Historically, fear is one of the things that has kept alive. Fear has helped human beings anticipate danger, recognize it, and respond to it to protect ourselves. In one way or another, it has helped us evolve.
But just like we have evolved, our fears have evolved too. While primitively, most of our fears were supplemented by external stimuli, we have now started recognizing how our fears are guided by our internal thought processes. Fear from being able to promote action, has now become an emotion that restricts action. The fear of making mistakes, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of being scrutinized… Ultimately, they are all a manifestation of one kind: The fear of being evaluated.
This fear of evaluation usually stems from two places, one, our belief system and two, the way our society works. In my previous blog post, I wrote extensively about our belief systems and how change can be initiated by changing our beliefs. While that seems easier said than done, we must understand that our apprehensions about change also lie in the way society perceives us and responds to our own actions. Do our beliefs hold the key to our fears?
Since childhood, we are taught that our merit lies in how others perceive us. For example, one passes a subject or fails an exam based on the marks they score. As we grow up, we start recognizing the merit-based system in our professional lives. We work hard towards targets in order to receive a promotion. This system pushes us to want to perform or act in a certain way, and in that need to always prove our success to the world, we develop what can be called performance anxiety. This is the fear of failure, manifesting before we have even begun a task.
Our awareness and expectation of being judged continues to increase, as judgment pervades our lives. Implicit messages of comparison are experienced vicariously by viewers of talent shows in which competitors are judged for artistic, culinary, fitness, physical appearance, and social skills—Miss Universe, Masterchef, Dance Nation etc. We are overwhelmed with explicit judgments as we monitor the number of “likes,” “favorites,” “retweets,” positive emoticons, and the kind of comments on our online status updates.
We are unknowingly driven by the need to be perfect. Societal conditioning has forced our belief system with the need to be perfect all the time. This perfectionism lives and breeds within our fear of evaluation. When we are afraid of what might happen and the consequences of it, we do not often make the best choices. What do we do instead?
The pressure of perfectionism and the fear of evaluation manifests itself in many ways. We start procrastinating instead of doing the task at hand. We think and think and think about it. We lose ourselves to thought. We go into our shell. Our mind tricks us into thinking that if we don’t do the task, there will be no evaluation to follow it. We start indulging in defensive behaviors to protect ourselves from the way evaluation would make us feel.
These behaviors often weigh negatively on our minds and bodies. They exhaust us, suck out all our energies that we could have used to get things done. They make us limit our options so that there are fewer negative outcomes of our choices.
But hold on. This may seem like a vicious cycle of perfecting, evaluation, next task, perfection and evaluation again. Basically, most of us live in the Fog of Fear. What is this fear? Where does it come from? And can we do something about it?? I guess these are questions most of us have asked ourselves at various points in our lives without really being able to address the underlying fear.
But there is a way out. Rather than focusing your energies on performing, dedicate some time to introspection. Observe your thoughts, feelings and actions. Ask relevant questions – where is this fear coming from? Why does this fear exist within you? Listen to yourself. Introspect on the FOG of Fear – Feelings, Options and Goals – and use it to your advantage. Understand your motivation of being perfect. Is perfection leading you to intellectual arrogance? Are you then using this behavior to judge others, followed by words and actions that are not always encouraging when someone slips up?
Wanting to do the right thing is not always wrong. Perfectionism is not your enemy. But what motivates you to be this way can relieve a lot of stress this behavior can bring – not only on yourself but others around you too. When you understand your perfectionism, you stop using it as a benchmark to judge others. You end up creating calm and safe environments for yourself and people around you to flourish, grow and conquer. All by just listening to yourself.
Would you like to talk about your fear of evaluation? Want to understand how to grow from it into being successful individuals? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always looking forward to hearing from you.