Why We Fear The Unknown: An Anxiety-Proof Answer!

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Humans have an uncanny talent to rationalize their own emotions – to bring up bouts of logic to justify some very emotional and biological mechanisms.
When asked why we fear the unknown, the human brain will come up with all sorts of excuses, some more plausible than others.

It’s not uncommon to hear things along the lines of “the future might be worse” or “I want to be in full control”
These actually may sound pretty logical – after all, the future may indeed be worse, and that’s risk-taking, something that some people don’t wish to do.

Here’s the thing though, these are just excuses.
Sure, they do sound logical, but they don’t have a factual basis.
That is to say that we simply come up with an excuse that sounds good and go with it.
And sure, you may be thinking along the lines of “but yeah, it’s still logical”, but do you know who else does this sort of stuff? Politicians.
And you too, apparently – how does this comparison make you feel?

We hate losing

But why avoiding risk is the natural, “logical” conclusion? Why are we so “loss-focused?”
Why do people always think about “making things worse” instead of “making things better”? Why are we always drawn to the mediocrity of preserving rather than pushing things forward?
The answer may shock you.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were two Israeli researchers who looked into the subject of cognitive psychology in depth.
In their research and experimentation sequences, they have discovered much about the human mind, enough to build up a whole theory revolving the subject.

This theory, The Prospect Theory, went on to win them a Nobel Prize for economics, despite neither of them ever taking even a single class in economics.
Funny how this sort of stuff happens from time to time.

So, you must know that they don’t just hand over Nobel Prizes to any fancy scientist with a crackpot theory, right? Those things count for a lot, apparently.

So what does The Prospect Theory actually say?
It’s basically a behavioral model that comes from the (newly discovered) fact that people base their choices on loss and gain rather than the actual outcome.

They argued that losses hit us harder than objectively equivalent gains.
Say, like betting 5$ on something – losing 5$ will affect us much stronger than gaining 5$ from that bet.
In other words, we are loss-aversive in our very nature.

Under the same type of reasoning, they have come to the conclusion that we are also risk-aversive.
If I were to reuse my example, a 50:50 bet on 5$ would not be worth it for most people by the very definition of our psychology.

The unknown presents a bet much like this one.
Whatever it is that is happening might be good, or it might be bad, but we are still going to be scared of it – simply because the risk and loss far outweigh the prize and gain.

But let’s look at it deeper for a moment – why do we always prefer to avoid risk rather than to leverage it into success?
Why not hope for those extra 5$ rather than worry about losing your own 5$? Why worry about your test results and imagining a low score instead of assuming that you did okay and moving on?

Exploring the unknown

 

Are we all negative?

When it comes to this sort of stuff, the answers are quite shocking.

Ever heard of the law of attraction? It basically states that positive thinking can lead to positive experiences, but that’s just a bunch of nonsense.
Still, this type of thinking is a blessing because most of us greatly struggle to be positive.

A 2005 research by Robert Schrauf analyzed some data regarding language and the ways we use it to express emotion and came up with results that surprised him.
Half of the emotionally-charged words participants could come up with were negative.
In comparison, about 30% were positive and 20% neutral.

But that raises the question – are negativity and fear of the unknown directly related? Some pieces of research wish to challenge that particular line of thought.

A 2014 study conducted by a psychologist from Michigan State University may be telling some surprising facts.
In this study, which was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, wished to get some biological, hardwired results.

The study included 71 female participants and was largely focused on imagery.
In this study, the participants were first surveyed regarding their general attitude, be it positive or negative, and then were given a series of graphic images.
They were asked to put a positive spin on them, regardless of how bleak they may have seemed.

Sure enough, there was a split.
The people who were classified as positive have shown a much lower reaction compared to their negative counterparts.
Furthermore, the negative people exhibited a mental backlash after being asked to think positively.

This discovery actually tells us a lot about the mindset of negative people.
Negative people struggle with positivity a lot more than most people would understand, their brain actively resists positive thinking simply because they are hardwired to it.
In other words, just telling someone “stop being so negative” isn’t going to cut it, you need a clear method behind your madness, and we will get to it later).
For now, here are some of my ideas.

So what does this actually tell us?

Although some research shows that people can positive, the vast majority of data indicates that, at the very least, most of us have a “negativity bias” in a sense.
No, wait, that’s actually how it’s called!

So where does this leave us? We are scared of the unknown because we can’t control it, we can’t understand it, and will, by default, choose to view it as negative 9 out of 10 times.
When there are good and bad news most of us would like to hear the bad news first, when we receive criticism and praise we mostly focus on the criticism alone.

The bad outweighs the good

The fact is that one single bad event can cost us an entire month of positive thinking.
So here’s a question – if one bad thing can outshine multiple good things, so what makes thoughts so special?

Here’s the thing, nothing is special about your bad thinking.
That is to say that negative thoughts are just the same as negative experiences.
You can literally cause yourself to lose your mind and sink into anxiety and depression just by thinking about the unknown.
Phobias can do that, and much more, to you. That’s messed up.

So what do we do?

Honestly, a lot of people try and apply all of this “understand your fear” nonsense, but what you really need right here is visualization, as well as risk calculations (to a minor degree).
Thinking about risks is a legitimate course of action, no reason to be reckless after all, but if you do get scared of the unknown then it will do little to actually help you.

After all, humans use logic to rationalize their thinking.
Even if the statistics are in your favor, you will likely worry yourself over them because they aren’t ideal or something along those lines.
From this viewpoint, there really isn’t a way to please you, is there?

The much more simple approach would be visualization.
People that fear the unknown tend to ask themselves “what if” a lot of the time, this actually causes them to develop phobias and anxieties.
This actually shows just how powerful visualization is, so how about we harness that power to our side?

Instead of worrying about the worst case scenario, how about you simply try to think “what if this does work”.

Let’s review our 5$ example for a moment here.
Sure, you could just theorize about how that loss of money isn’t worth the risk and so on and so forth, but how about you assume that you win this bet and get those sweet extra 5$.
Now you have 10$, twice the buying power, twice the saving power, twice the leverage, twice everything! 10$ may not seem like much, but what if you got 10,000$ off a 5,000$ bet?

Imagine your success, the optimal end result, the sense of satisfaction.
Sure, it might be a bit counter-intuitive to you at the moment, but here’s the thing – unless you get out of your comfort zone nothing is going to change.
Imagine the best case scenario, draw satisfaction out of it and think about your next steps under the assumption that your risks pay off.

This is actually a mentality of entrepreneurs – the type of people who will believe that they got the next big thing on their side, regardless of how many people disagree.
In a sense, you could learn a lot from them.
Although some of them are a tad extreme, so be careful.

Exploring new things

But it’s not the end of that

The truth is that the struggle against our mind is always present, even if we don’t feel it.
We are biased towards negativity, and although some of us have overcome that bias it’s still somewhere there.

Visualization is only the first step out of many – while it can help you overcome regular fear, phobias (obsessive fear) are still out of reach.
One program in particular that I have studied is the “panic away” system and I would highly recommend it to most people who suffer from anxiety, phobias, panic and everything in between.

Be sure to check it out, but for now here’s a question – What is one future decision you have, and how are you going to overcome it?

Be sure to write your answers in the comment section below – I read every single one.

If you got anything you would like to ask me personally then please send me an email and I’ll reply to you as soon as possible.

Email: VladOsipkov41@gmail.com

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2 Replies to “Why We Fear The Unknown: An Anxiety-Proof Answer!”

  1. Hello Vlad, and thank you for this informative article!

    I know for myself, I was raised by “glass half empty” people, which lead to envisioning the negative of every situation. I would hear people say “think positive!” but they did not explain how.

    While suffering through depression and anxiety a few years back, they were explained to me in a way that I could really understand: depression is living in the past, and anxiety is fear of the future. I was actually able to claw my way back to “normalcy” by accepting that I had made mistakes in my past and that I should forgive myself; as well, I had to accept that the unknown can be scary (my anxiety), but that if I embrace the fear as a puzzle to be solved, I might find out more about myself and what I really want in my life, which I have.

    That bit of education, along with visualization and affirmations has helped me to return to “the-land-of-the-living in the present”. I still struggle with negativity, but I know that I have the tools to help me keep on top of it.

    I would like to highly recommend the PANIC AWAY program to anyone who suffers from panic attacks. I was so surprised at how quickly it ended my 4 a.m. panic attacks. I was lucky, because my panic was new and I was able to stop it before it took hold in my life. I believe that it will work for anyone!

    1. Heya there!

      I am glad to hear that you overcame your anxiety and depression!
      You are most certainly correct, the Panic Away program is a very solid investment of both time and money.

      Cheers,
      Vlad!

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