Not so long ago, I had a patient in my clinic of around 7-8 years of age. He seemed fine as he sat down on the dental chair to get examined. But as soon as I got to start with my treatment procedure, he panicked and pushed my hands away. He jumped off the chair and stood near the door. His mom who was standing nearby tried coaxing him to get the treatment done; but he was too scared to let me touch him. I asked the mother, “Why is he so scared? Has he been to some other dentist before?” And she replied, “Yes, doctor. When he was much younger, we had been to a dentist who forcefully treated him because he was scared and there was a bit of blood too. He has never allowed treatment from any dentist ever since!”
I’ve seen many patients who are this way. They don’t allow treatment because they’ve had a bad experience earlier. As a result, they try to make do without treatment which overtime finally results in very poor oral hygiene.
What causes them to back out? They had a bad experience which led to fear.
Fear is something we’ve all struggled with at some point in our lives. Everyone has had some or the other fears. For example, Peter the Great, the tsar of Russia had a fear of crossing bridges: when he had to cross, he would tremble and cry. Julius Caesar had a fear of thunder: every time there was thunder he would run into a cave till it was over.
In the early days of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his Inaugural Address, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Everyone has fears: some of them are crazy fears while some are justified. There are different kinds of fears too but what really is of concern is of the fear that comes from bad experiences.
We have all been in situations where we’ve experienced failure, pain, sorrow or hurts. For some of us, we carry some of these situations in our hearts and minds and the fear of going through it again has us paralysed in our tracks. We call them ‘bad experiences’ and tell ourselves, “Never again!”
Isn’t it true that in life, one or two bad experiences creates a sense of distrust, fear and holds us back from moving forward in that direction? The end result might be fulfilling but fear keeps us from even thinking towards it.
Leadership Expert and author John Maxwell says, “Seldom do we do the thing that we fear, so we seldom discover whether or not our projection of disaster was accurate. In fact, when we don’t do the things that we are afraid of, we breathe a sigh of relief as though it actually would have taken place. “That was a close one!” we say, even though we never actually got close to anything but a string of our own negative thoughts.”
Too often we put together our bad experiences with negative assumptions of what might have been or could’ve taken place. Bad Experiences with negative assumptions is a terrible combination!
Sure, it’s happened once. That doesn’t mean that it has to happen again. We want to assume that it will. We are not willing to take the risk that it won’t. We even forget why we started out on attempting it in the first place. Perhaps the only reason we ventured down that path was because we knew that there was something worthwhile and fulfilling at the end of it. But now we want to give it up.
But what if the stakes were much higher and the end result was a worthy pursuit despite all the bad experiences we’ve had? What would happen if we were to muster courage and decide to go ahead despite the fears that we have?
In his book, “The Next Generation Leader” Andy Stanley writes, “Courage is the willingness to strap on your fear and move ahead.....wherever there is fear, there is opportunity.”
Think about those opportunities we’ve lost possibly because fear held us back. Could we have missed out on some of the best in our lives because we held on to fear?
I believe that if we could replace the thoughts of fear in our minds with the thoughts of opportunity then it would change our perspective giving us the courage to move forward.
At the beginning of this year, I had a complete health check up done and most of my levels were border line. I still remember sitting at the doctor’s office that day thinking to myself that if I don’t put money into exercise now, I would have to put money into medicines later on! At that time, many of my friends were getting into cycling and so I decided to get into it too.
It was quite fun in the beginning. I enjoyed cycling early mornings and needless to say, I began to lose weight in the first couple of weeks. Everything went well till something happened that one day.
One morning as I was cycling on my usual route, a stray dog from across the street started barking and began to run towards me. At first, I didn’t panic as such but then two other dogs came out of nowhere and followed suit. Then almost immediately from ahead another two dogs on hearing the other dogs joined in. Before I knew it, I had 5 dogs all around my cycle! I didn’t know what to do; whether to stop or to keep cycling. They kept barking at me. I just kept cycling however and after around 200 meters they stopped and went their way. It was quite a harrowing experience.
For the next few weeks I completely avoided that route. The very thought of what happened that day kept playing on my mind. My friends kept telling me that you just have to stop and then they will stop; that if I kept cycling they would continue chasing. It took me a while but I decided that I wanted to overcome the fear of dogs so that I could continue to cycle without developing a mental block. I took the route again and this time two dogs came by. But I just stopped and looked at them. Surprisingly they stopped as well and went their way. I was relieved! This happened for a few days and I finally overcame my fear of dogs!
A few months later, there was an event that they called ‘brevet’. It was a long distance 200km endurance run cycling event. What stood out about this event was that for the first time it was going to be on all night. I decided to go and for a moment I began to think of the dogs that could come charging at you at night. But it didn’t create fear in me anymore. I took part in the event and completed it! It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had cycling!
When I look back at it today, I don’t know if I would’ve even considered the event at all if I hadn’t overcome my fear of dogs. But everything changed when I decided to go ahead and face my fears.
Have you had a bad experience that has developed into fear? Would you be willing to risk that fear to move forward?