New age self-help gurus love to talk about facing fears. Somehow most of these veer toward working out or inducing some temperature based stressor. That’s not facing fears. That’s glorified escapism.
Want to face your fears? Write. Expose your deepest thoughts; unveil emotions hiding in the recesses of your mind. Organize and formulate it into a sentence. Mold the thoughts into words and craft the words into a sentence. It’s scary.
Sure, at first it may appear fun. Pouring the weight of thoughts onto a digital canvas is no doubt cathartic. But that’s just a precursor to the inevitable fear you’ll face.
It’ll first appear as self-doubt. You question what you’re writing even though what you wrote felt right at the time. It’s inevitable; it happens to the best. So why shouldn’t it happen to you? It’s not the doubt you should worry about. It’s what you do with it.
For the longest time I ran from it, deluding myself into thinking that I was, in fact, facing it. I would sit in a sauna, go for a walk, meditate, you know, all the things those seeking some semblance of mental fortitude search for online. None of them really worked because all that matters is what happens in your mind at the moment of doubt. Unchecked doubt leads to existential fear.
Thoughts become harder to process and my fast twitch reflexes quickly look for things to divert my mind. I would check my email. And then I would check it again. And for good measure, I would review it once more.
I succumb to menial tasks I know aren’t relevant at the moment, but I do them anyway. Then of course, I fall through the self-help rabbit hole. So an hour of menial busywork becomes a two hour workout. I do everything I read about so I can face my fears – except for facing them.
All because I refuse to confront the moment of self-doubt, when the nascent fear has yet to fully form. So I tread when I should be walking. Funny how the mind fools itself into believing it’s busy when it’s busy avoiding the task at hand. It masks inaction with irrelevant action. And it does so with insidious precision.
My working solution: eliminate the mind’s ability to choose for you. Refuse to engage in anything but the task you set out to do, even if it means you will sit there doing nothing. We abhor inaction like nature abhors a vacuum. But sometimes it’s necessary.
You can’t write about the world while engaging with it. You have to separate. That’s when your unfettered thoughts appear most clearly. It sounds ironic, but to get your mind to work at peak capacity, give it less to do.
When I first tried this, I found myself sitting there in a stupor. Needless to say, it was awkward. I consider myself sharp. I always know what to do or have a contingency plan for what to do just in case. But to eliminate any options and simply force myself to do what I’m so desperately avoiding to do – that’s unfamiliar terrain.
My mind grasps for anything to escape to. I remember some random person I encountered a week ago, so I inquire whether I should look him up. Or I suddenly feign interest in some trivia, so I itch to read about it online. It’s so reflexive that it’s alarming. Am I this impulsive?
No, I’m this scared. So scared, in fact, that I will do anything but what I need to do at that moment. I’m finally trying to face these fears, even if it means I’m sitting blankly for minutes on end.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to overcome my fears like I intend to by putting myself through these forced confrontations. But at least I feel like I’m being honest with myself. That makes it feel like a good start – even if it means sitting in my chair staring at a blank screen while painfully etching out a handful of words over prolonged periods of frozen silence.