The Purpose of Fear

The Purpose of fear


That feeling in your stomach. Twisted.
That feeling in your head. Pounding.
That feeling in your hands. Numb.
That feeling in your throat. Tight.

What would life be without fear?
Short answer: Limiting.

Long answer: If you do not feel fear, you have either mastered the task at hand without room to grow, or worse – you are naïve, dangerous, and will hurt yourself or others.

Psychological and physical health are similar; both need to be trained or they will regress. Last week, Sarah wrote about starting over. She mentioned how quickly muscles lose their strength and endurance when not used. Likewise, complacency leads to personal and professional atrophy. If there is no forward progression, there is only regression. Nothing in life is stagnant. Even if you are physically standing still, you are moving at 67,000 mph around the sun. The second law of thermodynamics states matter is in a constant state of entropy, losing energy. That energy is gone unless more energy is put in. This is when growth happens. Fear comes when we step outside our comfort zones.

The root of fear is failure:

Physical failure of a test.
Monetary failure of a business.
Psychological failure of a relationship.

The purpose is not to eliminate fear, but to learn to harness it, master the task at hand, and to grow and progress. When the feeling of fear overcomes someone, there is a release of several fast acting hormones. These include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are fancy ways of saying adrenaline. Cortisol helps move energy to the muscles needed in the moment. It is why the stomach shuts down, the hands and feet start to tingle, etc. Adrenaline causes the brain to kick into “fight or flight” mode. Without learning how to harness this energy, the brain can slip into “shutdown” mode. This is why training the mind is critical.

This release of hormones also brings a heightened sense of awareness and physical power. When someone attempts a “1 Rep Max” that is a one rep max for the moment. The brain will purposely self-limit the potential of the muscle to stop the body from hurting itself. It is possible to elevate this potential to a higher level of engagement through training. When there is a life-threatening fight or flight response, this limit can be removed entirely.

Also, endorphins (literally “made in the body” morphine) and endocannabinoids are released in the body, creating a powerful painkiller.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the final stage is self-actualization. Self-actualization means fulfilling our personal potential – something only achieved through growth. Do you see where the role of fear comes in? The feeling of fear means there is still room to grow. Learning how to control and use fear lies the secret.


George Cullen