MH@H Mental Health

How Big a Role Has Fear Played in Your Decisions?

Fear: how big a role has it played in your decision-making? - woman peering through hole torn in paper

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. 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?

48 thoughts on “How Big a Role Has Fear Played in Your Decisions?”

  1. This 80-year-old self is a brilliant idea to overcome fear and live your life to the fullest, before you’re actually 80. πŸ™‚
    Thanks for mentioning me.

  2. I can’t say fear played much of a role in my decision making either. I don’t get scared by traveling solo, or doing other big things, I see it as an adventure. Xx

  3. I do regret not traveling when I was much younger and had the time, if not the money, but still I cold have managed. I don’t think it was fear so much as I didn’t want to go alone – which is odd in it’s way because I’ve always been a loner. But by the time I was in my 30’s traveling, moving, – just about any kind of change or experience – became a ‘Hey, why not” but still I didn’t do all the traveling I wanted to – I still think traveling with a kindred spirit is more fun than traveling alone…

  4. I love the idea of imaging yourself at the age of 80 looking back. Often imagining the end of lives is enough to put our fear in perspective. Great post.

  5. Thank you for the post. I believe fear is kin to anxiety. I probably have cornered the market on anxiety. So I assume many of my thoughts are fear and anxiety based. This does often lead to catastrophizing. Not a good thing. Thank you for bringing it to my attention so I can work on that.

  6. I like the idea of framing something from the view of your 80 year old self. It sounds like it would help put things in perspective. I plan on using this in the future.

  7. Fear is huge for me, though I’m not afraid of doing things alone and often prefer going solo. I’m always afraid of financial disaster, which stops me from doing a lot of things, such as travel, which is $$$$$. It’s not irrational. I’m 60 and don’t have time to recover from another big money setback before retirement. (The first one was caused by my ex’s stupid decisions.) I didn’t think about this so much before age 45 or so, but now it colors almost all my behavior.

  8. The 80 year old self is used in ACT too – neat!

    As for fear and my decision making, I pretty much allowed fear to run my life for a long time. Probably because my experiences were of terror and “ordinary” fear was also not met with encouragement. So intense anxiety and small things triggering fear.

    However, at some point, I found a song that really spoke to me: “Silhouettes” by Smile Empty Soul. In particularly the lyrics
    “I don’t wanna live like my mother
    I don’t wanna let fear rule my life”

    And I decided I want to break free and not eventually have regrets when I die. ❀

    1. I’m very glad that you did break free!

      I hunted it down and the 80-year-old self thing did appear in an Anne of Green Gables book published back in the day. It’s such a great idea!

  9. As a kid I would do anything. A fall from a tree stopped that and it created a fear of heights, something i have to this day.
    For other decisions I could be bull headed. I never feared traveling throughout Canada and the States.
    I do not think I could ever sky dive, but kudos to you for doing so.

    1. The skydiving I did when I was 20 or so, which was probably the most adventurous time of my life.

      I can see a how a tree fall would have a lasting impact.

  10. My 20 year old self went skydiving too. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. Now in my 40s fear/anxiety unfortunately create more barriers for me.

    1. I sort of feel like I’m in my 40s going on 70s. I just want to stay home, eat chocolate, and snuggle guinea pigs. That’s adventure enough for me.

  11. Namaste!
    Gone through your article. Somewhere I found similarity with my thoughts and perceptions. I have slowly gathered momentum to eradicate fear from my life. Thanks for sharing nice and very useful topic.
    Regards.
    Arun

  12. I did some crazy stuff back in the day πŸ˜‰ I left Scotland at 17 to work in London, which was a huge step. Then after a couple of years I went off to live in a Kibbutz in Israel for almost a year. There were army camps at every Kibbutz and all the soldiers (including the females) held great big guns but me and my cousin would hitch lifts from them in their jeeps. We’d be travelling through the dessert, just two young and silly teenagers!

    We’d often go down to the Sinai (what’s now Egypt (the Sinai) and camp out on the beaches with not a care in the world.

    I’m not sure when I began to feel the fear – but I know it was after I left Israel πŸ™ It stopped me applying to uni but I did manage to get there eventually at the age of 36 to do my nursing degree πŸ™‚

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