August 11, 2020

“Fear” Isn’t Holding you Back—but Something Else Is.

When a coworker handed me The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker, I had no idea she was saving my life.

I was working in the diamond industry in Washington, DC at the time and Bethany was relatively new. One day, she came up to me and said, “Something is telling me to give you this book.”

When I scanned the back cover, I mentally shrugged. I didn’t see how it would help me, but I took it anyway (I never turn down books) and thanked her.

When I got home that night, I told my then-partner about the encounter and how scanning the book had revealed that the author was a security consultant. I made sure to mention that the book covered the murder of Theresa Saldana who’d been an actress I watched on a popular show when I was young, giving me a valid reason to read this book. He scanned the book and handed it back to me.

As I read, I made sure to fill him in on DeBecker’s discussion of how embracing your fear can save your life when you are in danger.

I never shared any of the things that Gavin DeBecker wrote about how to determine if someone is a threat to you. It was this information that saved my life.

After reading his book, I saw its contents playing out in front of me. It took years for my partner to display the overt behaviors that DeBecker said meant I was in mortal danger, but when he did, I saw it and was terrified. Having read DeBecker’s book, I did the thing he advocated: I embraced my fear. I followed my instincts. I fled.

Later, my partner wrote me a letter and admitted that my fleeing had absolutely been the right decision. He confessed to something bone-chilling.

Had I fought my fear, had I bought into the common concept that fear is really false evidence appearing real, I likely would have died.

In general, we treat fear like it’s 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 “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.”

This is wrong.

What we must do is discern when we are feeling fear versus when what we are feeling is actually doubt. This is the distinction that matters.

We are using the word fear when the correct word should be doubt.

Fear is not a mind-killer. Fear is hard-wired into you to let you know that there is a serious situation brewing.

The little lizard part of our brains says, “Danger!” and breeds all that fight-or-flight response. If you didn’t have fear, you wouldn’t think twice about sticking your hand in a fire or stepping into traffic.

When we use the words of fear—afraid, scared—we tell our brains that whatever is happening endangers our lives, our brains believe it. If I say, “I’m afraid,” my brain will assume I’m in danger and react accordingly. This is why understanding the difference between fear and doubt is critical.

Fear is designed to keep you alive. Embrace your fear. Allow it to do its job. Fear is not false evidence appearing real—that is doubt, and doubt can get you killed.

Doubt leads to hesitation.

Doubt undermines your belief.

Doubt is where the true danger lies.

We often confuse doubt with fear. I’m not actually “afraid” of losing a job, for example. I doubt that I’ll be able to provide for my family. Losing my job does not put me in mortal danger, so there’s no reason to fear. The concern, worry, anxiety (pick a synonym for doubt) is in being able to provide.

In my prior domestic situation, embracing fear saved my life, but confusing fear with doubt cost me in ways I can never regain.

Doubt is the culprit behind all the risks I never took, the opportunities I let pass me by, and all the time I wasted in a relationship that almost killed me.

Fear is not the mind-killer—doubt is. So, I submit to you the true litany—my modified version:

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.


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