Susan Jeffers

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PUSHING THROUGH FEAR

''I've learned to 'feel the fear . . . and do it anyway!' As I do, whether I feel the fear or not becomes irrelevant. My life will work in either case . . . as will yours'' Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

Some of Susan's best advice was embodied in her affirmation, ''I Can Handle It!'' If we know that we will be able to manage whatever comes our way, so much of the fear we experience drains away.

So, what happens if something bad happens to us, and instead of becoming braver for handling it well, we become more fearful? In a recent article in The California Sunday Magazine, writer Chris Colin profiled different views on the idea of Freedom. A woman he spoke to at a gun show in California (no this isn't going to turn into a political debate about guns), told him about a terrifying experience that led her to be a proponent for gun ownership. This is what happened to her: ''She had just gotten home from work. Then a floorboard creaked overhead. Someone was in the house. Terrified, she dialed 911 and ran outside ... She had just run to her neighbor's place when she heard her front door open. She never saw the intruder, only heard him run away.''

The woman handled that frightening experience in the best way possible. Instead of finding solace knowing she could handle it, she became frightened that a similar experience would happen again. Quoted in the article, she said, ''I worry about my safety all the time.''

Susan would be disappointed to learn that this brave woman had digressed into living with her most fearful self. Instead of finding herself powerful in a situation she couldn't control, she let herself dwell in fear.

When we let ourselves live in fear, we start asking ourselves ''What if?'' Paired together, those are two of the worst words we can dwell on. What if ... I lose my job? What if ... I'm robbed in a parking lot? What if ... something happens to my kids? In the case of the woman in the article, what if ... a home invasion happens to me again?

The ''what if ...'' cycle is what happens when we let our Chatterbox take control of our thinking. It's an ever-widening circle of fear. Susan wrote in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, ''The more helpless we feel, the more severe is the undercurrent of dread that comes with knowing there are situations in life over which we have no control - such as the death of a spouse or the loss of a job. We find ourselves becoming obsessive about possible catastrophes. The 'what if ...?' type of fear permeates our lives.''

When stuck in the ''what if ...'' cycle, it's important to remember Susan's ''Five Truths About Fear.'' Briefly the Five Truths are these: fear will never go away completely; the only way to overcome fear of doing something is to do it; the only way to feel better is to just go do it; everyone experiences fear when on unfamiliar territory; and pushing through fear is less frightening that living in fear and helplessness.

The last one, Fear Truth #5, is the most important one in this case. Susan's exact words are: ''Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.'' It means that no matter how secure any of us feel in the cocoon of our comfort zone, we live in fear that one day something will happen to take it away.

''That is the irony of Fear Truth 5: people who refuse to take risks live with a feeling of dread that is far more severe than what they would feel if they took the risks necessary to make them less helpless - only they don't know it!'' wrote Susan.

In the case of the woman in the article, instead of realizing that she can handle these scary types of situations, she buried herself deeper in her comfort zone, choosing instead to live in pain and in fear. If only someone had given her a copy of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

Getting out of the ''what if ...'' cycle is imperative if we are going to live our best lives, in spite of the fear. Fear will always be a part of our lives, but, fortunately, we get to choose whether to dwell in it or rise above it. Susan said it best,

We can't escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us in all our exciting adventures; it is not an anchor holding us transfixed in one spot.

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