The Fear Factor: What You Don’t Know May Help You

Mountaintop We all love what we know. We can relax about what we know—no surprises! But the fact is that sticking to what we know limits our lives. In almost every aspect of our lives, there is more unknown than known. Allowing yourself to jump into the unknown will enlarge and enhance your life.

You’re going out to dinner on Saturday night. Do you go to the restaurant you know you’ll like, or do you take a risk on a new place? The new restaurant could be terrible or it could be fabulous. You’ll never know unless you try it.

A friend has invited you to join an activity that is completely out of your comfort zone, perhaps country dancing or a poetry reading. What stops you? Is it the fear that you won’t like it? That you won’t belong? That you’ll be ridiculed because of your lack of knowledge? Whatever it is, it’s fear.

This is not just about finding new restaurants and learning to line dance, though. It’s about a way of life. It’s about getting comfortable with what you don’t know, questioning what you think you do know, and challenging yourself to learn something new. It’s about building confidence in your ability to handle whatever life hands you. It’s also about not letting fear stop you.

Fear can be your friend or it can be your foe. When it protects you from real dangers, it’s your friend. But it’s your enemy when it convinces you that something safe is dangerous.

When fear tells you that you can’t handle the discomfort of not belonging, or the embarrassment of not knowing something, or the disappointment of failure, it is underestimating your ability to deal with these emotions.

When fear tells you that you can’t handle the discomfort of not belonging, or the embarrassment of not knowing something, or the disappointment of failure, it is underestimating your ability to deal with these emotions. Perhaps fear and avoidance of these situations weakens you instead of protecting you. For example, fearing the painful emotions of a romantic breakup may stop you from seeking love and connection. But only by experiencing it will you learn that you can survive the pain of a breakup, creating room to attempt love and connection again.

The greatest of all unknowns is yourself. We limit our growth and potential if we define ourselves too rigidly. “I’m not good at sports.” “I’m not that smart.” “I’m not creative.” These beliefs about ourselves were developed when we were children and may need to be reassessed. They also rest on the belief that you can’t enjoy yourself at something unless you’re good at it. But what if you could take pleasure in something whether you’re good at it or not? You’d have a whole lot more to enjoy. If you open yourself up to the unknown, you might surprise yourself.

If you need more inspiration, consider the inspiring stories of others.

Candy Lightner drew on emotional strength and leadership after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. She became the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and created awareness of this important issue. Aron Ralston discovered an incredible will to live after being trapped by a boulder, eventually cutting off part of his arm to escape. He became an inspiration to many because of his courage and survival instinct.

Every day, men and women learn new skills and forge new lives after the loss of jobs or relationships.

Sticking to what you think you know may feel safe, structured, and comfortable. By exploring the unknown, however, you can discover endless possibilities.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, CGP, therapist in Encino, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • vivienne

    vivienne

    May 7th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    I didn’t realize just how much I needed to branch out and change until a bad breakup made me have to step outside of my normal comfort zone and do some things that I never thought that I would.
    As a result, and even though I didn’t even realize it at the time, all of this made me so much stronger than I ever would have been before.
    Was it scary? Yes. But did I find strength in myself that I didn’t even know existed? Yes!

  • RITA

    RITA

    May 7th, 2015 at 4:02 PM

    There are days when I feel so afraid of my own shadow that the thought of trying something different or new completely overwhelms me.

  • melissa D

    melissa D

    May 9th, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    I want to be a little braver than I am. I would like to make this my new goal but I think that I need to break it down into somewhat smaller pieces than just that to be a success

  • Colleen

    Colleen

    May 11th, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    There is a certain rush with trying something new and maybe even a little dangerous that I can’t explain. It is a real motivator for me, whereas sitting and doing the status quo seems so boring somehow.

  • Angie

    Angie

    May 12th, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Great post. Thank you. I needed this today!

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