Fear and Deliberate Ignorance

Backpacker in Cairns

Some folks use research or “thinking it through” as a way to try to understand what they’re getting themselves into. The “pros” and “cons” folks. If you aren’t one yourself, it’s likely you know someone who is. This usually goes one of two ways. When pros and cons are balanced or in favor of the “pros” you move forward. Or, when “cons” outweigh “pros” you decided not to move forward or do so with hesitancy or fear.

The former situation looks like: What am I getting myself into? I don’t know for sure, but it seems like it’ll be okay/good.

The latter situation looks like: What am I getting myself into!? I don’t know for sure, but it seems like a bad idea.

This can be really effective, but there are hang-ups. For one, we might notice our “cons” columns are consistently longer. This could be because of our brain’s negativity bias or our general evolutionary tendency to be cautious. I think of myself as generally optimistic, but I gotta tell ya, it’s incredibly easy for me to think of all the “negative” things that might happen in any given situation.

For another thing, we can never really know what we’re getting ourselves into when we move into uncharted territory (aka life). Even when we’ve done something before—say, travel or change jobs—each time we (re)encounter a situation we ourselves have changed and any given element of the situation—the country you’re traveling to, the job market—could have changed.

This is why I’m not really a “pros and cons” kinda gal.

I’m more in the “feel the fear and do it anyway” camp. That’s what I think anyway.

When I look at what I actually do, it’s more like “feel, but don’t dwell in, fear + take swift action.”

I think of this as skillful naïveté and started calling it deliberate ignorance.

When I first wrote about deliberate living, I said:

The main reason I chose to use the word deliberate is because of what is contained within it—deLIBERATE.

Living intentionally and being choice-full about our decisions, actions, and behaviors liberates us from the status quo and from acting in accordance with amorphous but well understood societal expectations we may or may not resonate with.

Deliberate Ignorance is a tool we can use to become more conscious about the choices we make that affect our lives and happiness. It’s a powerful way to work with fear to get unstuck and move ourselves forward.

By deliberate ignorance I mean: I don’t think or look so much into a potential situation that I scare myself out of doing it. Instead, I replace thinking with feeling. Tapping into my internal guidance system, if and when I have an intuitive good sense that I’d like to do something, I make a move.

Without deliberate ignorance, I could easily be paralyzed by fear or live in perpetual purgatory, torturing myself with “what if’s?”

That being said, I wouldn’t advocate being blind to real risks and dangers. However, these are often blown out of proportion both in terms of probability and effects.

For example, last winter I traveled independently for the first time in Central America.

Did I feel fear?

Hell yes.

Did I dwell in it–consider getting a refund for my ticket or listen to folks with vague but strong cautions about the dangers despite never having traveled there themselves?

Nope.

Harnessing the power of deliberate ignorance, I did just enough research to learn where in Guatemala the good language schools were concentrated (Xela and Antigua) and which volcano hikes have the best views (Lago Atitlan!). I did enough research to realize that I’d feel more comfortable as a solo female traveler if I stayed out of the biggest cities where violent crime tends to be concentrated.

In sum, I did enough research to keep me excited and informed, but disregarded all hyperbolic content (there’s a lot of this out there, not just travel-related but life-decisions-related as well).

Mostly I remembered I just needed to arrive and start going through the motions in order to prove to myself I could do it. Fear is something we face moment by moment and is best dealt with in the doing…not the pre-doing rumination that happens in our minds.

As I went along in Guatemala, some fears dissipated with each moment I saw that “the worst” hadn’t happened. (“The worst” thing varies for folks, but usually at the very worst, I think, “I’ll die.” It hasn’t happened yet.) And yet other, new fears arose as I encountered new situations.

When all was said and done, I learned a lot about myself, and I added a lot of currency to my courage & confidence banks. A little deliberate ignorance can help us go(!) a long way.

Photo Credit: jcoterhals

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