceives us into thinking we shouldn’t try when a temporary setback isn’t fatal. In fear-setting, we discover all the ways we can actually mitigate disastrous outcomes in advance.
If fear is treating you like a bully—beating you up and stealing your lunch money—take some time this week to engage in one of these practices and defang your fears.
Focus on what you can control and take those actions.
A.J. Cronin famously said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only saps today of its strength.”
Fear is a form of worry which empowers us with a sense of control when we feel like we have none.
One of the best ways to defeat fear is to ignore what we cannot control and focus on what we can control instead. Some actions are impossible for us to take today, but there are some actions we can take.
If you’re battling worry and fear today, ask yourself, “What can I do today to influence tomorrow?” As someone once said, “The best option is the one which creates more options.”
On a recent episode of his leadership podcast, Craig Groeschel shared how he approaches personal development. He has a mantra. “I will do what I can do today to enable me to do tomorrow what I can’t do today.” Groeschel sees beyond his current capacity (or even his current fears) to his future potential. By seeing the connection between today and tomorrow, he does what he can in hopes that one day he’ll do what he once said he couldn’t.
We have opportunities today which make new opportunities possible tomorrow. The decisions we make today can open doors by this time next year.
Last week, three baseball players were announced as the new class to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was reminded of the men and women listed in the Hall of Fame within the Scriptures. In Hebrews 11, the author describes the nature of faith and then lists many men and women who exhibited great faith in their respective lives.
These men and women were not qualitatively different from you and me. They didn’t know where they’d end up when they were alive. They simply took the next step they knew to take, doing the next right thing they knew to do. When they felt led to obey God, they stepped forward and another opportunity opened.
As with any great story, we live our stories, word by word, sentence by sentence, day by day. Fear was a very real part of their story, like yours and mine. Yet, the reason we still know their names and read their stories is because they chose to reject fear and act anyway.