Fear and Reward

Why do I continue behaviors based on fear when so often the outcomes of such behaviors fail to satisfy my needs? What payoff do I get for failure?!! How do my fears reward me for having them?

As we discussed in an earlier post, fear causes us to invest our life-force energy in an imagined, worse-case future. Due to the placebo effect, that less-than-optimal future is much more likely to come about. So, knowing that my fearful thoughts tend to sour my future, why do I do it?!!

Reason 1 – Fear is useful.

My fear of getting run over by an articulated vehicle causes me to avoid crossing a busy street against the crossing light. My fear of drowning keeps me on or close to the beach instead of out in the high surf. My fear of hanging out in high places keeps me from falling to my death. My fears have proven their value to me so often, I don’t question them. That brings me to –

Reason 2 – I fear not having fears!

As Franklin Roosevelt so aptly put it, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” (excerpt from 1933 inaugural address) Yeah, that pretty much describes my fear about fear. I NEED it!

Without my fear of getting run over, might I put myself in greater danger more often when crossing the road? According to scientists observing people without that fear, the answer is a resounding, “YUP!” That leads me to confirm my justification for harboring all kinds of fears – I NEED them in order to survive in a world full of real dangers.

Reason 3 – I get a motivation boost from fear.

Sometimes I need to run away. With some fear added in, I find I can run away FASTER and LONGER. I get a life-force energy boost more potent than from a 5-hour energy drink. Stories like those told of tiny-bodied people lifting immense weights under the influence of fear tend to convince me that my fears are useful as a motivational and energy boosting aid.

Reason 4 – Fear is a strategy for success.

Fear begets fear. When I come across a winning strategy, my body-mind tends to hold onto it for future use. My “near-miss” experience crossing the road as a kid, for example, survives today in me because it was SUCCESSFUL – I survived an encounter with real danger! Fear, in this regard is useful as a STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS.

Reason 5 – I NEED fear.

Overall, I believe by having fears I’m rewarded with something useful – continuation. You can’t very well do much of anything if you fail to continue. So, from the evolutionary standpoint, fear is a strategy for ensuring continuation of my experience. I need it.

There is a problem with continuation, though – it is NOT the same thing as quality of life. Just because I survive from day to day doesn’t mean I’m enjoying it! Big difference! My fears do little to address QUALITY OF LIFE experience. They just seek to ensure that I have a life at all – regardless of its quality.

Fear can be a useful tool – and a terrible master.

Living in fear has some pretty significant drawbacks. Perhaps the rewards I imagine for having my fears pale in comparison to living life without some of them. I wonder what might become of me were I to at least question some of my fears.

The first question I want to ask is, “What WILL become of me without this fear?” Imagining myself without a certain fear, I project a different life-form into the future – one that may reward me with a QUALITY of life that could surprise [and maybe delight] me.

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