How to Reframe Fearful Thoughts
"Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones."
Thich Nhat Hanh
The world turns and we all move on.
Annica is the Buddhist teaching that “nothing stays the same.”
Not even a pandemic.
As we all move out of lockdown and look to find our new normal, we wanted to say a few words
about fear and uncertainty.
We have talked about this before and if you haven’t seen it already, we would advise you to read our article “Surrendering to Uncertainty.”
Lockdown land was strange, but it was in fact much scripted. We knew what we were allowed to do and what we needed to avoid. There were strict rules and boundaries. Although we lost our freedom, it was replaced with the reduced need for the use of our judgement.
It feels now as if things have shifted, a relaxing of the rules, of sorts.
We are still bound but now, rather than by rules, by recommendations and reminders of our responsibilities. We have more choice and responsibility and, while some are following these guidelines, many are not.
Collecting takeout requires a mask but eating in does not. Masks are mandatory but you can state that you cannot wear one for medical reasons. Shops say no mask no entry, but the staff are often without. We need to distance but we need to support the economy.
These contradictions only serve to drive further uncertainty and create more fear within us than when the guidance was stricter.
Fear, as we have discussed in our article ‘How to Walk Beside Fear,’ is part of our primordial survival instinct.
It keeps us safe from harm making us look before we cross the road, or avoid a notorious part of town.
It can even motivate us to get things done.
Taken out of context, however, it can restrict and even damage us.
When we focus on our fears they grow and develop.
When we give them a voice, we magnify them.
We seek out evidence that supports them and ignore anything to the contrary.
We even invent narratives to keep them alive.
We use them as excuses and allow them to limit our achievements.
Perversely fuelled by our love for those close to us and our fear for their disappointment, we can actually encourage them to limit their achievements too. We say things like “Don’t get your hopes up.”
We use our fears to reinforce negative core beliefs about ourselves.
Fear can distort our thoughts and drive negative emotions and behaviours.
How much longer are we going to let this continue?
Is it not time to take control of our thoughts?
We may not be able to change the uncertainty that surrounds us right now, but we can dispel our unwarranted fears.
We can reframe those fearful thoughts into positive action.
The ATOMS Template:
This tool is a great template for reframing fearful thoughts.
When a fearful thought enters our head we need to take the time to acknowledge its presence.
Ignoring thoughts and trying to push them away or into a box is resistance.
This is counterproductive because the thought is still present; we have only pushed it deeper into the psyche. We are not listening, and so we are encouraging it to shout louder.
When we seek to acknowledge the thought, we can process it, and then reframe it.
Going further than acknowledgment, we in fact, need to thank the universe for the thought and indeed the fear from which it stemmed.
Everything that happens to us, good or bad, is a lesson. Being grateful for every lesson is walking the path towards positivity.
Next, we need to observe the fearful thought. What is it trying to tell us? Where does it come from and what does it want?
Observation with emotion is in fact over-analysis and this should be avoided. The observation needs to be without the emotions that fuel distorted thinking.
Step back and observe with compassion for yourself and any others involved.
Once you can truly see where the fearful thought has come from. Only then can you measure its validity. What is the evidence for it and against it? Again, step back and do not let emotions cloud your assessment.
When you have observed the validity of your fearful thought, you can consciously choose your response.
Will you repeat the same negative cycle? Or will you move forwards in a positive way?
Will you evolve? Or will you repeat?
Use this tool whenever you feel fearful thoughts dictating your feelings and behaviours.
If you like this and found it helpful please share it. Thank you.