Alternatives to Fear-based Decision-making
Tools and insights to move out of the realm of fear towards living life from a base of authentic desire and intention
Until recently, my go-to approach for making decisions was rooted in fear. When presented with multiple choices, I’d often opt for the safest one that kept me in my comfort zone as much as possible. On realizing this, I asked myself:
“Do I want to live like that?”
The answer was clear: No.
Before arriving at this point, I had developed some fear-management strategies, which later enabled me to realize that my fear was deeply rooted in all my behaviors since an early age. These strategies helped me break out of anxiety and keep me moving, but always on the path of least resistance, discomfort, and fear.
What’s the worst that could happen?
When considering a choice, a helpful strategy was asking myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, followed by my “worst-case recipe”:
What are the chances of this worst-case scenario happening?
Often the answer is: minimal.
➥ This helps to reduce the fear.
If this happens, to what extent can I influence the outcome?
➥ This helps me accept the things out of my control.
Can I prepare for this outcome?
If I can and do prepare, how likely is it that the scenario(s) I imagine will become a reality? Unlikely.
In that case, does it help, or is it worth preparing for this situation? No.
➥ These questions help to be present and be in the now.
If the worst does happen: How bad would this be?
Can I handle it, or will I eventually get over it?
Can/will I learn something from it?
Would this lead to new opportunities?
➥ These questions remind me of my power and that I can choose the growth mindset even when things go wrong.
This “worst-case recipe” has been empowering and has increased my awareness of my resilience because I know I’ll be able to handle whatever happens, and I’m thankful for that. But I want alternatives. I want to move beyond my fear because I think the fear-based approach harms my physical and mental health in the long run.
How fear alters my perception and attitude
I realized that fear distorts my view of reality. My body is almost continuously on edge, ready to flee when a potentially dangerous situation occurs. And because it focuses on the worst-case possibilities, fear-based decision-making subtly enforces the idea that the world is dangerous and that I should always be on high alert. So it slowly increases my fear. It’s a downward spiral that gets progressively worse.
I also often find myself in a state of waiting.
The fear-based decision-making approach risks me becoming more passive and adopting a wait-and-see attitude, where I deal with whatever comes my way instead of actively choosing my path.
What’s it like outside the realm of fear?
Looking back, I believe some of my best decisions were not motivated by fear. Rather, they were based on what felt right and what I truly wanted. These decisions opened up new opportunities and helped me grow. I trusted my intuition in those moments. I was more compassionate and understanding to myself and others, and I put my needs first without disregarding those of others. I silenced the self-critic and paid little attention to others’ opinions, as I was sure this was the correct path. My chief was in charge — the part of me that can see beyond fear, listen to intuition and authentic desires, and act with power.
How to move beyond fear?
Again, taking time to reflect and asking questions can create a distance between me and my fear.
These are the basics, the fundamentals to keep in mind when making a decision:
Talk with my inner child: “I understand and respect your fear. We will do this anyway because I believe it will benefit us. We’ll do this together. I’ll be with you every step of the way, and you can reach out for my help whenever you need it.”
Embrace my anxiety and don’t try to suppress it; otherwise, it’ll only become more intense. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment to pause and take a deep breath. Own my space.
Be present and listen to the fear to see if it holds valuable information. Fear can be an ally when rooted in the present rather than in the imagination. It can help me identify where to prepare and focus my efforts. Fear itself is not the enemy; fear based on imagination can be detrimental.
Let go of attachments and expectations. It’s okay to have high expectations and to be disappointed when they don’t materialize, but then let them go.
I can’t solely influence the outcome; numerous factors are beyond my control. Trust the universe, surrender to the experience, and use my power wherever possible.
Don’t take anything personally. Remember that everyone is going through their own struggles. I can’t control what others think and feel; their opinions and feelings likely reflect more on them than on me.
My thoughts and feelings are valid, just like everyone else’s. Take care of my own, and let others do the same. It’s not my responsibility to worry about theirs.
The process and result don’t need to be perfect, and it’s highly unlikely they will be. Remember the principles of wabi-sabi (the acceptance and appreciation of impermanence and imperfection) and kintsugi (embracing the imperfect).
Questions to ask
There may be an overlap with my “worst-case recipe”, as it’s possible to ask the same or a similar question but from a different presumption or to formulate it positively instead of negatively. The paradigm is what matters most.
I can ask myself the following questions:
What is my priority in life? What do I want from life? Does this align with my goals and values?
What brings me joy? Could doing this bring me joy?
Is or could this be good for my physical health and mental well-being?
Am I holding myself back from reaching my full potential by not taking this action? Or positively formulated: Could this action help me reach my full potential?
Could I look back in X years or near the end of my life and regret not doing this? Or positively formulated: Could I look back later and be content and grateful that I did this, no matter the outcome?
Would I do this if I had only X months/years to live?
What am I waiting for? Am I waiting for the right moment or the ideal circumstances that will never occur? Am I wasting precious time by not doing this now? Am I missing out on an opportunity?
Instead of asking, “What do I have to lose?”, I could ask myself: What do I have to gain?
Will I learn something new? Could this benefit my self-growth?
Could this also benefit others, such as people, animals, or the environment?
Can I seek help from others?
We’re in this together
Though all questions are important, the latter may be more so. With a fear-based mindset, it’s easy to assume that others are against me, will judge me negatively, or won’t understand me. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing I’m in this all alone, leading to even more isolation.
My “worst-case recipe” helped me to be more open with others and to realize that I’m not the only one facing difficulties. When isolated, it’s easy to miss this, but once I paid attention, I realized that everyone deals with their own challenges, which are often similar to mine. My opening up helped others. I experienced that others are often understanding and willing to assist. They didn’t offer quick fixes but helped me move forward. I still need to do the work, but we’re in this together.
This article is based on tools and insights I learned from over two years of participation in the ‘Study of Self’ groups organized by Ti0. I’d like to thank him for his prompts and revisions to this article and, moreover, for his guidance and support in practising these tools, which have enabled me to keep growing and improving my life.
An exercise we did in the SoS group called The Egg inspired this specific line of thinking.
You can also have a look at the related article about healthy decision-making: Choice can be scary when you never had one: Learning Healthy Decision-making.