On one of many, many of my unsuccessful teenaged egging missions, as the lights went on in a house and a man stepped out yelling, my friend Michelle, froze behind a tire. Like a bunny in the woods.
There are actually three responses to fear. There’s fight, flight and there’s freeze. The little white bunny vulnerable out in a sun glittered snowdrift senses the wolf. What of the three does she choose to do?
When you sense the beast you fear approaching, what do you typically do?
Well, it depends on a few things.
1. How many times have you faced this wolf before? Oftentimes a familiar fear breeds a conditioned response. When I hear the garage door open and toys still scatter the floor, I swing into action, fighting to quickly clean up in time to act natural and unrushed when the door opens two minutes later. I fight.
2. How many times have you fought this wolf before? Just because we’ve sensed the danger doesn’t mean we‘ve taken it on. When a submissions letter comes in, no matter how many times I’ve gulped, and opened it to read, I have to let it sit a spell. I freeze until I can get up the nerve to take action.
3. What is on the line? Our fear response will be greatly impacted by what is on the line. If her bunnies are nearby, you bet that momma is going to run from that wolf, if only to get his attention as far away from them as possible. Or maybe she’s a big bunny with sharp claws and a mean back kick. Maybe she’ll fight.
4. What expectation have we set up? How much we value the outcome, like in #3, will influence our response. What we think is right, or should happen can impact this as well. A writer I knew had her editor issue a title change without ever notifying the author. The title was fine. The practice didn’t sit well with her. She took action.
Fight and flight are both actions. When we take them, we at least feel like we’re doing something. We feel better. What I didn’t realize is that doing nothing is still doing something. When I’m stymied, unsure what to do, fearful any action will be the wrong one, I do nothing. Then I beat myself up for my apparent indecision. But, turns out, nothing is still a decision. Waiting is a form of action, too.
The crucial component of each fear response, I think, is knowing each one is okay and allowing yourself to stop.
Stop fighting, stop running, stop waiting. And move on.
Here’s to your fight today. May you come out swinging, run if it’ll keep you safe, and know that if you freeze, don’t worry. You have lots of friends to help jerk you up and drag you to safety. I did that night with Michelle, who will never egg again, and I will do it for you to.
I’m also swinging today over at Gini Koch’s site in an interview. Comment for your chance to win!