Why fear of the unknown is holding you back

“What if…”

The death of many adventures usually starts out that way. An idea springs to mind, you dream of the possibilities, planning commences, and then you’re confronted with one of life’s biggest roadblocks: You ask yourself “what if?”

We humans are exceptionally skilled at creating future scenarios in our heads. We’re able to connect nonexistent dots to other nonexistent dots. For if “A” happens then surely “B” will happen, which spells disaster at “C”!

It’s as if a thousand years of conditioning has taught us to trust the instinctual moment of initial restraint.

“What if there is a predator around the corner?” “What if our hunt is not successful?” “What if our enemy raids our village tonight?”

Our ancestor’s crippling fear of the unknown settled into our own DNA. And while modern man is faced with a new set of unique unknown fears (credit card debt, loss of employment, etc.), the question of “what if” remains a constant inhibitor in life.

But how many times does an event play out exactly how we anticipated? Fear of the unknown is just that—unknown. We have no idea what will happen in any given situation, yet we allow fear to guide our thoughts and emotions.

You will no doubt feel a hint of restraint while planning your next adventure. A million things can—and maybe even will—happen. Adventure is so attractive precisely because of the unknown possibilities. Embrace this concept.

And always remember that the people in your life aren’t exactly qualified fortune tellers. They’re basing their assumptions on their own set of unknown fears when telling you your current adventurous plans are stupid, or dangerous, or way too risky.

They can’t even tell you what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even two hours from now. Yet they’ll make sure you contemplate “what if” to the point of full-blown anxiety.

Maybe your plans are stupid, and dangerous and way too risky. So what? If you allow fear of the unknown to hold you back from pursuing adventure, you’ll never know what could have been. Instead of experiencing the thrill of a lifetime, you’ll be stuck asking yourself a different sort of “what if.”

“What if I had just went with my gut and pursued my own adventures?”

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22 comments

  1. Great blog. The truth is bad things happen to all of us, whether we stay at home and a tornado zings our house, or we get out and do something and a tree falls on us. We simply need to live our lives and make our days the ones we want to live — not the ones we are afraid to live. While I don’t recommend recklessness, safety is a myth. .

    1. “We simply need to live our lives and make our days the ones we want to live — not the ones we are afraid to live.” Couldn’t have said it better, Pat. And I completely agree with you that recklessness is not the answer.

  2. The fear of change is one of the biggest stumbling points. I write another blog called WVFarm2u (probably have commented in that persona a time or two depending on which one I am working on) and the big concept there is to get fresh farm food to the people. But so many people do not cook nor have any interest in cooking. One person said it is less expensive to eat at McDonalds all the time. I quietly said, and once you have your clogged arteries and heart attack, how expensive was that diet then? No answer. The here and now..people no longer seem to take responsibility for their own future or that of their children.

    1. Change is an incredibly scary thing! It doesn’t surprise me at all that someone would choose artery-clogging heart attack food for its price point and convenience. I’m really happy to hear people like you are leading the farm fresh food movement. Not only does the consumer’s mentality need to change, but the entire system would require an overhaul as well. This scenario would undoubtedly be overloaded with “what ifs…”.

  3. Oh Eric…you’ve touched on one of my really big issues here. Not only do we connect nonexistent dots, we also when lacking information assume the very worse. As you say…this is all done in our minds with absolutely nothing to base it on. Someone once told me he thought it was based on an instinctual ‘prepare for the worse’ survival skill. I disagree, I think it’s nothing more than fear. You’re right…in our minds we assume that if A is happening, then surely B must also be happening or will soon happen.
    We assume the worse, then immediately look for evidence to back this assumption up…and we always find what we’re looking for. Even when we ask others for advise, we spin it in order to get the feedback we’re looking for. And we do this in all aspects of life.
    Excellent post.

    1. Have you read the book “You Are Not So Smart”? The author, David McRaney, covers this very topic and much, much more! Great informative read.

      You are absolutely correct. Assuming the worse is all too common. I’ve often contemplated why people are unable to assume the best. Is it because those who assume the worse have been dealt a bad hand? I’m not sure. I would argue fear is in charge. The lizard brain, as Seth Godin might call it, is running the controls up there. It’s up to you to take over.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation Eric! Before reading any book I like to check out the writer a bit. McRaney looks like my kinda guy! I’ve put the book on hold at the library. You may be interested to know the SA library has 7 copies of You Are Not So Smart…and ALL 7 are checked out. I’m on a waiting list. This also tells me it’s a good book. Looking forward to getting my hands on it. Thanks again!

  4. I think that the best way to get over the what ifs ..play the what if to the end.. answer every what if with the solution to that particular dilema…what if.. so and so happens..ok well I would do this..well then what if ..this happens because of that..ok I would do thusly…play it to the end.. and if somewhere you are at a scenario that a what if is an unacceptable conclusion.. work on that one til you can get through it.. or.. as my 5 yo recently taught me.. what is this happens? yeah well… what if it doesn;t? really good points you made here…. fear is what stops many great things.. it is a huge trigger for emotional instability in my particular illness… on a mental/emotional level I say… is this coming from a place of fear or a place of of love.. it changes the whole outcome..

    1. Interesting observation Lizzie, but I’m not sure I totally agree. To me, playing the “what if” game to the end seems like a waste of time. No? I think what you would end up doing there is creating one unlikely, unpredictable scenario after another, only to never watch those scenarios play out as you anticipated. I guess I just go with the flow when it comes to approaching something I fear or am nervous about. You can only control so much, right? I think your 5 year old might be on to something!

      1. well I guess the point of the what if game is to answer the questions ..instead of chucking some plan to the winds just because you say what if..ok SO WHAT IF? . it’s more designed for the anxiety ridden I suppose.. it has worked to show me that there is nothing really as bad as what if… without answer. but yeah..my 5 yo presents a quick and easy solution to it all… what if it doesn;t?…

        and then of course too I am generally a what if I win a million dollars type – glass half full – what if this great thing happens.. 🙂 that kind of what if can only be good… 🙂

      2. if playing the what if game gets someone to do something they wouldn;t have done because of their fear of the unknown..then to me that it is time well spent no? but yea for some .. more adventurous types 😉 it would be pointless…

  5. Yes! That other sort of what if is much, much scarier….the “what if I live my life and end up never doing the things I wanted to do?” That’s really frightening.

    1. I remember working in a nursing home when I was a teenager and hearing a lot of the old timers express regret for not doing this or that. It was an odd feeling being surrounded by so many people experiencing the much, much scarier “what if.”

  6. “Adventure is so attractive precisely because of the unknown possibilities. Embrace this concept.” – excellent.

  7. Great blog! I just wrote about “fear” myself. Our worldviews may differ, yet we came to many of the same observations and conclusions, and even challenged the same questions. Thanks for a considerate commentary on the subject!

  8. Love this. I am guilty of being a huge planner and always wanting to know what will happen. Someone recently said something that really resonated with me. When we read a book or watch a movie, it is extremely important the ending remain a surprise. We consider it a spoiler if we find out the ending too soon. Why can’t we look at our lives that way? I try to see my life as a movie, and if I know what happens next, then it’s not nearly as fun. I’m not always successful at this, but it’s a cool thought to play with!

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