How to Use Your Fear to Fuel You - a Journaling Exercise for Depression, Anxiety, and More
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The following is straight from Chapter 10 in my bestselling book, "Super Intense: How Working with Your Emotional Intensity Makes You a Total Superhero." This is my go-to journalling exercise (scroll to bottom if you just wanna dive in) for any time I feel anxiety, depression, anger or any other fear-based emotion.
Chapter 10: Fear is for Champions
Have you ever heard the phrase, “fear isn’t real” or “fear is a liar”?
First of all, since we create our reality with our thoughts, if we feel fear - then it’s real to us as long as we’re feeling it.
Secondly, even if it is a liar, it doesn’t mean it’s useless. Doesn’t mean it should be ignored or pushed past.
No emotion we experience is without its purpose.
Everything we feel is for a reason and fear is no different. We can’t shun it. In fact, in my experience, every single time I ever tried to run away from fear and act like it didn’t exist, it just grew louder in the background until I was forced to recognize it.
Maybe this happened to you too - you worked a job that you hated but were too scared to do anything about it until the job got so intolerable you had no other choice? Same thing can happen in relationships, our home life, our health, and any other aspect of our lives when we ignore the fear until it forces us to pay attention.
Since that’s going to happen anyway, uh....forgive me for stating the obvious here, but....why are we not facing it before it forces us to?
Seems silly to have to even ask or suggest, but I know full well what it’s like to pretend fear doesn’t exist and act like it’s not real.
"It’s okay to feel fear and I truly believe that to live the life we want, it all starts with embracing fear. Fear is just a wounded part of you wishing you’d turn around and give it a big hug."
The good news is, since you’re reading this, you’re probably riddled with fear. This might not feel like good news right now, but it totally is and you’ll soon see why.
In case you’re like, “I’m not riddled with fear, I’m the bravest person in the world!” I just want to note: Fear doesn’t always manifest as being something obvious. If you ever feel anxiety, hesitancy, depression, loneliness, failure, discouragement, or any other emotion you don’t particularly love - you better believe what lies beneath that feeling is fear.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Fear is for champions, and that’s what you are. The more fear you have, the more passionate of a person you are and the more opportunities you have to follow your passions.
It’s simple logic. If you fear anything, it’s because you strongly desire its opposite.
For example - if you fear being eaten by monsters when the lights go out (not that I totally feel that way - I’m more nervous about something reaching up from under my bed and grabbing my arm if I let it hang over the side) - anyway, if you’re afraid of being eaten, it must mean you have a strong desire to have your body in full functioning form; healthy and free.
Okay, let’s use this on something more realistic. Say you’re feeling very lonely. Beneath that feeling of loneliness is a fear of being alone, right? That fear indicates a strong desire to feel loved.
People who don’t experience intense negative emotions are usually not as passionate about their desires.
They don’t feel as lonely because they don’t care as much about feeling loved. They don’t get as discouraged because they don’t care as much about their dreams. They don’t get as heartbroken because they never loved as strongly as you did.
Experiencing a lot of fear-based emotions indicates that you are an incredibly passionate human being.
The worse you feel, the stronger you want the opposite of whatever fear is beneath your emotion. You are passionate, this is why you get so down so easily!
This is why fears are awesome and why you are awesome for having them. Living in harmony with my fears is truly the lion’s share of the work involved in using my intensity for heroic good. This is why it’s what we tackle first. It’s actually like the hardest step at first, but I’m giving it to you right off the bat because why wait? You can handle it. You can handle anything.
It all starts by letting yourself actually witness and observe your fears.
Fears are like the bumpy parts on the side of the road designed to wake you up if you’re sleeping. They’re guide posts. Again: They’re useful. And they are not bad.
When I first started working with my fears it was actually hard to identify them right away. They were so ingrained in every aspect of my day I didn’t exactly notice it.
In meetings when I would hesitate to say something: that was fear.
At home when I’d overthink what to text my crush of the moment: that was fear.
In the mornings when I’d try on several outfits and hate how every single one looked on me: fear.
It seems obvious now, but those tiny moments were so common in my day it took legitimate analyzing to recognize them. This is because we’re deeply accustomed to running away from fears and acting like they don’t exist. We often don’t notice them until they’re crippling us with anxiety, depression or despair of some kind.
The important thing about changing our awareness around this is that we’re not doing it to beat ourselves up for being so fearful. We’re not doing it to feel shame over feeling fear. We’re doing it to recognize how amazing we are.
Every time you have the tiniest of fears, it’s just giving you guidance. You are amazing for experiencing fear-based feelings because it shows how well guided you are.
As a side note: Love-based feelings also offer incredible guidance, but we won’t get there until later in the book.
Welcome in your fears because they are not your enemy. The enemy is the thought that they are bad and something to ignore. Imagine you're simply having a lovely tea party with them!
Just so you know, I’m writing this chapter as I feel horrible. And I’m not yet 100% sure why.
My heart is pounding. My chest feels tight. I feel simultaneously like falling asleep, eating an entire tub of peanut butter, and crying.
I’m not gonna say it doesn’t suck to feel horrible.
But I’m also not going to run away from it.
I recently heard an interview with Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to Barack Obama, about his leadership style that actually is the perfect metaphor for my goal with handling my emotions.
She said that President Obama was always seeking out ways to get the opinions of everyone in a room during meetings. If someone was quiet or too scared to speak up, he’d talk to them privately and encourage them to share their opinion. If someone disagreed with him, he wanted to know.
He was open and curious. He welcomed all messages equally and sought out all sides. Not with judgement, but with openness and curiosity.
The way he managed his staff is how we need to play the role of manager with our emotions.
We need to be like Obama when it comes to those quiet voices in our heads (or sometimes those loud unruly ones) that make us uncomfortable to lean into. Imagine yourself as the cool, unflappable leader just giving that emotion its chance to speak up. Let yourself be the one to listen, to learn, to be curious while the emotion shares whatever it has to share.
When we give it a space to speak up, we lessen the impact. Have you ever met someone who avoids speaking up at all costs until they can’t hold it in any longer and they just blow up?
Another way to look at it is as if you are the conductor of an orchestra and each instrument is a different emotion. Yes an emotion like shame might have solos sometimes, but you are the one choosing when it plays, how long, and how loud.
Will you just ignore the emotion and act like it doesn’t exist? Or will you lean in and get curious?
Here’s the process:
I talk to the emotion. I name it whatever it feels like, let’s say in this instance, “failure,” and then I go:
Hi failure, what’s up?
And I listen. Right now, here’s what failure is saying:
“Who are you to try to help anyone use their emotions as a superpower when you are such a failure at it yourself? Look at how you feel right now!”
I imagine myself like Obama, cool-headed, easy-going and open to listening to the emotion. Furthermore, I treat it like a small child. Like it is worthy of love and respect. I listen with my heart. I welcome in what it has to say.
After I hear it out, I imagine myself taking it by the hand and thanking it for being brave enough to tell me how it feels.
“Thank you failure! Thank you for showing up.”
I mean what harm can it do to welcome it in - it’s a feeling within you! It’s already there anyway - it cannot possibly do any more harm to welcome it in with wide open loving arms, than it does to shun it.
I then get clear on what it wants to teach me. If I’m afraid of being a failure at helping people use their emotional intensity as a superpower - then it must mean it is very important to me. It must mean I desire for these words to inspire, encourage, motivate and support.
That’s awesome! That fear-based emotion just gave me fabulous, beautiful insight. As soon as I recognize it, I can feel myself shifting out of the fear of failure and into the excitement of helping others.
I will give you a chart you can use as a journal exercise to do this process daily, but for now I want to explain further what’s going on here and what this very simple process works.
Essentially what is happening is I am guiding myself through the emotional scale.
Like we discussed in the last chapter - it’s very difficult to move out of depression into a state of happiness. That’s because it’s a long journey from here to there.
However, if we move just one emotion at a time - much like moving through squares on a board game - we can eventually get there.
Take a look at the following diagram.
In this chart you see various categories of emotions, spanning from total despair to pure joy.
While you may not be able to flick a switch and move from total despair to joy, you can move from total despair to unworthiness, right? They’re really not that far away from each other. If you know what one feels like, you likely know what the other does. From unworthiness you can likely move into blaming others and perhaps getting angry. From anger you can move into just being frustrated. Frustration can lead to a state of being neutral - not happy, not sad, just existing. Neutrality can lead to contentment. Contentment can lead to optimism, which leads to enthusiasm and finally - pure joy!
It’s like a road map!
I’ve seen charts like this in various places. My favorite resource, if you’d like to dig a lot deeper into this, is Melody Fletcher’s book: “Deliberate Receiving: Finally, the Universe Makes Some Freakin' Sense!”
But you don’t have to go much deeper to see how empowering and helpful a map like this is.
This is why if I tap into feelings of failure that live somewhere around self-attack, I can move up into optimism and eventually enthusiasm - all by simply looking at my fears and anxieties with love.
When we instead just try to ignore them, we are not offering ourselves anyway up and out. Fears are great because they help guide us towards our deepest desires and enthusiasm for life when we work with them, instead of running away from them.
Here’s your assignment:
At the end of each day - or at whatever time works for you - fill in the following grid. You can use this book or write it down in your journal.
Before you start, take a moment to get centered. Let yourself sit in a quiet place and take three deep breaths. Welcome in the super-hero version of yourself. Be open, willing and ready to welcome in your emotions with love. No emotion is bad, and there is never a need to judge yourself or sugarcoat how you feel. State it as it is, and know that that’s okay.
Essentially this process moves you from any feeling you have that’s below neutral, to a feeling above neutral. This is why I call it F.U.N. journaling, F.U.N. standing for: Feelings Under Neutral. Also my hope is that it’s fun and empowering to do. It is for me and clients I’ve supported through it.
This is very powerful and something a hero must do daily. The better you get at it, the easier it will be to flow through this process without having to take time out to journal, but that may take months or years so don’t give up.
I no longer need to journal out every single emotion that’s below neutral as I can flow through the scale pretty easily these days, but if something is really difficult for me I still write out this process.
Here’s a glimpse at how it works. Below I’ve filled in an example of a F.U.N. journal entry using a specific feeling I’m going through that’s below neutral on the chart: I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish this book in an organized way by the time it’s due. Here’s how the F.U.N. journaling helps:
Did you notice that in my example I expressed appreciation to the below-neutral emotion?
That’s such a powerful step in this process of working with your feelings under neutral as a total champion: thank them! Be grateful for every emotion you feel that’s below neutral once you have used it to propel you forward.
I used to think I had to forgive all of my lower emotions, but then I realized that finding genuine gratitude for them was much more powerful. The definition of forgiveness is to cease feeling resentment. By nature, when you can feel true appreciation for something, you automatically must let go of resentment.
Feeling true thankfulness for your emotions transforms them, and you. I am thankful for every fear, anxiety and belief of unworthiness. I’m thankful for all the pain those emotions have ever caused. Thanks to them I better understand what I truly desire in this life. They have guided and shaped me. As they have you.
Every hero was shaped in some way by something most would consider “bad.” For Tony Stark, after the explosion caused shrapnel to enter his body and he was given an electromagnet from terrorists trying to keep him alive to build them weapons, he could have just given in to how “bad” that situation was. Instead it powered him. It inspired him to create the Arc Reactor in his chest that eventual powers his Ironman suits.
For you, your intense feelings of despair and unworthiness can lead to creating your own version of an Ironman suit. It can lead you to pursue unique dreams and visions that no one else has. It can help you become the hero version of yourself you’ve always known was living within you.
To do this, after finding that appreciation, use the feeling below neutral’s message for you to create a new belief. If your feeling is telling you: “You’re not good enough and you’ll never succeed.” Well we can find appreciation for this feeling because it’s helping us gain clarity on the fact that we desire to feel like we’re good enough and that we already are successful. We can now become willing to believe that we are worthy, successful humans.
Being willing to believe this new belief is huge. Especially if you’ve been stuck in the old belief for so long. That old belief may keep coming back up for quite a while. But as you lean into your willingness to transform it, it begins to transform.
This is why fear - and every other emotion below neutral - is for champions. These emotions help you rise like a phoenix from the ashes. These feelings are gifts, as long as you use them.
Here’s a printable blank version of the F.U.N. journaling process. I encourage you to work through this process with at least one feeling below neutral daily, if not more.
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