The fear of Everything

And what does Starbucks have to do with it?

When I was a child it was the fear of darkness. When I went to school it was grades. When I graduated it was my job. At work it was my boss. And the list went on. Continues to date.

Living without fear just does not seem normal anymore. I am so used to it, that fear is now a medal that I sometimes wear so proudly.

I recently met someone who was afraid of buying a better, fancier car for the fear of society thinking that he is boasting and showing his money off. Granted that this was from a different culture. Only proves my point. Fear surpasses culture and age of the person involved.

From really being afraid of something, to be fashionably afraid of something to fit into the majority, fear comes in all sizes, shapes and color.

There are lists of top ten fears. Then there is the fear of public speaking aka glossophobia. As Jerry Seinfeld would say “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Fear of danger right in front of you staring in your face to the danger that could happen tomorrow, fear comes in all sizes, shapes and color. It comes camouflaged as indecision, arrogance, stubbornness and a variety of other neat little packages.

That really brings me back to Panophobia. The fear of everything. Also called Omniphobia or Pantophobia. The presence of the word ‘omni’ should say it all. Its the grand daddy of all fears. One fear that encompasses all the fears in them.

Clinically, panophobia could manifest itself in one too many ways. From anxiety disorder to social withdrawal it could show up in any number of ways.

Outside the clinical context, un-psychologically speaking, panophobia in my mind is the fear of the unknown. And that unknown pretty much sums up my very existence.

Afraid of voicing my opinion in the right forums. Holding my opinions back because I might not be saying it correctly. Or because folks might think I am stupid or not well informed.

Fear of changing jobs. Because I am so comfortable with the current one. Or I am afraid of what the next job might hold. Or what the next boss might turn out to be like.

Fear of getting into a relationship.

Fear of trying out a big, bold business idea.

Fear of making a major change in the workplace.

Fear of introducing a new product.

As you can see, fear does not have to come in a neat package. I am willing to embrace fear in any shape. In as many ways as it comes in. Big ones. Small ones. Dark ones and bright ones. I love them all. We love them so much, we even have names for them. Like panophobia for example.

Loving fear is one thing. Or for the brave among us it could be living with fear. My pet peeve though is why am I complaining about life while I am still loving or living in fear. Logically speaking, if fear is a central theme in my life, I should not have to complain about the lack of growth, success, freedom, choices or any number of life’s niceties. I should simply accept it as the by product of my acquired trait – fear.

If I have to succeed, I should be willing to let go of the fear that is holding me back.

If I have to be free, I should be willing to let go of the fear that is keeping me chained.

Thankfully though, we are not born with too many fears. And the debatable few that we are born with hardly have any power to hold us back. That means, the ones that really keeps us in check are ones, that we willingly pick along the way. One could argue the willing part. But allowing fear to grow in us, to me sounds like I was willing in the first place.

Volumes have been written on getting over fear. So, the how to get over that fear or this, is the easy part. What I love though is a serious lesson on where to start the process. I can manage and learn the rest.

It really boils down to two things:

  1. Acknowledging the fact that I am afraid of something. No matter how old or intelligent or brave I am, it takes a big dose of brutal honesty to acknowledge that I am afraid of something. Living in self denial is a conscious choice. And a comforting one for me. However, if I have to figure out a way to get past that, the first step is always to acknowledge the fear. I know this is not rocket science. But seriously, denial is the big reason why we don’t do anything about it.
  2. Deciding to do something about it. See, this is rocket science. Truly. If I got past self denial, then the true hindrance is to decide to do something to get over the fear. Translating the willingness into action is where the rocket part of the science comes in. I can decide to do something, and live in that new found glory for years. Or, I can make up my mind and translate that into action items and go at it – TODAY. Yes TODAY. Agree or not – this is where we need to believe that this is rocket science.

The how is a matter of detail. Seeking help. The right kind of help is possible, available and is within reach of anyone. If you are reading this, then you are already blessed with the wherewithal for seeking the cure. So, I will spare the thoughts on taking the blue pill to cure that unknown illness we suffer from.

Take Starbucks for example. During an eighteen month period they introduced over 750 new concoctions of coffee and other goodies. Only a few of them stuck. Java lovers did not fall for a vast majority of the other concoctions. The few that stuck kept the bell ringing at the cash registers. Without trying, Starbucks had no way of finding out if their customers will like a product or not. Instead of sitting on the fence wondering what the adoption will be like, Starbucks went ahead and tried out the ideas and embraced the few that really stuck.

The only fear I allow myself is Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. My English teacher would turn in her grave for having said that. Sorry Ms. Jane.

Seriously though, acknowledge the damn thing. And do something about it.

Will you?

The Power of Indecision

Most quoted. Often abused. Taken out of context from time to time. Told and retold a million times. Kept alive by all these reasons. ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost is one of those poems that come in handy across cultures, age groups and situations.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”

Very few poems get to the philosophical crux of bold decision making in a such a succinct fashion. I call this the Frostian Dilemma.

From what to wear today to making the choice to skip breakfast to drive or take the train to taking the high paying job out of town to returning the DVD today or pay the late fee tomorrow we are confronted with decisions every waking moment of life.

Thankfully over 80% of these decisions are not life and death issues. And the 20% that matter, are the ones that we tend to sit on the fence on. And sit on the fence we do. From postponing the decision making, to ignoring the consequences of not deciding, to sidestepping the issue we have any number of novel ways in which we delay the inevitable. Like one of the authors would say ‘when faced with two equally tough choices, most people choose the third choice: to not choose’. How true!

Neuroscience has reasons why the human race has learnt to delay decision making. Truth be told, the number of such decisions, where neuroscience has to step in and rule on the matter are few and far between. Most are acquired along the way formed out of habits that we cultivated and nurtured over time.

Three common reasons why we as a race have chosen to compete for the indecision title-

  1. We always wait to make the right decision. Either because of failures or consequences of bad judgements, we are programmed to be cautious of decision making and are always aiming to make the right decision. A variation of this is the ‘perfection mindset’ which calls for the decision maker to gather every possibility there is before deciding on the issue. Also called ‘analysis paralysis’, we tend to overanalyze problems and situations to the point of avoiding or postponing the decision making.
  2. No one wants to be ridiculed for a bad decision. The fear of being mocked or ridiculed at is a good enough reason why we delay decision making. A garden variety variation of this behavior is trying to please more than one person at the same time. The competing interests between the individual we are trying to please and us is a good enough reason why we want to delay the inevitable.
  3. It simply feels safe to not having to decide. Irrespective of the consequences or sometimes in spite of it, we feel safe in avoiding the moment of decision making delighting in the temporary freedom that only inaction can provide. Confronted with multiple choices we simply get mentally stunned and choose the middle ground of inaction. Whether it is two normal, otherwise positive sides or the more scary negative ones avoiding decision making certainly has a zone in our brain that gets rewarded handsomely at the very moment.

French philosopher Jean Buridan demonstrates a paradox in philosophy now referred to as the Buridan’s Ass. “It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the ass will always go to whichever is closer, it will die of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision to choose one over the other….. A common variant of the paradox substitutes two identical piles of hay for the hay and water; the ass, unable to choose between the two, dies of hunger”. (Thank you Wikipedia).

The day to day translation of Buridan’s ass is the worst case scenario when we choose neither of two equally attractive choices in front of us.