There are two phrases that form the basis of truth. These are:
1. Happiness will not satisfy your soul
2. Inner peace comes from deliberate suffering
First, let's touch on the happiness
Happiness isn't real, it's a fleeting by-product of other emotions or actions. It can't be bottled up and kept. It's can't be sustained without interruption.
Happiness isn't an obtainable goal any more than excitement or anticipation are obtainable goals. It isn't even a useful barometer for progress; happiness can come from achieving long term goals or falling in love just as much as it can come from getting drunk or watching your team win the sports championship.
We think we're looking for happiness but really we're looking for peace.
Now let's look at peace
Inner peace is earned, it doesn't fall into our laps. It takes ongoing work and self-interrogation. To achieve peace we must go to war, a war with our laziness, our anxiety, our fear, ourselves.
Peace isn't found in hot showers and luxury hotels, it isn't served up in fancy restaurants and it can't be found on the other side of a midday nap.
Comfort, much like happiness, will not soothe your soul. It is only by overcoming adversity that we grow and find contentment.
"The soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine being, and the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life." – Jordan Peterson
Comfort will have you watching Netflix in bed, but such activities only generate angst.
Peace is found through creativity and action, not inactivity and consumption.
Why you must face fear
A large chunk of anxiety comes from knowing we're not living as the highest version of who we can be.
"What a man can be, he must be." – Abraham Maslow
The human brain does not like incongruence. You might be able to bury the nagging feeling you could be more but your mind can't. Your subconscious will churn over your inconsistencies causing neurosis to spill out into your everyday life.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can find peace by becoming congruent. Inner peace, or inner silence, is earned by facing the truth and ditching excuses.
"The closer you are to the truth, the more silent you become inside." – Naval Ravikant
We must face our fears or accept we will never obtain true peace. Fear comes in many forms, it is part of the fabric of life, and we cannot hide away from life and expect good mental health, let alone peace.
Fear is a sign of life. If you don’t have some level of fear, you’re not living, you're hiding.
If we are not consciously moving forward, we are unconsciously moving backwards. Yet, with each fear conquered, the stronger we become and the more peace we gain.
Be in no doubt, facing fear is the hardest thing we can do, it is a boutique, custom made torturer for every individual.
It's taken me years to work out how to face fears and I'm still at the beginning of this journey. I'm no expert, but here is some wisdom I've gained on approaching this daunting task.
7 Steps to facing your fears
1) Identify fears
Author, Geoff Thomson was scared of everything, a confession he makes in his TED talk 'Conquering Fear'.
He was determined to stop living in fear. He drew a "fear pyramid", listing the meekest fear, spiders, all the way to his greatest fear, physical confrontation.
He then set about confronting each fear. Because he was terrified of conflict, he became a bouncer on the door of a tough nightclub, which led him down a road of martial arts and becoming at ease with confrontation.
The point is we cannot confront our fears until we know what they are.
Just putting our fears down on paper will be too intimidating. Geoff's ultimate fear was facing the man who sexually abused him as a child, and he didn't write that down. But even if you don't draw your fear pyramid, do identify your fears.
Knowing your enemy is step one to inner peace.
Your brain pays attention to everything you say and do and believes you. Stop thinking life is meant to be easy, it's holding you back and numbing your powers.
In 'The Road Less Travelled' author M Scott Peck identifies this problem:
"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters." – M Scott Peck
Facing fear is the hardest thing we will have to do. What's more, it is constant work, involving failure, frustration and vulnerability. Reframing this struggle as natural and normal is where our power lies.
No one can face fears if they think life is meant to be easy. Only by accepting that this is life, can we set about slaying the fears that hold us back.
3) Little victories
Progress is power. Start small, and conquer the fears at the bottom of your pyramid. Little victories snowball into bigger victories, they are the gateway to believing you can do it.
Tie your ego into being someone who learns, not someone who's perfect. Even failures then become little victories. Momentum is everything. Let that snowball grow.
This will also mean failure. You have to learn how to lose responsibly. No one wins all the time. But remember, resilience looks like repeated failure, right up to when you succeed. Then it looks pre-ordained.
Action will develop your sense of self-esteem than any self-help book.
4) Systems over goals
Environment beats willpower. You have to create a system of consistent behaviour to tackle fear. You can't drain your energy dealing with a negative or unhelpful environment.
This is a whole topic in itself, but essentially your life needs to be built around achieving your goal of facing fear, else your fear pyramid is just another to-do list.
5) Reframe anxiety
I worked with a mindset coach who taught me somatic therapy techniques to deal with anxiety. I sat and meditated on the feelings of anxiety, namely the tightness in my chest, and let it roam and grow until it became a feeling of power running through my body.
Yes, I too thought it was nonsense until I did it and my limbs were vibrating with energy and what I called "potential".
Anxiety is a giant part of facing fear. Perhaps the only part. Somatic therapy is a way to connect with your body and to address how you're physically processing this ubiquitous and crippling emotion.
6) Take Souls
This is a concept from Navy Seal David Goggins who says he was able to do difficult things by "taking the soul" of his enemy. He says:
"When you are in a fight, you have to attack. You have to keep attacking. The enemy has to know [you're] not going to give up. You have to break the soul of whatever the fuck is in front of you." – David Goggins
He used this approach to pass Navy Seals' training, showing the instructors he could do whatever they asked of him because he knew it would demoralise them.
He would take their souls by showing he was relentless.
Show the world what you can do. Take their souls. Let them be staggered by your strength. Break the soul of whatever is in front of you.
Physical strength has a limit, mental strength does not.
7) No other game to play
If we're not here to grow into the best version of ourselves, then what other purpose is there to life? To simply exist without discovering what we could be, what we could do? Who we can become? What connections we can make?
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
There are two options: face fears or hide. There is no other game in town. Fear is life. If we decide to avoid it, then we avoid living. If we decide to face it, we can have more love, life and peace than we ever thought possible.
Facing fear will set you free. As Tolstoy said, the kingdom of God is within you. You have to be brave enough to believe in possibility.