the fear factor
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
As I sit down to write this, tomorrow is the last day of 2018. There is something about a new year that brings inspiration, hope, and a renewed commitment to goals that were either previously abandoned or more recently construed. Each year on December 31st, a majority of the population (in my estimate) makes resolutions that promise to change their lives in a meaningful way, yet the sustainability quotient is overwhelmingly lackluster. Is the reason that we are a society of over-committal optimists who just don’t have the resources to follow through? Or perhaps there is some hidden saboteur whose mission in life is to intercept the ball beelining towards the touchdown?
My hypothesis is neither. I believe the reason we do not achieve our goals has nothing to do with lack of resources or some vengeful plot by the universe against our success, but rather due to our own fears: fear of overpromising (to ourselves and/or to others) and underdelivering, fear of outright failure, or fear that we don’t even have the power to set the ball in motion.
What is fear, really? Fear could be described as a lack of information or data, leading to a perceived lack of control. Naturally, when we set goals we are aiming for something greater; a new achievement that will elevate our sense of worth or well-being. That is the true objective, right? If we are not constantly challenging ourselves to evolve, to contribute, to elevate society as a whole (which may be rightfully within the realm of of our own families or friendship circles), then what is our purpose? We set goals and intentions that we expect will solve or help us avoid our future problems. If I only lost 15 pounds I would find my future husband and be happy; or if I got the job I would earn enough money to support my family and gain their respect and therefore I would be happy…
Could our goals be precisely what is setting us up for failure? While I acknowledge the power of setting intentions and language as a catalyst for action, fear has an incredible power to stop us in our tracks and convince us that we are incapable. Perhaps the fear is really a subconscious signal that we are seeking happiness in our external world when it’s actually wholly connected to an internal state. We need to somehow reconcile our true desires with the actual motivation, and detach ourselves from the outcome because our happiness cannot be tied to one result. We are only happy because we choose to be happy. We are only afraid because of past experiences that we project onto our future. If we can master living in the present with goals for a future state that help us evolve without defining our emotional experience of life, then we have really arrived.
Personally I am nowhere near this evolved spiritual plane (or whatever is required to overcome my own fears), but if I can at least achieve a conscious understanding of its origin and learn to set goals for myself that give me permission to change course without fear of judgement by myself or others, then I am on the path. Life is too precious to live wholly in the future state, believing that achieving a goal will make us whole or perfect. We also cannot live in the past, in which some experience we have witnessed or lived impresses a fear upon us so great that we are moved to inaction. I propose we start each new year with gratitude for what the past has taught us, and with both optimism and drive to be better versions of ourselves – and if we fall off the goal wagon, we know we have the strength to get up, brush ourselves off, and smile because it reminds us that we are alive.