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I recently mentioned in our Class Notes on the Cutting Edge Facebook group the importance of distinguishing between “useful fear” and “non- useful fear”. A couple of people have asked what I meant by that, so I thought I’d explain my thinking.
We all know what fear is and the various forms it can take. Generally speaking , fear is a preventative - it stops us from doing things. On a physical level this manifests as the “freeze” response. This perhaps harkens back to a time of predators, where stillness and not being noticed may have made the difference between life and death.
On a psychological level the same response prevents us from doing things – an extreme fear of open spaces may prevent a person leaving their house for example. Fear of failure, rejection or ridicule may prevent us from taking part in an activity, from trying something new, from speaking our mind and so on. These type of fears can perhaps be considered “social fears” and are influenced by custom and culture, social structures and similar factors.
On some occasions, fear may provoke a response. This may be an extreme survival situation, or to stand up to a bully. It may be something as ordinary as locking your front door when you go out. In all cases it serves us well to understand the cause of the fear, the physical and psychological effects on ourselves and others and how we respond to that fear.
This is a deep subject, there are several layers and aspects to fear training, many of which we have covered in previous classes and workshops. There different methods of unlocking the freeze response. There are various stages of pressure testing (some of which we show on video and some we do not!). There is the study of physiology, understanding the “ chemistry of fear” and the role of different parts of the brain and the nervous system. Of course at the base of it all is the on-going and underlying study of our own breathing, understanding our physical and mental tensions and a constant refining of movement.
However to stick the specific question of “useful” fear, consider this. If you are going to cross a busy road, you stop and look left and right. This is because you have a fear of being hit by a car. Now that is an appropriate fear in the circumstances. Your response is also appropriate. So this is a “usefull fear” – there is a real threat of harm and you understand exactly the measures required to respond. You look left and right and cross at the right time. Now consider an inappropriate response – you are so worried about being hit by a car you never, ever cross a road - in fact you might not even go near a road.
So the fear / situation is the same, but now your response is not proportionate. Barring psychological issues then, most of the time we can recognise “useful fear”. We see, we understand, we respond. Problems arise when we allow “non-useful fear” to control our lives. This fear can take many forms – bigotry, jealousy, hatred, or it can simply, as we said before, act as an inhibitor to our regular lives and activities.
As a musician I often have to go to auditions with a new band or project. Often these are with people I have not met before and the level of playing required may be quite high. There has not been a single time when driving to an audition that I haven’t thought...”maybe I shouldn’t go to this....I could just go home...what if I’m not up to it...”
So there is the “bad fear” – the fear of failure, rejection, the fear that inhibits and restricts. I’m pleased to say so far I’ve always ignored it – but that little voice is always there!
In a more physical situation, there is often fear, a risk of being hurt, injured or worse. Or you may be protecting others, perhaps family, or in your line of work. So the fear is “useful” but we have to check our response . If we listen to the voice that says ...”this guy looks strong...he’s really aggressive...I can’t do anything...I’ll just fold”....then the fear has turned “non-useful” . Fear of contact that inhibits our response is not useful. In order to turn that round we can learn to use fear to power our response – this works at various levels, the most basic being fear into aggression. But there are stages beyond this – in fact after a while you will come to recognise aggression in others as fear.
As I always say, any and all labels we use in training are simply that. Whether it’s physical movement patterns, giving things names, using various psychological models, or calling something “useful”...they are just labels. A means to an end. Once you gain understanding you can discard labels and allow yourself to work freely – this is the ultimate goal. However if you are someone who struggles with fear – and we all do at some time – then I hope that the ideas here can help you in some way to recognise when that fear is useful or not and to respond in the best possible way.
If you would like some good ideas on fear training, check out our Fear Workshop Download