Showing posts with label The Gift of Fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Gift of Fear. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fear vs. Worry: Why They Are Not the Same

Among the many useful insights I took away from Gavin de Becker’s masterful book The Gift of Fear, one of the most profound was a deeper appreciation for the distinction between worry and fear. Until reading the final chapter, I had not pondered the difference. But the author not only defines them clearly, he points out why one is harmful and the other can be life-saving.

Gavin de Becker is one of the most sought-after, highly respected experts on security issues in the world. His firm protects people who are at risk, and his clients include celebrities, governments and large corporations. He knows what he’s talking about, and his book is filled with stories – some startling, some chilling, and all true – that will remain embedded in my brain for years to come.

According to de Becker, people too often associate the word fear with other words like worry, panic and anxiety. But they are not the same. While the latter emotions are voluntary, genuine fear is involuntary. It’s a survival signal wired in us that sounds only in the presence of danger and is intended to be very brief. The problem is that “unwarranted fear has assumed a power over us that it holds over no other creature on earth.”

On the other hand, worry is a choice. When we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with what might happen, there are clear downsides: “It interrupts clear thinking, wastes time, and shortens life.”

So why do we do it?

People expend so much energy on worry because it serves them in some way.

One of the less dramatic but still memorable stories illustrates the point. A client asked De Becker to interview a woman who worked in one of their offices. She was worried about being attacked in the parking lot because she was always the last one to leave. At the end of every work day, she was filled with intense fear and anxiety. When asked why she always left so late, the woman replied that she was concerned about being perceived by her co-workers as lazy. Over time, she came to take pride in having the identify as the employee who always worked the longest. Because of her need to retain this identity, she’d never considered leaving at the same time as others. Instead, she remained stuck in a continuous state of worry.

There’s another problem with constantly being on the alert. When you’re preoccupied with potential dangers that may be lurking, you actually decrease the likelihood that you’ll perceive a real danger or threat. With your imagination working overtime, you’re more likely to miss the specific signals that could tell you something is amiss.

As de Becker says, “If one feels fear of all people all the time, there is no signal reserved for the times when it’s really needed… If we are looking for some specific, expected danger, we are less likely to see the unexpected danger…Your survival brilliance is wasted when you focus on unlikely risks.”

He offers three tips for distinguishing between fear and worry:
1.  When you feel fear, listen.
2.  When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it.
3.  If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why. Take time to answer the question: How does this serve me? 

You may find that the price of worrying is greater than the price of changing, and that insight can serve as the motivation you need to make the necessary change.

“To worry oneself is a form of self-harassment …Worry is the fear we manufacture – it is not authentic. If you choose to worry about something, have at it, but do so knowing it’s a choice.” 
Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear

Monday, April 1, 2013

The High Price of Ignoring Intuition

In our last office space, I had a private door to my office off the main hallway. I typically used that door for trips to the ladies’ room since it was closer than our main entrance. I left that door unlocked during those trips since I was only gone for a few minutes and didn’t want to have to carry my keys.

One morning, as I entered the hallway, I encountered a tall, slender man in a black suit with a brightly colored shirt and tie. As I passed him, this message entered my head:

“Go back and lock your door.”
But I dismissed the thought, consciously choosing to ignore the signal my intuition was trying to send me. I rationalized that I was being paranoid simply because this fellow’s appearance was quite different from other business people who entered our building.

When I returned to my office, I got back to the task at hand. About 15 minutes later, my phone rang. A woman who identified herself as “Sandy,” a teller with my bank, said that someone had just tried to use my ATM card to withdraw money from my account. I always kept my ATM card in my wallet, so I whirled around in my chair and grabbed my purse. My wallet was gone!

I thought back to the man I passed in the hallway. I realized he had been waiting for me to enter the restroom, so he could slip into my office and steal my wallet. I also recalled seeing an unfamiliar woman outside the ladies’ room earlier that day. My stomach turned flips as I pieced together what happened. She had been monitoring my actions to determine when they could take advantage of my absence from my office.

My mind was racing and my emotions were ablaze as Sandy was telling me that there had been three unsuccessful attempts to use my ATM card. She said the bank could reset my PIN if I just told her my old one. In this state of being unnerved by the theft, I wracked my brain to come up with the 4-digit code and gave it to her, never questioning the wisdom of giving out that confidential piece of information.

After hanging up, I immediately cancelled my credit card. Then I decided to call the bank to find out if they had a camera on their ATM drive-through. Maybe they got the thieves on camera? To my horror, I learned there was no Sandy at the bank. The thieves had impersonated my bank so they could get my PIN number and withdraw money from my bank account.

Fortunately, I had a terrific bank, and they restored the money that had been withdrawn from my account. And the credit card company credited back the few charges that the thieves had time to make before I cancelled the card.

But still, the experience haunted me for weeks. If only I had not ignored the clear signal that my intuition had tried to send me about the stranger I’d encountered. Somehow, my body and mind knew before I did that this was a person not to be trusted.

Even though this incident happened several years ago, I recalled it in vivid detail recently as I was reading The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker. De Becker, one of the nation’s leading experts on violent behavior, describes the importance of trusting your intuition when it comes to assessing dangerous situations and people.

He offers this explanation of intuition’s ability to inform us instantly in unsafe situations while an analytical approach falls short:
“What many want to dismiss as a coincidence or a gut feeling is in fact a cognitive process, faster than we recognize and far different from the familiar step-by-step thinking we rely on so willingly. We think conscious thought is somehow better, when in fact, intuition is soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic. Nature’s greatest accomplishment, the human brain, is never more efficient or invested than when its host is at risk. Then, intuition is catapulted to another level entirely, a height at which it can accurately be called graceful, even miraculous. Intuition is the journey from A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.” 
The next time your inner voice speaks to you, pay attention. There may be a warning or simply a message that you need to hear. And even better, read this book. Your safety may depend on it one day.

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
Albert Einstein, American physicist (1879-1955)