Fear vs. Doubt

I am a big believer in the concept of neuro-linguistic programming and the notion of personal word choice. I believe that the words we use to speak to ourselves are critical and affect our behavior. Within this, I believe it is very important to understand the true nature of what you are saying. For me personally, I’ve found the single most misused word in my vocabulary has been fear and its variations afraid, scared, etc.

Fear by Skogalfar on Deviant Art

Fear by Skogalfar on Deviant Art

In general, I think people characterize fear as a bad thing. This notion has even been firmly entrenched in the popular lexicon through one of the most profound quotes in movie history. The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune has stayed with me ever since I heard it:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

As I’ve grown older, hopefully a bit wiser, I’ve come to believe this is completely wrong. Fear is not a mind-killer, doubt is. You see, fear is hard-wired into you to let you know that there is a serious situation brewing. The little lizard part of our brains that says watch it and breeds all that fight or flight response. If you didn’t have fear, you wouldn’t think twice about sticking your hand on that hot burner, stepping into traffic or avoiding that situation that just might get you killed.

I can thank fear for saving my life on numerous occasions. I was walking down the street one night about 15 years ago with my daughter’s father and this random man starts to follow us. I got goosebumps, he set off all my warning signals. DF and I stayed with the crowds and got to the subway, but only after that guy had tried to run up on us and rob us. We were prepared and averted a major issue … because of fear.

I had a boyfriend once in high school who began to scare me. We got into an argument, he threw me up against a wall. I broke up with him and he stalked me, eventually cutting my brake line. Fear hipped me to his crazy. I was lucky.

I jumped out of a plane and was scared to death doing it, but that fear kept me sharp. I did the Accelerated Free Fall, which means I had to do everything myself, no assistance. My jump masters were very proud of me.  I was very proud of me.

I raced a formula one race car in a driving course. This is an extremely dangerous thing to do especially when you are 5’2″ tall and the peddles aren’t really set up for you. But that edge of fear kept me alert, focused,  paying attention. I beat all the guys out on the track that day. I was the only one to go full-throttle.

Am I an adrenaline junkie? No. I was tired of being afraid of fear. So, I went out and faced it. Fear is your friend. Its sole purpose is to keep you alive.

Doubt on the other hand can kill you. Doubt leads to hesitation. Doubt leads to resistance to action. Doubt undermines your belief. Doubt is dangerous.

I read a study once that people with high IQs are more likely to succumb to doubt because they have a greater capacity to get lost in the “what ifs.” This is where we get the term “paralysis by analysis.” I see this with myself and in my daughter. I’m constantly allowing myself to get run over by doubt. I’m not afraid beyond the normal healthy fear that comes with the unknown, what I am is doubtful that the result I desire will be the one I get. I doubt the outcome, but I’m not truly afraid.

Understanding this particular bit of neuro-linguistics has been a major mind-opener for me. You see, you are hard-wired for fear. You can’t do anything about it. In a dangerous situation fear will remain at some level until the situation resolves. But doubt can be recognized, acknowledged and released fully as if it never existed.

Fear can be overcome through courage, but in general, I contend that the average day-to-day situations that we call fear really are about doubt. At least, I’m finding that to be the case for me. As such, I think the Litany needs to be rephrased

I must not doubt.
Doubt is the mind-killer.
Doubt is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my doubt.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the doubt has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

10 thoughts on “Fear vs. Doubt

  1. I think doubt is Fear’s opening act. Fear is a great instinct for sure but fear has an insideously sly quiet manner of sliding up inside you to keep you IN fear instead of moving beyond it. (That sentence makes it sound like Fear is afraid to be alone. perhaps a story is in that? ) great observation!

  2. Great post. I am dealing with the fear of AFF training, as well. I have jumped two tandems, but the fear of my own chute having problems, or the fear of what it will feel like jumping out of the plane without the safety feel of being strapped to a professional is making me think twice about it. How did you deal with that fear specifically?

    • AFF is a wonderful thing, but not to be taken lightly. I found myself thoroughly terrified in training. Despite being on the ground, the knowledge that I was actually going to do this was scary. I can’t help you find a way to deal with it, I can only tell you my experience. First, make sure you’re comfortable with your jump master. Trust your gut, because you have to feel safe in their expertise. Mine were both great. Also, remember that they are with you until you pull your cord. They will NOT leave you before that.

      Frankly, I blanked out as soon as we left the plane. I completely forgot what I was supposed to do, but one of my jump masters reminded me and then it all kicked in. I remembered to check my brake strings, but then I needed help with guetting to the landing site. You are NOT ever alone while you might be in danger, but the responsibility is still as serious one.

      I wish you the best!


      P.S. remember to take a look around and enjoy the scenery. I forgot to 🙂

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