Fear: The Highly Potent Affect Fear Has on Decision Making

A few years ago a friend of mine, Danielle, came to me for help about a problem she was having. She had become separated from her husband due in large part to his destructive and unsavory behavior that had caused him to be out of work for over five years. The couple’s savings were severely drained and they were living primarily on Danielle’s income as a real-estate broker.

The recession hit and had a huge impact on Danielle’s business. Her father implored her to get out of real estate and into a job with steady income and security. Danielle was scared and panicked. She was totally responsible for her son’s financial support and she was in real trouble, but the thought of working at a boring corporate job made her cringe. She had worked so hard to build up her real-estate business and hated to walk away from it. For the first time in her life, she felt like she was being forced to make a snap decision and she was terrified.

When you are overcome with fear or panic and have to make a decision, one of two things happen:

1.    You’re frozen by your fear, so you can’t or don’t think or act rationally; or

2.    You react without thinking clearly and take an inappropriate or, worse, a self-sabotaging action.

I am told that many years ago an experiment was conducted with mice in a cage in order to learn how they would react to facing the unknown. As I understand it, one-half of the cage floor on which the mice were standing was electrified. At various intervals, the feet of the mice were shocked, which made them jump and squeal in pain. After the mice received a series of shocks, the middle of the cage was opened so that the mice could flee to the other side of the cage, with the possibility that they could escape the shocks. The incredible result of this experiment was that not one mouse went over to the other side of the cage in order to avoid the shocks.

For our purposes, at least two conclusions can be drawn from this study:

1.    The fear of physical pain was preferred by or less daunting to the mice than was the fear of the unknown or the fear of change; and

2.    The fear of the unknown seemed to be intellectually crippling to the mice, as it appears to have caused them not to think or act rationally. This may be one reason why not one mouse ventured over to the other side of the cage to see if “life” over there would be less painful.

When Danielle contacted me, she was virtually paralyzed by her fear and unable to think, reason, choose, or act productively. I encouraged her to slow down, relax, and think things out rationally and clearly. She eventually was able to decide on a career path that would meet her financial and personal requirements and was able to continue supporting herself and her son, her most potent Gold.

When you are filled with fear and are panicked, avoid making life decisions.  The fear will get in the way of making the best choice, which could have a lasting impact on your life.