There I stood in my ill-fitting, noisy plastic cat costume that was already sticking to my skin like bare thighs to a hot car seat. The stiff molded paper mask was too big for my tiny head, preventing the giant eye holes from aligning with my eyes, causing everything to look cut off and disjointed. This optical distortion only intensified the spookiness of getting to go outside at night and knock on strangers’ doors asking for candy.
Even at three or so years of age, I knew this was a major break from acceptable everyday protocol. My mom had often read to me the book “Never Talk To Strangers” by Irma Joyce. It was in our bedtime story rotation. I guess the rules don’t apply if you’re dressed like an upright kitten and walking the neighborhood with your dad.
This was the first Halloween that my dad stayed on the sidewalk and let me walk to the door by myself. The first few houses were rough as I kept looking back to make sure he would not sneak off and leave me the moment I turned away. Blind faith was not a part of my DNA. As with most things, I got more confident the more houses that I visited. Positive reinforcement came in handfuls of Sweet Tarts®, Tootsie Pops®, and mini chocolate bars. The latter of which my dad selflessly “inspected” and taste-tested for me.
Everything was going fine until I spotted the giant, two-story brick house looming on the corner. The exposed, gnarled, tentacle-like roots from the trees in the front yard had cracked and broken up the walkway leading to the front door. This made my trek up the elevated landscape a bit more treacherous, and my apprehension grew with each tentative step. But with my dad urging me on from his post on the sidewalk, I carefully made my way up to the porch and knocked on the door.
What happened next was straight out of a scene from a familiar bedtime fairytale. The front door split in half, and the top portion swung open to reveal the home’s occupant—a giant brown bear! As it turns out, this kitten is a giant scaredy-cat in disguise with a very healthy flight response to danger. I dropped my plastic pumpkin basket full of the evening’s candy haul and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. I went down the perilous walkway, past my dad, who was roaring with laughter, and straight down the street into the black of night. I made it almost half a block before my dad successfully caught up with me.
As we all know, I wasn’t in any real danger. The bear was a high school mascot handing out candy. And the door wasn’t “split apart” by the ferocious bear; it was designed to open that way because it was a Dutch door. About the scariest thing, that evening was me walking up that uneven concrete path wearing a flammable, choking hazard of a costume with an ill-fitting mask that obstructed my view.
And that’s the trick fear plays on us, even as adults. It uses our creative minds and past experiences against us by suggesting a few negative possible outcomes or obstacles that we might face in any given situation. It then encourages us to expand on those thoughts by making them bigger, scarier, and more probable than they really are.
Here are 3 ways fear may try to trick you. Be on the lookout for these sneaky tactics:
1. Magnification and Minimization. Fear knows that what we believe is real. Make sure you are not catastrophizing small negatives and minimizing strengths that you’ve come to take for granted. For every negative that pops into your head, quickly combat it with two equally strong positives.
2. Jumping to Conclusions. Don’t let fear create a self-fulfilling prophecy by predicting negative outcomes. We draw to us what we focus our energy on, so be sure to never end sentences like this with a negative: “I just KNOW my work is…” Instead, focus on all of the positive possible outcomes.
3. Overgeneralization. Because something happened once does not mean that it will happen every time. We don’t always do anything. Just because you may have received a rejection once or a dozen times does not mean it will ALWAYS happen. Don’t pay any attention to fear’s warped attempt at protecting you by scaring you into never trying anything new.
Remember, you only have this one life to live, so design the life of your dreams. And you’ll live happily ever after.