I sometimes wonder what our culture would look like if we didn’t have the heroic ideal as the role model for how we should deal with problems or fears.  If we didn’t have all the rhetoric around standing your ground, facing your fears head on, working through the pain, going on no matter what the cost, what would our lives look like?  I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t become spineless worms cowering in the dark.  So what’s an alternative?

Human beings are amazing creatures with complex, imaginative, pattern forming minds that can inspire or destroy just with thoughts alone. And one of the things our minds do is meld together fears that are real and fears that are imagined, either from the past or in the future.  Fear of something real like a soldier deployed in the Middle East concerned with IEDs or someone trapped in a burning building not only engages the mind, but the heart and the body.  The fear serves a purpose and engages the body in order to prevent injury or death and improve the percentages of survival.  Other fears are imaginary and caused either by thoughts themselves or by learned response from previous experiences.  Fear of bankruptcy can feel immediate, but if bankruptcy is only one of many possibilities in the future, then it isn’t real.  It’s just a thought in your mind.  Fear of failure can spur you to do great things, but it can also paralyze you and in either case, if it hasn’t happened it’s not real.  It’s a fantasy cooked up by your brain that is effecting your body.

Childhood experiences can influence our minds to create fear about future situations.  If we have negative reactions from parents when we create art, we will learn quickly that we are not artistic and artistic expression gets negative results.  We will therefore have fear as an adult if we try to make art again because we expect a bad result.  That fear, while based in experience, is still just a mirage.  No art has happened yet and no reaction so there is truly nothing to fear.  Bad relationships in the past can leave ‘baggage’ and make us ‘gun shy’ about getting in another relationship.  But until you are in the new relationship you can’t know if it will work out or not and fearing even the thought of beginning anew is experience and your brain cooking up a fantasy of bleakness.  It’s not real.  You won’t know what is possibly with a new relationship until you enter into one.

So what can be done with this wily brain and the experiences that teach us to fear?  The heroic model tells us to use will power, push through it, ignore the fear, and will yourself into right action.   Right.  Because that works so well for everyone….who’s a hero….what about the rest of us though?  I recommend courage in the face of adversity for the very large, very difficult situations if that is what is called for.  Courage when doing your first sky dive is an excellent choice.  However, for the everyday fear that keeps you from living fully in this life, there are less drastic alternatives.  Try reprogramming your mind and your body concerning the issues that you fear.  Set up the win/win scenario for yourself.  Having difficulty buying the right things in the grocery store. You’re afraid you’re fall off the diet wagon and what the consequences will be. Have a friend go with you and give you positive feedback for good food choices. They should give you no feedback for choices you know you shouldn’t be making.  We are mammals, after all, and we respond to positive reinforcement just like everything else.

Afraid of never having enough money?  Make sure you always have cash in your wallet.  You don’t have to spend it, but every time you think about not having enough, you open your wallet and there’s money in there. Plenty to take care of whatever needs you have in this moment.  It sounds silly, but this reprograms your body by giving it a new experience.  It’s feeling fear about something, and you show it that there is nothing to fear.  Physically and viscerally.  And you didn’t spend a dime.  Win/win. You don’t have to conquer fear and you shouldn’t try to eradicate it all together.  Fear helps keep us safe and healthy when it relates to imminent threat or situations that could truly harm us.  But the left over fears of childhood, the fears of things that don’t exist, the fears that hold us back from living fully, these we can unlearn.  Make your experiences of them win/win, make they daily, take then in small increments and you will see immediate and progressive results.

And as for heroes, I love them just as much as the next person, but until I hear about The Chocolate Avenger, I will continue my search for my one true champion…