“Here be dragons.” Inscribed on the unknown parts of maps in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this saying was used as an explanation for why those parts remained unexplored and prevented sailors from ever going near those territories.
As a child, and even into my teens, I had a fear of the dark. Not the kind where I needed a night light to go to bed, but the kind where walking into dark rooms or unknown dark areas made my heart pound and my hands sweat and I couldn’t get out fast enough. “Here be dragons.”
Venturing into the unknown is uncomfortable. What’s out there? What’s lurking in the darkness that I can’t see and could hurt me? What lies where I can’t see it that might trip me up?
Fear of the Unknown
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H. P. Lovecraft
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” E. M. Forster
What happens if I…? What could happen if…? What’s around the corner? The unknown is perhaps one of the most significant triggers of fear for almost everyone. “Here be dragons.”
Throughout his life a man had heard tales about a creature living behind the mountain near his home. As a result, he never ventured near it, for fear that the creature would devour him. One day, his child wandered away from home, disappearing behind the mountain. The man ran after her, but stopped short of the mountain. He became anxious and was terrified of the beast and so he hesitated. But his fear for his child’s safety was stronger than his fear of the creature, so off he trekked, around the base of the mountain, to save her. He found her sitting at the edge of a large, clear, beautiful lake, no beast to be found. He’d spent his life living in fear of something that didn’t exist, except in his mind.
Fear of the unknown is a thing of the mind, stemming from the possibility of losing something we already have; relationships, a job, security, money, prestige or anything else we hold to be important. We have an inherent desire to hold onto these “attachments” and the possibility of losing them, the contemplation of “what may happen if,” creates significant discomfort.
What’s Your Paradigm
Let me begin this section by getting you to take a look at this picture.
Do you see a young woman or an old one? What you perceive depends on where in the picture you focus. If you focus on the eyelash on the left side of the picture, you most likely see the young woman. However, if you focus on what, at first, appears to be the ear of the young woman, all of a sudden you’ll likely see the old woman. Your perception of the photo is determined by your viewpoint.
A paradigm is just that. It’s a way of thinking; a position you take or a thought process you default to consistently. It’s your view of the world and how it works. And it develops very early. As children we’re all taught certain things about the way things operate and our thought patterns develop as a result of these influences. Our parents teach us how to behave in certain situations, how to react to other situations; we learn how they think and, in most cases, unconsciously adopt those thought patterns as our own. Our teachers, religious leaders, or other influencers in our lives may teach us how to think about a wide variety of issues and topics. This begins to set the pattern of the way in which we think and the biases with which we view things, including establishing our base fears.
Our paradigms determine our ability to act or restrict our ability to get where we want to. I had the great good fortune the other day to listen to a gentleman named Bob Proctor speaking about paradigms. He made a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with; “To be able to shape your future, you have to be willing and able to change your paradigm.” In other words, if you truly want to move toward reaching a goal, you have to be willing to change the way you think about the things preventing you from achieving it; you must undergo a paradigm shift.
Is it Time for a Paradigm Shift?
It’s easy to say. “Change your paradigm.” “Change the way you think.” “Stop being so afraid.”
But we know that making that change happen is anything but easy. Changing the habits and thought patterns of a lifetime is probably the most difficult transformation a person can undertake. Especially when that paradigm is associated with avoidance behaviour and fear.
Because fear and the sensations associated with it have such power, the shift to overcoming them can be an intensely difficult task, requiring a lot of preparation and keen determination.
The first step in changing a paradigm is recognizing it for what it is, a thought process, rather than a reality. Recognizing that the fear you feel when you do something that makes you uncomfortable, like pick up a phone to make a cold call or ask someone out on a first date, is not resulting from the presence of a physical threat, it’s a your reaction to what may be an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation. It’s your paradigm getting in the way and making you feel fearful.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I do this?” See the fear for what it is, False Evidence Appearing Real; that it’s really your paradigm, your thoughts, making you feel fearful. It’s not real, there’s no real danger.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” The way to change a paradigm is to stop giving it such power, to stop allowing it to have such a paralyzing grip on you. Remember, what could be the worst thing that will happen by taking the action? Take the action in spite of the fear and the fear loses its control of you and you gain control over your paradigm.
I’m afraid of falling. I have been since I was a child. I’m not afraid of heights, just falling. Maybe it’s the sudden stop at the end of the fall that throws me.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to really put my paradigm shift to the test. Some good friends and I were talking about an attraction at the CN Tower in Toronto called the Edge Walk. You get to take a walk along the top of the roof of the CN Tower’s restaurant. Not only do you get to walk around it, but you get to hang out over the edge of the platform, facing forward and backward. Oh, and the top of the restaurant is 1,168 feet above ground. We were laughing about it and then almost at once we decided to go ahead and try it. And we did. Stepping out onto that roof, my stomach felt like, well you can guess how I felt. But we did it anyway and it was one of the highlights of that summer for me. It also helped me, and the friends I went with, to recognize that the only thing holding us back from really doing the things we wanted and accomplishing our goals was our pre-programmed thoughts, our paradigms.
So what do I do About It?
The first step after recognizing what’s holding you back and deciding to move forward and face it is to examine the level of risk you’re willing to assume, and then plan your tasks to reduce the risk as much as possible. The simplest way to view this is to ask yourself, “What’s the cost of taking this step versus the cost of not taking it?” “What benefit do I get from taking the action versus what benefit do I get from remaining where I am?” And finally, “What’s the cost of doing this versus the benefit I get from doing it?” If you determine that the cost of staying put is greater than the cost of making the change, and that the benefit of changing is greater than the benefit of staying put, then you’ll be able to take the next step far easier.
And when taking that next step, have confidence in your vision and your abilities. You’re probably much more capable and able to deal with whatever happens than you believe. Trust in your role as the creator of your own reality, that you’re in charge of your life and not some unknown monster lurking “out there”. Recognize that stepping out of your comfort zone, while it’s scary and may be nerve-wracking is the only way to truly learn and grow.
When you set out in a sailboat, you can’t get where you want to go without letting go of the rope holding you bound to the dock. Let go of your rope. Face your fear and take that step into the unknown. You’ll probably surprise yourself.