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Four Reasons Why Fear is a Creative’s Friend

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Post written by Cath Duncan.

For the creative person, fear is always nearby. But in spite of the close proximity, it’s usually a very strained relationship. Fear is one of those emotions that most of us are trying not to have. Because it doesn’t feel good, it’s been coded as a so-called “negative” emotion. And we’re so keen to avoid this negative emotion that we find ourselves avoiding situations that elicit fear for us, so we code the fear-inducing situations as “negative” as well.

What happens then is we end up being afraid of fear, so we start building meta-levels of fear. And then we’re no longer just scared, but we’re scared of feeling scared. And we can even make ourselves scared of feeling scared of feeling scared… can you see how easy it is to end up with more fear, instead of less fear, when we see feeling fear as a bad thing?

But, fear isn’t bad at all. All emotions have a positive purpose that serves us. Have you ever thought about the positive purpose of your fear?

Fear alerts us to threats

Sometimes our fear can be a really useful gut-response that helps us anticipate and respond more quickly to a genuine threat. If something is unfamiliar, it might be dangerous, so, whenever we’re in unfamiliar territory, fear crops up and alerts us to pay attention. And of course, from a survival point of view, that’s really useful.

Fear is a signal you’re learning

Because we’re designed this way, we tend to respond to ALL unfamiliar experiences with fear – even if they’re not dangerous. So long as you’re taking yourself into new territory, and growing, you’ll always feel some fear along the way. From a creativity point of view, fear is useful because it makes you more alert when you’re learning and growing. And fear is a signal that you’re learning. In fact, if you’re telling yourself you’re learning in a particular area of your life, yet you’re not feeling any fear in that area of your life, you’re probably not learning.

Fear lets you know what’s important to you

A third purpose of fear is that fear let’s us know what’s really important to us. Think about it: when something isn’t important to you, you probably don’t care what happens with it, and you won’t feel fear then. It’s the stuff that’s closest to our hearts, that we really care about, that we feel the most fear about – because it matters to us how things work out. With so many choices available to us these days, alot of creative people find it difficult to figure out what’s really important to them and decide what they want in life. A really counter-intuitive, but easy way to figure whether something is genuinely important to you is to notice how much fear you have about it. The more important it is to you, the bigger your fear will probably be.

Fear holds creative tension

When there’s an unresolved problem or a gap between where we are and where we want to be, a tension develops. The bigger the gap, the greater the tension, and fear we’ll feel. Alot of the time, in order to relieve the tension, we change our vision of where we want to be or stop asking that unresolved question. Successful creatives embrace this tension, knowing that tension is an important part of the creative process. Creative tension motivates our unconscious mind to continue searching for a resolution, even while we go on with our other tasks or go to sleep at night, those epiphanies that you have, where the idea just seems to have popped into your head out of nowhere.

So next time you feel afraid, stop and remind yourself that fear works. And then check which purpose your fear is serving, and ask yourself, “Knowing that this is the purpose of my fear, what would I love to do next?” (hint: if you’re still standing there, the purpose of your fear is probably not nr 1!). Thank your fear for working for you, and honor it by taking the next action you’d love to take.

Cath Duncan helps knowledge workers to master their WHOLE MIND so that they can confidently do what they love and be more productive at it. You can find more of Cath’s self-coaching resources at Mine Your Resources, or follow Cath on Twitter.