Fear Is Not Your Friend

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” -Marcus Aurelius

Fear is not your friend.  Making decisions in a state of fear will never serve you.”  Brian Ursu

Only one of these quotes is famous, but they both are true.  Fear is a dangerous emotion and leads to poor decision making.  There is nothing wrong with being scared of one thing or another but allowing that concern to dictate your actions or reactions is wrong.  Wringing your hands and trembling in fear will not help you properly assess the perceived threat.

Too often I have witnessed investors make devastating decisions based on their perceived threat.  This could be the result of an election (the last two come to mind) yet the market marches higher despite the frenzy they have worked themselves up in.  Another “external” that causes bad behavior is the passage of this or that piece of legislation.  Granting greater importance to the outcomes of these externals will undermine even the best investment strategy.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that you plant your head firmly in the sand and not pay attention to the externals, but measure your response to them and use your power to revoke them.  Logic and understanding is the antidote to fear.  Consider this quote by noted scientist Marie Curie.  “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  With limited understanding the threat grows beyond its limits and causes us to fear disproportionately.

Consider the Japanese proverb, “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”  We are the ones who nurture our fears and not only welcome them into our psyche but nurture them until they grow stronger than our own resistance.  By fixating on that which we fear we give it lifeforce that is undeserving and allow our minds to turn into something that is paralyzing.  To suggest that we just use willpower to defeat our fears is probably not practical or healthy, but the more you conquer your fears, the easier the next one will be to defeat.

I often encourage people who are gripped by fear to play out their fear in real time.  For example, if this person wins the election what happens then?  The market will crash.  Why will the market crash?  Because this is the worst person in the world.  Have we had other atrocious presidents elected before?  Of course.  And what has happened as a result?  The market is much higher now then it was back then.  Businesses continued to improve, hired new people, brought new technologies to being, grew their earnings and increased their value.  This has happened during good presidents and the not so good.

Catastrophic thinking is running rampant right now.   Take any issue and those who represent either side of that issue will try to get you to believe that the other side will bring the end of civilization for us all.  I don’t care what the issue, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes and is not as devastating as we are being led to believe.  The sun will come up tomorrow, there will be more opportunities for us to grow and help others to grow, and the world will not end.

I have learned that the message “Be Not Afraid” appears 365 times in the bible.  It could be coincidental that 365 happens to be the number of days we have in a year, but to me it is a reminder that fear is not helpful or productive and the repeated message is for our benefit.

Overcoming our fears is key to growth and a successful life.  Think of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”  I want nothing more than for you to learn the secret of life.  Facing your fears head on and moving forward regardless of them will make all the difference.