BANG! SCRATCH! WHISTLE! BUMP!
There were nine, 40-foot Cottonwood trees in the front yard of my childhood home. In the Spring and Fall, when the really bad thunderstorms would whip up the wind and turn the sky that lovely pea-green, the trees seemed to take on a life of their own––clanging and pounding against the side of the house, the branches casting enormous shadows that looked like the boney hands of Nosferatu (I watched too many spooky movies as a child)–– and I was convinced the Boogeyman would appear under my bed, or emerge from my closet at any moment. BOO!
Fear of the unknown. That’s how we explain away the chilling fight or flight tremors that well-up inside us in these moments. That’s a decent definition, I guess, but I’d like to offer another:
Fear of the imagined, aka our own personal Boogeyman.
Let’s face it, in situations that cause us to white-knuckle the nearest rail in a death grip, or frantically put up our invisible protective brick wall like a mason on Xtasy, our minds are plowing through the millions of experiences that have even one iota of relevance to the current situation. Not only that, it’s compiling the data at record speed, causing our heart rate to rise, our palms to sweat, every sphincter muscle to contract, our pupils widen, we suck in oxygen like it’s going out of style…
All of this because we’ve found ourselves in a situation that has caused these symptoms before. Are you ready for the noodle-baking?
Why do we allow fear to foster and perpetuate growth-stifling habits, like commitment phobias, apprehension toward success, or the betterment of our lives?
My noodle got baked on that question for about six hours last night; it’s only fair that I pose it to you. I have struggled with fear most of my life, and until recently, I had an enormous fear of success. I am a very hard worker, and enjoy working, but I never really pushed myself to be in a position in which I would be recognized for positively impactful achievements, either personally or more broadly. “If I succeed, I have to continue succeeding, and surpass my past successes.” TERRIFYING. And a totally irrational fear.
Then I got divorced at thirty-five and had to start over. I realized that every single time I failed at something it was because of fear. Fear is a fine emotion to feel, don’t get me wrong; it’s necessary. However, when we fertilize our fear-fields with all of the bullshit we use to justify it to ourselves, it’s a big old detriment. We become our own Boogeyman.
My boss wants to promote me, but I didn’t handle it well in my last job when I had more responsibility, so I’ll turn it down and just stay where I am instead.
I’ve been hurt in a relationship, so I have to put all the bricks up in the next one because I might get hurt again.
The horse bucked me off, so I’m not ever getting on another horse. (there’s an old adage in there somewhere)
Our minds gather data, it gets processed, and then stored for future use. We’re just big computers, really. When confronted with a new situation, there’s an almost immediate recall of past experiences from which we draw to decide how to deal with the given situation. This can be good or… not so good. It’s not good for us when we have allowed ourselves to form habitual behavior patterns that don’t allow for learning, growth or openness to new experiences.
Have you created a Boogeyman in your mind? Does it control your reactions or not let you experience all that life has to offer? What caused you to dig out those pathways? More importantly, what’s keeping you from filling them in?
It’s time to turn the lights on.