I was listening to something recently about how fear can be a motivator. Fear can also be debilitating, as many people are aware.  So, how do you know if fear is good or bad?

I think it’s a matter of whether the fear is a call to (positive) action, creates inaction, and recognizing irrational fear before it takes over.

FEAR EXAMPLES #1:

Action example:  You go to work every day because you’re afraid of not having enough money and you need shelter.

Inaction example:  You don’t quit a horrible job/career you don’t like because of the need for shelter and fear of loss of income.

Irrational example:  Then fear tells you to burn your house down because the one spider in the bathroom probably has many, many siblings and friends in all kinds of corners.

FEAR EXAMPLES #2:

Action example #2:  You decide to bathe and groom after the gym because, well, fear of sending others running including that one person you’ve had your eye on in the cubicle next to you.

Inaction example #2:  You don’t talk to that girl/guy for fear of rejection even though you smell fantastic.

Irrational example #2:  Fear tells you that maybe she/he can smell your workout on you even though you showered, but then you think it doesn’t matter because you’ve sweat so much being afraid of starting a conversation and from being angry because that jerk from the second floor got the date that you should’ve had that you’re sure you wreak now anyway and want to crawl under your desk.

Sad FearIrrational Fear is not as obvious as these examples, but can usually still be reasoned out before something bad occurs or put it aside so that we can act if necessary. In that respect it’s not as debilitating as Inaction Fear – it’s not as easy to recognize.  

In the second example above, we probably realized after a double armpit sniff check that we still smelled like roses and relaxed about passing people in the hallway. But, it may be much later – like when the happy couple’s wedding invitation arrives – that we reflect on our inaction on that fateful day due to fear.

Fear - Purple FaceThe worst part about Inaction Fear (and sometimes Irrational Fear if we don’t rationalize it in time) is regret. The positive side of regret is that we can learn from it and hopefully lessen future occurrences. The negative side is that it’s still a regret that we (may) carry throughout our lifetime.

It would be so much easier if we had a finite number of regrets. With a limit on the number of regrets we’re allowed we would be a lot less likely use them up with fear. Our inevitable mistakes would do that nicely for us – that perm we had in high school, eating the jalapeno crust pizza with extra pepperoni and spicy sauce last week, marrying our ex (twice).

I’ve had a lot of all three types of fear these past few months after quitting my job, but I’m trying to use Action Fear as a motivator to generate positive results. It has pushed me to join social groups, reach out to people, take risks, and generally move out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes I need to shut down when Inaction Fear or Irrational Fear send me to the couch with a large bag of pretzels and unscheduled Doctor Who marathons, but those times are temporary. I don’t let them hang on. I’ve spent a lifetime of not taking risks and letting the “bad” types of fear stop me. Time to use fear as a motivator for positive action.