zen habits : breathe

Fear is the Root of Your Problems

By Leo Babauta

Every problem you or I have (and they are many, small and large), is rooted in fear.

For some, that might seem obvious: the question is how to beat the fears. For others, it’s not so self-evident: why are my financial or relationship or procrastination problems caused by fear?

Let’s tackle both questions — the Why and the How.

First the Why: think about each problem you have, and then think about why you have the problem. Or why you aren’t able to solve it.

A few examples:

And so on. All other problems are some manifestation of what’s going on in the above examples.

Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of letting go of control, fear of being alone, fear of abandonment, fear of discomfort, fear of missing out, fear that you’re not OK as you are or your life isn’t OK as it is, fear that some ideal won’t come true.

And these all boil down to the same fear: fear that you won’t be OK, that you’re not good enough. A lack of trust in yourself, and in the present moment.

So what do we do about it?

How to Deal with the Fear

I originally titled this section, “How to Conquer the Fear”, but this is the problem. We see fear as an enemy, to be defeated or it will defeat us.

It’s not. Fear is us. We are human beings in a world of constant change, and this is scary. We are afraid that we won’t be OK in the chaos of change, that we will fail, that we will be judged, that life won’t turn out OK.

The fear is a part of us, and therefore we shouldn’t try to “destroy” it. It can’t be destroyed, because while we can dissipate one particular fear in one particular moment, we’ll still have fears after that. All our lives. It’s not something that can be eradicated — it’s a basic part of life.

So what can we do?

  1. We can be aware of the fear. When we are struggling, suffering in some way, be aware that fear is stopping us. Look into what the fear might be.
  2. Then we can accept the fear. Don’t feel bad about it, don’t try to crush it, don’t wish it weren’t there. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of life. Accept it.
  3. Then we can see how the fear is hurting us. And see how that hurt is self-caused. How we can let go of the suffering by letting go of the fear.
  4. We can think rationally about the fear. Actually give it a little space, and consider it. What’s the worst-case scenario? Would you basically be OK? (The answer is almost invariably yes — maybe life wouldn’t meet your “ideal”, but you’d find a way and be OK.)
  5. We can be grateful for who we are, and what life actually is (as opposed to what it’s not, or what we’re not). Appreciate ourselves, and others, and life at this moment. We can be grateful for the opportunities that this moment has brought, rather than fearing the change it represents. For example, a loss is an opportunity for reinvention, doing something hard is an opportunity to create or do good in the world, and change is always an opportunity for learning and growth.
  6. We can return to this moment, and see that it is perfectly fine as is. There is no ideal when we’re seeing this actual moment and accepting it for what it is. If there’s no ideal, there’s no fear. If we don’t have an ideal of some kind of success, we don’t fear failure. If we don’t have an ideal of what we should be, we don’t fear that we’re not good enough. If we don’t have an ideal of what someone else should be, we don’t get angry at them.

This is a process of awareness, acceptance, seeing the pain, finding gratitude, and being in the moment without an ideal.

It can be done. And then soon after, another fear will appear. And we practice again.

With this practice, we can work with the fear that’s causing our problems. We can accept it without letting it stop us. And this practice, because we are alleviating our own suffering, is an act of self-compassion.



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