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Fear is the Root of Your Problems

Every problem you or I have (and they are many, small and large), is rooted in fear.

For some, that might seem obvious: the question is how to beat the fears. For others, it’s not so self-evident: why are my financial or relationship or procrastination problems caused by fear?

Let’s tackle both questions — the Why and the How.

First the Why: think about each problem you have, and then think about why you have the problem. Or why you aren’t able to solve it.

A few examples:

  • Procrastination: you probably fear failure, or the discomfort of doing something hard, or your fear missing out on something important (why you check email & social media instead of doing the hard task).
  • Debt: There are many possible causes, but often you’re spending more than you make because of a shopping habit, or a fear of letting go of some of the comforts you’re used to. The shopping habit might be caused by anxiety (fear that something you want isn’t going to happen) or loneliness (fear that you’re not good enough) or wanting your life to be better than it is (fear that you’re not OK as you are). Letting go of comforts (like your morning Starbucks, or your nice house or car) can be difficult if you fear discomfort, fear that you won’t be OK if your life is less comfortable, fear that others will judge you if your house/car/clothes aren’t as nice.
  • Relationship problems: There are obviously lots of possible causes (including that the other person has major problems, though you should always look at yourself as well) … but some fears that cause relationship problems include fear of letting go of control (causing you to want to control the other person), fear that you’re not good enough, fear of abandonment and other trust issues, fear of not being accepted, fear of accepting the other person (actually this is a fear of control problem).
  • Can’t exercise: Again, lots of causes, but some of them include: not enough time (fear of letting go of something else that you’re used to doing), exercise is too hard (fear of discomfort), distractions like TV and the Internet (fear of missing out, fear of discomfort).
  • Can’t change diet: Same as exercise really. Although there are also often emotional issues, in which case the fears can be very similar to the ones that lead to the shopping habit and financial problems.
  • Aren’t doing work you love: You maybe don’t know what you want to do, which means you haven’t committed to really exploring (fear of failing), or you know but haven’t taken the plunge (fear of failure), or fear that you’re not good enough.
  • Stressed about work/school: You have lots to do, but the amount isn’t the problem. The problem is you’re worried about getting it all done, which means you have an ideal (I’m going to get it all done on time, and it’ll be done perfectly) and you fear that this ideal won’t come true. So the fear is based on an ideal, but the ideal isn’t realistic. You won’t get it all done perfectly and on time. No one does. Accept the reality, that you’ll get some done, to the best of your ability, and if you fail you’ll learn from that, and that’s how the world works. No one is perfect. The ideal doesn’t exist.

And so on. All other problems are some manifestation of what’s going on in the above examples.

Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of letting go of control, fear of being alone, fear of abandonment, fear of discomfort, fear of missing out, fear that you’re not OK as you are or your life isn’t OK as it is, fear that some ideal won’t come true.

And these all boil down to the same fear: fear that you won’t be OK, that you’re not good enough. A lack of trust in yourself, and in the present moment.

So what do we do about it?

How to Deal with the Fear

I originally titled this section, “How to Conquer the Fear”, but this is the problem. We see fear as an enemy, to be defeated or it will defeat us.

It’s not. Fear is us. We are human beings in a world of constant change, and this is scary. We are afraid that we won’t be OK in the chaos of change, that we will fail, that we will be judged, that life won’t turn out OK.

The fear is a part of us, and therefore we shouldn’t try to “destroy” it. It can’t be destroyed, because while we can dissipate one particular fear in one particular moment, we’ll still have fears after that. All our lives. It’s not something that can be eradicated — it’s a basic part of life.

So what can we do?

  1. We can be aware of the fear. When we are struggling, suffering in some way, be aware that fear is stopping us. Look into what the fear might be.
  2. Then we can accept the fear. Don’t feel bad about it, don’t try to crush it, don’t wish it weren’t there. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of life. Accept it.
  3. Then we can see how the fear is hurting us. And see how that hurt is self-caused. How we can let go of the suffering by letting go of the fear.
  4. We can think rationally about the fear. Actually give it a little space, and consider it. What’s the worst-case scenario? Would you basically be OK? (The answer is almost invariably yes — maybe life wouldn’t meet your “ideal”, but you’d find a way and be OK.)
  5. We can be grateful for who we are, and what life actually is (as opposed to what it’s not, or what we’re not). Appreciate ourselves, and others, and life at this moment. We can be grateful for the opportunities that this moment has brought, rather than fearing the change it represents. For example, a loss is an opportunity for reinvention, doing something hard is an opportunity to create or do good in the world, and change is always an opportunity for learning and growth.
  6. We can return to this moment, and see that it is perfectly fine as is. There is no ideal when we’re seeing this actual moment and accepting it for what it is. If there’s no ideal, there’s no fear. If we don’t have an ideal of some kind of success, we don’t fear failure. If we don’t have an ideal of what we should be, we don’t fear that we’re not good enough. If we don’t have an ideal of what someone else should be, we don’t get angry at them.

This is a process of awareness, acceptance, seeing the pain, finding gratitude, and being in the moment without an ideal.

It can be done. And then soon after, another fear will appear. And we practice again.

With this practice, we can work with the fear that’s causing our problems. We can accept it without letting it stop us. And this practice, because we are alleviating our own suffering, is an act of self-compassion.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC