Featured Image Artwork: Bhoomika Ghaghada
Fear can make you panic or it can make you freeze. For some, it’s a monster living on their shoulders whispering irrational nothings, feeding off insecurities like a leech. If the worst can happen, it will. Convoluted, bending to your fear, a terrifying Murphy’s Law.
Afraid of quitting your job, of choosing the wrong career, of uncertainty, of losing something, of making the wrong decision, of saying/doing the wrong thing in a social situation– We’ve all come to these scary crossroads. While many have safely passed, some have made snap decisions based on emotion, and others have stopped short in their tracks and waited for the crossroads to dissolve – Indecision.
Up until about 20 years ago, researchers never linked the cognitive task of decision-making with emotions, because it’s supposed decisions are a matter of rational calculation. In the real world, and in our very real minds, that’s not how it works. Research has shown that emotions, even if unrelated to the decision at hand, can affect our judgment. Additionally, studies have shown that positive or negative emotion can elevate or impair our ability to choose.
This article is for those who have ever been scared or ever will be: You’ll be surprised to see how being conscious of the influence of fear can change the way we approach it – the fear and the pending decision.
How risk-taking is affected by fear
If you’re under the influence of fear, and focusing on a specific loss or gain, you may be dialed down on aspiration and big on security, causing you to be frozen in indecision or draw back from the challenge [assuming a loss]. In addition, you may overestimate the negative emotions experienced when the decision doesn’t pan out positively for you. It has been shown that anxious individuals are more biased towards low-risk/low-reward options.
Here are some tips that may help in lessening the effect of fear on your choices:
1. Discriminate between emotions
Be aware of how you’re feeling. Are you angry, frustrated, scared, happy?
The truth is that, sometimes, fear gets a shot of caffeine and tells spiralling lies. Studies show that the emotion you’re experiencing at the time of decision-making can change the way you predict the outcome of a decision.
Say, you’re contemplating whether or not to start a new venture. The immediate and current emotion of fear might make you feel like the failure of the venture would be unbearable and hence, will keep you from taking the first step. If you were happy at the moment, however, you’d be more optimistic about the outcome and take the risk.
[It’s common sense, but knowing what you’re feeling can make a great, big difference] So, at the time of decision-making, knowing that fear is fuelling thoughts of retreat and surrender, you will slowly be able to counter its effect with this knowledge. If you knew a man was lying to you, would you listen to him?
2. Let it be
A fact I learned about fear a long time ago is that if you recognize it and let it be, it loses its intensity. The first thing we do when we feel fear is try to get rid of it – immediately. We bury ourselves in work or use crowds as a narcotic. Don’t be afraid to feel it.
If you can let it be, it will soon dissolve on its own. Otherwise, you’re stuck on a hamster wheel – afraid of feeling afraid of feeling afraid. Make the decision when you’re calmer [Don’t put it off for good].
3. Third-party advice
The intensity of fear you’re feeling at the time of decision making is quite relevant too. It can override your cognitive functioning and cause you to act against your own self-interest.
In situations where the intensity of the emotion isn’t something you can evade easily, your best bet is to turn to a uninvolved third party who can help you work with the high-stress situations and see the circumstance in a cool, reasonable, facts-only manner.
We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels usthat we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trustand find most faithful. How should we be able to forget thoseancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesseswho are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. – Rainer Maria Rilke