How will you handle the three faces of fear?

attention mindset risk Aug 17, 2022
child peeking out with fearful eyes

Fear can be a distressing bondage to some, a life-saving intuition for many, or a mere annoyance to others.  When we understand the nature of our fear and can identify which face it’s wearing, it becomes simpler to move forward.

Fear stops us

True fear is the inner radar that warns us of danger.  It’s the prickly goosebumps, hair raised on the back of the neck, “I gotta get outta here” fear.  We’re on RED ALERT!

This face of fear, the “red alert” kind, is here to save our lives.  Adrenaline floods our body to prepare for our defense and we become hypersensitive to our surroundings. True fear is unmistakable.

Failing to separate that intuitive life-saving state from the other two faces of fear minimizes fear’s potential for good and can leave us feeling powerless. 

Another kind of fear

Remember lockdowns?  With that mystery virus, no one had a clue what was safe. 

I remember in February 2020 calling the pharmacy to stock up on my maintenance meds.  And like many others, I stocked up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and face masks.  And, full confession, toilet paper.

Many folks were taunted for taking those precautions.  They were ridiculed as being fearful, and perhaps some were.  For me, though, that face of fear was prudence. 

When we don’t know what to expect, don’t know if danger is even present, we hang on to what we do know.  Like carrying a bottle of water on a long hike, looking ahead to cover contingencies is how we plan to keep ourselves safe. 

Prudence is the long-term face of fear.

Our personal fear

Those of us who create are vulnerable to yet another face of fear.  Residing in the empty space between where we are now and our desired outcome is the anxiety of creative tension.  This is the “stuck” face of fear.

In the gap between the completion of our project and its release to the world beyond, we get all squishy and uncertain inside.  We don’t want to face exposure, or worse, rejection.  We want to hide.  Our hearts race when we imagine following through to the end. 

We become highly anxious. 

As our imaginations run wild, we name this creative anxiety “fear” because our bodies are hopped up on adrenaline.   All the physiological symptoms of Red Alert fear are present in this state of anxious creative tension.

It feels like we’re about to DIE!

That’s when the Dreamkillers swarm.  They feed on anxiety.


Dreamkillers are the forces of nature that resist change.  Completing our creation will result in change, so to maintain the status quo, they distract us and cause us to avoid following through.

Dreamkillers take the energy we give to our anxiety and returns it to us in the shape of whatever will stop us.  They say things like:

  • There’s not enough time
  • You don’t have the resources you need and you never will
  • You don’t even know where to start
  • Someone or something else is stopping you; it’s not your fault
  • It’s too exhausting, you’re too tired
  • It’s too boring…
  • What about his shiny new idea?  And that one!  And that one!
  • What goals? They’re pointless because they never come true.

Even though none of that is true, we allow those messages to stop us. We are focused on the anxiety that strengthens Dreamkillers.

But here’s the deal:  Dreamkillers are bullies.  Like an animal in the backyard confronted by a cat that doesn’t want it there, they will back down when we stand our ground. 

Do the work

The best way to move through the common anxiety of creative tension is to get into action.  Focused attention beats a Dreamkiller every time. 

When our attention is on the creative process, it can’t be simultaneously on our queasy tummy.  When we focus on technique or skill-building to improve, we counteract the adrenaline flood with feel-good hormones. 

Of the three faces of fear, only Red Alert is true fear that saves lives.

The other two faces of fear are choices.  Prudence in preparedness is a choice, and yielding to the resistance of creative anxiety by believing the Dreamkiller messages is a choice.

Will those faces of fear become a distressing bondage, or a mere annoyance?  It’s your choice.

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