There’s been lots of plane crashes in the news over the last little while. I have to fly a lot for my work and I am already a very nervous flyer and these types of stories are only making it worse for me. Can the stuff you teach help with something like that? Is it possible to hire you to show me how to help me overcome these kinds of fears?
Frequently Fearful Flyer
It’s possible to hire me to help you with this but if you’re willing to put in just a bit of earnestness I can probably fix it for you with this blog post. It’s just a matter of how dedicated you’ll be without a coach keeping you on psychological track. But either way I guarantee it can be done.
Fears are useful things in life. It’s what keeps all animals from toppling off cliffs or getting eaten by predators etc. etc. But as useful as they are, you don’t want a life filled with them. Yes, they truly are valuable, meaningful and essential experiences and yes, used properly fears can wisely guide us through difficult times. But employed unconsciously those same useful tools can be used to undermine us, as this fear does in this case.
When I write “this fear” I don’t mean to give it a life of its own. It’s not like the fear is running around attacking us like a ghost—it’s not separate from us, it is us. It’s a collection of thoughts in our head. Natural Fear happens before language and it’s smart and strong and effective. Psychological Fear on the other hand is manufactured in our consciousness by our own personal thinking. We tell ourselves a story and we feel the result. Tell ourselves something horrifying and we’ll feel horrified. Tell ourselves something funny and we’ll laugh. We’re very obedient to ourselves when you get right down to it.
Whereas Natural Fear reacts holistically, Psychological Fear is history-based. When an animal bares its fangs and lunges at your throat you don’t need some kind of narrative to play out before you run. You make an instantaneous calculation that is entirely natural and then you act on it. But in the case of Psychological Fear, if a woman looked a certain way and then she broke your heart and robbed you blind then you would be inclined toward having some level of Psychological Fear towards women who looked like her. If you got bit by a dog when you were running down an alley when you were a kid then you will be inclined toward being afraid of dogs. And if you watched your favourite aunt worry out loud before getting on a flight, or if you saw a character like her on TV, or if you were somehow exposed to the horrors of an air tragedy early in life, then it makes sense that you would be inclined to be fearful about planes. You would have a scary story to tell yourself. But that’s okay because we can fall in love again, we can learn to love dogs, and you can learn how to get onto an aircraft without debilitating yourself with fear.
Since the Psychological Fear is the issue, and since we know that fear is weaved out of narrative thoughts, you don’t need to stop the fear you need to stop the thoughts. Without you being aware of it, at some point prior to your flight you begin a narrative. It probably won’t be hard to find some parts of it but other parts of the story might be quite subtle and hard to detect. Which is why it’s important, as much as possible, to maintain a conscious awareness of what you’re thinking.
Even the simple observation of the thought will have a powerfully positive affect. Because if you’re observing your thinking you’re not being your thinking. An ego doesn’t notice itself. It’s running along reading itself a story unaware there is a reader. But if you’re watching that process, then you have created a separation between the larger You and your ego. One is watching the other. And that alone will steal much of the power from the ego’s story. Because as you observe it, that act of observation takes psychological energy away from the ego’s story.
Of course these stories will ramp up because—unchecked—they feed into themselves. As you tell yourself a story you release the chemistry for various stresses then that chemistry in turn also amplifies and self-reinforces the stories you’re telling yourself. Nevertheless, even in the midst of an intense flurry of fearful thinking you’re still always only one thought away from being fine. You just have to set that story down and not identify with it. It is very literally something you were at some point taught to do.
It makes sense that you would be feeling uncomfortable because the news stories stir up your internal stories even though you’re not going anywhere. But they’re still just stories and they’re still your stories. So as much as possible, stop telling yourself those. Focus on something to be grateful for instead. Use the time to think of your kids, or favourably about your spouse. These can easily become productive enjoyable times for you. All it requires is the dedication to keep putting yourself back on track until that track feels more natural than the rut you’re stuck in now.
Believe you can be free of this fear because you can. Change your narrative, change your life. It’s time to take flight.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.