If you feel stuck, it may be because you’re letting your fears, instead of your values drive your actions. See, fear is an inescapable aspect of being human. The fear response inside our brain has evolved to steer us away from danger and help us survive.
However, our modern-day environment is no longer the jungle of yestertime. There is no saber-tooth tiger waiting around the corner to tear us to shreds. Instead we have our regular worries… being late to work, getting fired, the boss yelling at us, our kids rebelling, and so on.
But our brain remains the same survival mechanism as before. It treats this modern-day environment like the jungle of yesterday, and the boss screaming at you as the equivalent of the sabertooth tiger getting ready to tear us to shreds. Hence our emotions and feelings do not accurately reflect the reality we’re dealing with.
For us, this means one thing… Fear is no longer an adequate compass to guide us through life.
What Happens When Fear Is Your Compass?
What happens depends on your environment. You see, if you live in the jungle, letting fear be your compass will probably keep you alive.
Darwin’s breakthrough about the “survival of the fittest” is true, except that the category of the “fittest” changes based on the environment. There is no one set of “strongest” characteristics regardless of environment. In other words, the fittest is relative, nature selects based on who survives based in a specific environment.
The nerd at CERN is a king. The nerd in your regular public school is a “loser”.
So if you’re anxious, there’s nothing wrong per say with you. You’re actually the “strongest” if our environment were to turn into a jungle. So there is no need to be ashamed.
However, if you’re letting your anxiety drive you in today’s modern environment, you go from “strongest” to missing out on your potential. And here’s why:
Fear works when punishment and reward are immediate. Like in the jungle. You see the sabertooth tiger, and the punishment of being caught by it, and the reward of escaping are immediate. There will be no delay.
However, in modern society, rewards and punishments are far into the future. You don’t build a billion dollar company, climb the corporate ladder, or become a world-famous doctor in a day. Nor in a month for that matter.
And you don’t get lung cancer in a day… it’s the cigarette of yesterday, and the cigarette of the day before, and so on that bring about that result…
You see, what happens in a day are all the small stuff, whose reward is far into the future and invisible. The decision to go in early to work. Deciding to get involved and truly care about your company’s problems. The decision to do that exercise regimen every single day.
Or the other way around… deciding to have that extra drink… the decision to have that extra chocolate. The decision to go out with your friends rather than improve your skills. Or the decision to light up another cigarette.
We live in a delayed gratification environment, which means it is the small things that add up over time that ruin or make our lives.
And yet, if fear is our compass, it simply cannot handle an environment based on delayed gratification! It will get you to the nearest “safe” spot… A spot that is far away from the life you want to live, the life that is in accord with your values.
Fear is simply the perfect compass for a different environment.
Today we need a different compass.
Your Values Are Your Compass
In an environment that rewards delayed gratification, your values are what will guide you towards having a meaningful and rewarding life.
They will orient you towards those long-term goals that take time to achieve, and will help you link the small, every day steps, with those long-term rewards that are meaningful to you.
What your values are will differ from person to person. We’re all different, so you have to discover your own values.
The beauty of this, is that you already know what they are.
Well, you’re already embodying them.
It’s just about shifting your perspective so that you can actually see them. And the beauty of it is that all you have to do to discover your values is check those negative feelings that you’re always avoiding!
Embrace the Negatives
Worry, anxiety, grief, sadness, depression, fear, anger, guilt, humiliation.
You seek to avoid them right?
But what if, just momentarily, when you felt these emotions, before shirking back to comfort, you stopped for a moment, and asked yourself:
What does your anxiety (or whatever negative emotion) about getting yelled at by your boss say about you? It says that you have high standards. It says that you want to bring about a meaningful contribution. That’s why you’re anxious.
What does your grief at the death of your loved one say about you? It says that you care. It says that you value your relationship with them deeply.
What does your anxiety about having a baby say? It says that you have high standards as a mother. You want to give only the best for your baby.
What does your fear of failure about starting your own business say? It says that you truly desire to be independent and financially free. It says that building your business is truly meaningful to you.
Wherever there are strong negative feelings, there are values. Many people today are confused about their values because they are always running away from negativity, as if negativity was something to be gotten rid of.
The truth is, that it is our negative emotions that make us truly human. That make us compassionate. That make us have empathy. That truly bring out the best in all of us.
So don’t run.
How Do You Stick To Your Values When You’re Afraid?
And finally, you know that your values are a better compass, you know how to discover them, the only question is how do you replace fear as your compass once you know your values?
In other words, how do you stick to your values when you’re afraid?
See, your question presupposes that you shouldn’t feel afraid in order to take action.
And that’s the point.
You mistakenly believe that you have to stop feeling afraid, and THEN you’ll take action. But the fear will not go away. It’s hardcoded in your brain.
And there’s another “rule” that is coded there. Only that you can change this one. It says “I must stop feeling afraid before taking action”.
Now let’s see, why is that rule false?
Can you think of examples when it wasn’t true? Examples when you first took action, and then your fear diminished?
Can you think of examples when you acted despite the fear?
Brainstorm a little. And then replace that rule with a more empowering and truthful one. For example: “I don’t need my fear to diminish to take action. I can take action despite the fear if I need to”.
Then cement that into your brain. Ask yourself to provide examples of when that rule would have been useful to you. Situations that could have turned out differently. Imagine the rewards you would have obtained if you had used this rule.
And then you just have to use it!
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Because the only real choice is if you will you act in accordance with your values, or you will not. Fear will be there regardless, there is no escape from feeling.
And here’s something that most people fail to realise:
Failure and pain in pursuit of your values is success.
The person who pursues their values regardless of the obstacles in their path is a success. Think about the people you most admire.
Why do you admire them?
Take a look at this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJnJ_fTYofQ
He has no arms and no legs. He can’t do a lot of the things that YOU take for granted.
And yet, you don’t just feel compassion for him. You don’t pity him. You admire him.
Because he pursues his values, regardless of his disabilities, failures and pain. And that’s success.
Billions of people admire Jesus Christ today, and some worship Him. And yet He died humiliated, and in pain. So why do we admire Him?
The unrelenting pursuit of His values.