In my self-discovery and self-help work, I am constantly tackling my big fears: insecurities about my body image, sharing my work or speaking on stage. With time I have faced many of these fears and find myself at peace with them most of the time. If asked, I would tell you I’m fairly confident and secure, especially as I get older.
But there was something else that wasn’t as easy to identify. It wasn’t as apparent as my other insecurities, but it took up space. Through self-examination, I discovered the pervasiveness of micro fears.
What’s a micro fear?
These are the fears that are a little quieter. I call them the what-ifs, and they show up when we embark on something new or face an unfamiliar situation. For me, they show up when I travel or go to new places alone. I’ve done that enough times that you would think it should be a piece of cake.
But it’s not. It wasn’t until my last trip to Arizona, a climb up a mountain and a magical experience in Sedona, that I recognized these micro fears and how much space I allowed them to have.
From the moment I left my house for the airport in Detroit, the dreaded what-ifs started.
What if our flight gets canceled?
What if we’re delayed?
What if our luggage doesn’t come out?
What if the rental car doesn’t work out (this has happened to me before…not fun)?
What if, what if, and what if questions poured over me.
To quell the endless what-ifs, I decided to consider only one event at a time — get on the plane, get the rental car, make it to the hotel, find somewhere to eat, etc.
But the what-ifs kept coming and getting louder. I implemented PARR (pause, acknowledge, respond, reflect) and decided to simply observe how often my thinking shifts into the land of what-ifs. Like a data analyst, I counted and recognized every time a what-if, or micro fear, entered. It was endless, too many to count.
I recognized this pattern in myself, not just while traveling but in almost everything I do. What if no one reads this article? What if I make a mistake? What if I’m rejected? What if I fail? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fall flat on my face? What if they don’t like me?
The what-ifs dominate my thoughts. At times, they’ve ransacked my confidence and left me numb, questioning and doubting every decision. They became a pattern of thinking, unconscious thinking, left unchecked, wreaking havoc on any new experience or creative endeavor.
Until I stopped and observed my thoughts — a tool author and motivational speaker Byron Katie teaches and encourages. Inquiry around your thoughts can take you from feeling stressed and overwhelmed to calm and peaceful.
I watched myself grapple with the what-ifs as if I was observing myself outside my body. The more I watched, the more the what-ifs lost their hold on me. At one point, I chuckled and saw the absurdity of what these thoughts were doing to me.
Once I recognized the what-ifs, I reframed this thought pattern and shifted each what-if into a positive idea.
“What if something goes wrong?” Instead, I asked, “What if it all works out?”
The truth is, whether positive or negative, we don’t have answers to our what-ifs. So why not lean into the process and trust yourself and your path? What if I have what it takes to persevere? What if I trust that I can survive whatever comes my way? What if I believe that what’s meant for me will find me? What if it works?
This mindset was recently put to the test when I climbed a mountain. Being somewhat afraid of heights made this a challenging and uncomfortable task. I went at sunset because I love how the light hits the mountain on its descent. As I climbed, the what-ifs started. My breathing quickened, my legs ached, and I considered stopping every time a what-if entered.
I stuck to my plan, not allowing the what-ifs to take over. Whenever a new thought entered, I surrendered it and then let it go. I exercised discernment the entire climb. I reached the middle of the mountain and looked back. I was high, but I appreciated seeing the bottom and knowing what I had just accomplished.
Then the mico fear set in and told me to stop. You’ve done enough; you don’t need to go higher. I observed the thought and exercised discernment. I trusted the process and thought about taking one step at a time.
I made it to the top, and what a view it was. You could hear a pin drop; every noise below was distant and faint. I reached a new physical and mental level where noises were quieted, and peace was restored. A shift in perception ushered in a new way of showing up.
On my climb down, I was filled with gratitude. Not just for the climb but every moment up until that point.
When I got close to the bottom, peaceful and content, I saw a little girl and her father getting ready to climb the mountain. The little girl looked up and saw the height of the mountain. She immediately sat, turned her back to the mountain, and said to her dad, “I can’t do it.” Her dad approached her and responded, “How do you know?” She said, “It’s too big.” He said, “So?”
She looked at him, stood up, turned around, with fear in her eyes, and then her dad said, “What if you can?”
I knew I was meant to hear that conversation. I smiled at the little girl as I passed her. I took a deep breath and decided from now on, I would ask myself when faced with doubt, but what if I can? What would await?