When I was a little girl, about seven years old, we went for a trip to New York City. It was fun. It was exciting. And when we got to The Empire State Building, it was terrifying. You see, in my mind, that was where King Kong lived and if we made it to the top, we wouldn’t be making it back down. I was panic-stricken. In fact, I was so scared, that 33 years later, when I rode the elevator back up to the top of the Empire State Building, my inner child experienced a little bit of that panic all over again.
When you think about it, a lot of us experience that sort of fear – fear that feels crazy and irrational and all too real. What terrified me wasn't the reality of riding up to one of the city's tallest structures. What terrified me were the possibilities of what could have been. I could have been whacked off the building by one of Kong’s hands and hurdled down thousands of feet to my death. Maybe he would have done a Faye Rae and held me in the tightening grip of his primate paws. Maybe he would have chewed my head off (I didn’t know gorillas were herbivores at the time).
A co-worker of mine had to fly to our home office last week and make a five-minute presentation. All the bad possibilities ran though her head: what if she said the wrong thing, or didn’t include the right information, what if they asked her questions that she couldn’t answer? Even though she was prepared, she was still a bundle of nerves and anxiety. However, none of her fears came to pass.
Imagination is neutral but we often use it to focus on the possible negative outcomes like getting killed by an oversized ape or flubbing a major presentation. We see those things so clearly and so vividly. Yet, we can also use our powers of imagination for good. What if my co-worker had used her imagination to focus on giving a great presentation? What if she replayed over and over, people giving her their rapt attention and congratulating her after her presentation was done? What if I could have made friends with Kong and been the one to tame him and make him my friend? Think of all the nerves and anxiety that could have been avoided.
There is a statistic that says 95% of the things we fear never come to pass. And if we manage to live to see another day then the 5% that do come to pass can’t be that bad.