Maja at Lampelina wrote quite a while back about the influence of fear on decision-making, and I’m finally getting around to exploring it on my own.
Looking back, I don’t think fear was a big factor in most of my decisions. If I wanted to do something, I did it, including some perhaps high-ish fear factor things like solo travel and skydiving. I think there are a few factors that have contributed to that.
One was that my parents were big on away-from-home extracurriculars. I went on a school exchange trip to Japan the summer after grade 8, did a French immersion program in another province the summer after grade 9, and did a science camp type thing in the city where I live now the summer after grade 10. That definitely helped me to feel comfortable diving right in when I started travelling.
Part of it is also my personality. The inner critic has never been much of an issue, so that’s huge. I’m a very logical-minded person, so I’m more likely to weigh outcomes than get hauled off in an emotional direction. I’m not too concerned about what other people think; I’m more of a selfish decision-maker, and I care about results for me, not random other people.
Looking back on my life, I can’t think of anything I wish I’d done but was too scared at the time to do it. There were certainly times when I decided that the potential benefit of doing something was unlikely to outweigh the potential negatives, and perhaps I was wrong in some of those cases, but there’s no sense of having missed out.
So, that’s me, but let’s talk about fear getting in the way. How might that happen?
I can definitely see how fear of doing things that are very different from one’s norm if that’s something you’ve never been exposed to. The unknown can be appealing, but I think that seed has to be planted early. Excitement in some ways is just the sensations of anxiety but with a positive twist.
That annoying cognitive distortion of catastrophizing could certainly get in the way, as could social anxiety and the fear of humiliation. The longer an avoidance pattern carries on, the more strongly it’s reinforced, and the greater the role fear is likely to play.
I can also see fear being an issue if there’s low self-esteem or imposter syndrome and a feeling of not actually being good enough or deserving of having things turn out well.
I don’t recall where I first heard of this trick (it may have been the book Anne of the Island), but the idea is to imagine that you’re 80 and looking back on the decision you’re faced with now – what would your 80-year-old self have to say about the matter? The 80-year-old of my future that lives in my head bears a very close resemblance to my grandma, who refused to let fear stop her from doing anything.
What role has fear played in your own decisions over the years?