The next level on Maslow’s pyramid involves our psychological needs. We can exist on the first level with food, water, and shelter (physiological). However, if we live in fear of abuse, our basic needs will never be satisfied. Abusive parents, spouses, caretakers, and institutions inflict psychological pain every day. In many cases, the abuse occurs in plain sight. For me, this is the saddest and most disturbing level on the pyramid. Safety and security is a right of all humanity, yet a disproportionate number of people around the world never experience it. Imagine living your entire life in fear. Most of us can’t conceptualize living in real fear for one’s safety each day. The reality is that many people in modern societies live in a self-made prison of fear every day. They are obsessed with what they don’t have or afraid they will lose what they do have. They tell themselves stories and visualize or focus on what they don’t want. Most fear is fabricated and will never become a reality.
Humanity has migrated from prairies to cities over the course of history. There was a time when everything could and would kill us. The perpetual danger required that humans remain alert and vigilant about safety at all times. Letting the guard down for one minute could result in being eaten. This resulted in the evolution of the sympathetic nervous system. Today, danger does not exist around every corner, but our sympathetic nervous system remains fully engaged. Unfortunately, this means that we live with fear about things that won’t really hurt us. We are in constant worry about losing what we have or our loved ones. We fret over our government affairs and potential threats from foreign countries. In other words, we constantly worry about things we have no control over. Our minds are drawn to the worst-case scenario at every turn.
How do we escape the fear traps?
Much fear is of the unknown. The unknown is only known after it reveals itself, but the future is unpredictable. Humans look for patterns in all things attempt to predict the future based on the past. Perspective can help relieve our anxiety about the future by allowing us to gain a true understanding of the importance of what we fear. Stop fretting over things in your life that are superficial, like material possessions, societal status, or circumstances over which we have no control. Our desire to matter and feel significant can trigger unnecessary and unproductive stress. This kind of stress can kill little by little. How? Overconsumption of alcohol or drugs, lack of sleep, relationship drama, high blood pressure, depression, and a host of other physical responses.
Ask yourself – what am I stressed about, and how can I impact it? Can you walk away from it, change your perspective, start something new (a class, exercise, etc.), join a group, or seek help? Changing our perspective regarding stress in our life is a critical aspect of living your full potential. Unnecessary stress prevents us from taking the steps to change our lives.
All of the perspective in the world makes no difference if you don’t take action. Action is what begins to change our chemical make-up. Cortisol (a stress chemical) gives way to dopamine and other chemicals that increase our motivation. Action is an essential component of living life to its fullest.
Regret can add up little by little in early life and, if allowed, can gain momentum through the progression of our lives. Thoughts like “I should have tried harder, I should have been better” are what Tony Robbins refers to when he says, “We should all over ourselves.” We do! And the result is regret. It weighs us down like a heavy backpack that we put on our back every morning. It becomes our excuse for not taking action and allows us to tell others, “you don’t understand” as we point to our backpack of regret. But the reality is that we filled the backpack, and we put it on every day. The only way to unload the backpack is through action. Consider the following actions:
-Forgiveness – Yes, they wronged you, but you can let it go. It isn’t bothering them, but it is killing you.
-Acceptance – Yes, you screwed up. So what. We can’t change the past, but we can affect our future by accepting the past.
-Reconciliation – Were you the one that did somebody wrong? It’s never too late to say, “I’m sorry.” Whether they accept your apology or not is none of your concern and not up to you. Owning up to your mistakes helps to empty out your backpack and move into your better future.
So, you have calibrated your perspective, are taking action, and are feeling better about yourself. The last important element in managing fear is taking responsibility, which will prevent you from making excuses or blaming others. Perspective and action without responsibility can lead to blame when the results are not to our liking.
Here is an example: Our child is failing in school. We acknowledge their deficit (perspective) and get them a tutor (action), but avoid fully accepting responsibility. The results don’t come, and now we blame the school. We don’t hold our child accountable for improving their grades because we see this as a system problem rather than an individual problem. Taking responsibility would result in holding the child accountable for better results, working with the child to help them on our own time, and investing in additional tools to help them grasp the concepts. Or maybe they are not ready for the material they are trying to learn. Accepting responsibility will allow for a more objective approach to solving our problem. Denial is the opposite of responsibility and the greatest growth inhibitor.
Resets are an opportunity for a fresh start, but in order to reset, we must address our fear. We can do this by changing our perspective, taking action toward a better future, letting go of regret, and accepting responsibility for our lives. If after all of this, you are still unhappy with somethings that remain, do something about it. Complacency is the quickest path to regret, and we can overcome complacency with action and responsibility.
Remember, this is your life, and therefore the level of fulfillment and meaning in it is on you!