Motivated by Fear? 5 Reasons Not to Be

Motivated by Fear? 5 Reasons Not to Be

As powerful as fear is, it deserves to be handled wisely.


A casual Google search recently revealed the startling number of humans who believe in the value of being motivated by fear.

Fear, these proponents argued, is a powerful force. It can get things done in a way other motivators–such as curiosity, ambition, or need–simply can't. If fear can propel you into a principally good territory, too, its association with negative power is moot.


I'm not arguing with the notion that fear has power. But states of fear have proven to be psychically and physiologically unhealthy for humans. Fear can instigate chronic health problems and mental illness. It can sever relationships and dreams.

In short, as powerful as fear is, it deserves to be handled wisely. I'm making the case that it shouldn't be your motivator–no matter what you are trying to accomplish. If it is, it's time for a change.

1. Being afraid has physiological impact.

I'm serious. Medical practitioners, psychologists, and scientists alike have all testified to fear's capacity to alter our physiology: in the moment and over time.

A state of fear induces a 'fight-or-flight' response, elevating your heart rate and sending signals to your brain to amp up adrenal activity and pump more blood to prominent muscles. It also immediately impacts your brain, modifying the way you store memory and how you respond to similar triggers in the future.

Sustained states of fear can actually lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and premature death.

Even if you are using your fear of losing your job to justify your stellar work performance–and even if this does not feel like 'fight-or-flight' mode–doing so may be building your brain's purview of triggers, conditioning you to stay in this mode in similar environments.

Fear and stress are also closely linked. In many cases, we experience stress as a result of fear. I'm stressed because I may lose my job. I'm stressed because I'm afraid my marriage is disintegrating.

And chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death worldwide.

2. Fear puts the emphasis on survival.

We are all trying to survive on this earth. Yet living in a state of pure survival is different than, well, simply living.

Letting yourself be motivated by fear is akin to letting yourself survive (rather than live). Such a mentality of "getting by" in a primal fashion can make for a sordid, mean kind of existence.

It takes the emphasis away from building loving relationships, caring for your family, and impacting your community positively. It places the emphasis on a give-or-take mentality–and in give-or-take environments, it's easy to sacrifice values.

3. Fear develops a fishbowl perspective.

States of fear can narrow your focus, limiting your capacity to think holistically. I can choose to look at these boards alone or I can choose to visualize the entire structure of a future home.

Have you ever noticed how states of fear shrink your awareness? When my heart races at the prospect of giving a presentation to a group of people, I'm aware only of that present moment–the shaking notecards in my hand, the lecture room, my sweating armpits.

It's hard to look beyond this narrow focus (i.e., to visualize how I will feel after giving the presentation itself). While there may be benefits to inhabiting the present moment so intensely, there is a difference between the presence of meditation and the presence of fear.

Fear's fishbowl perspective may accordingly shrink your ability to conceptualize time, anticipate the future mindfully, and consider others' perspectives and opinions. This can generate narcissism and crippling states of victimization.

In the professional sphere, fear's limited awareness can inhibit team collaboration, shun business growth opportunities, and generate an unhealthy work-life balance.

4. Fear can change you.

Fear can cripple us with symptoms of anxiety, depression, narcissism, desperation, and even violence. Allowing fear to be your motivator essentially gives it permission to change you–and perhaps not for the better.

I've sacrificed dreams and experiences for the sake of fear. I've compromised relationships. I've changed my values.

In fact, fear is a fairly aggressive linchpin. It doesn't quite care what it does to you. It just wants to be acknowledged.

How would you like to be changed? Through fear or through love?

5. It's hard to live your truth if you are motivated by fear.

I feel like "living your truth" has become a vogue phrase. But it's a valid phrase. We all have our truths–the expression and essence unique to our fabric.

I believe everyone deserves to live her truth. Doing so connects us with our purpose and our community. Living our truth is also a state of freedom. It is limitless, compelled by one thing: our intuition.

Fear cripples truth. It squeezes it like a lemon. It's hard to get our truth out there in the world if we are letting ourselves be motivated by fear.

And I'm all about choosing truth over fear. What do you think?

Popular Right Now

An Open Letter To My College Freshman Roommate

Be sure to send this to your college freshmen roommate if you love them as much as I love mine!


Dear College Freshmen Roommate,

To be honest, my first impression of you was a quiet, shy private catholic school girl. (Wow, this couldn't have been the farthest thing from the truth)! I remember walking behind you and your boyfriend on the way to the bars on our very first night of Summer B. I kept thinking how much you didn't like me because you didn't say hi to me. Little did I know, after admitting to each other our unfortunate first impressions of each other years later, you were just being cognizant of me because you thought I was a real-life version of Regina George from Mean Girls. It turns out you weren't the shy, private school girl I thought you were and I definitely wasn't as cool as Regina George after all.

Lexi Garber

It didn't take much time for us to become best friends. You had me at "So, do you know what a mountain melt is from Ale House?" After this day, I knew we were going to be lifelong friends and celebrate our passion for carbs, fast food, and sugar together. You make friendship seem so easy. You're always down to study whenever, leave the library whenever, and most importantly, get Chick-Fil-A no matter what our budget is or how broke we are. You always pick up the phone and support all the bad decisions I make. You ALWAYS figure out all my Wordscape puzzles for me and support my real life Candy Crush addiction.

Lexi Garber

I realize that you give me a slice of home when my mom doesn't answer the phone. I love that we always get to talk about our high school memories together because every story is a new and exciting one for both of us. Sometimes I'm happy we met in college because we would have caused way too much trouble in high school together. Besides, I get to hear about how much of an awesome volleyball player you were and I tell you about crazy my lacrosse years. Although, I will say how much it sucks when we go home for summer and winter break because I do get major separation anxiety!

Lexi Garber

When we go out, you know we're requesting ALL Luke Combs songs and sing until our voices are gone. Whether it be going out to the club, binge-eating, studying at the library, watching the Bachelor in your apartment, going to football tailgates or watching baseball games together, we are ALWAYS laughing. You have this amazing brightness and you only radiate positivity and happiness. I can't wait to see what the rest of college has in store for us. I feel so grateful that I got the chance to meet you and call you one of my true, lifelong best friends. I love you to Infinity (the place where it all began) and Back!


Lexi Garber

Forever and Always,

your college freshmen roommate

Lexi Garber

Lexi Garber

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What Your 20's Are All About



Being a twenty-something is glorious.

It's easy. It's beautiful. It often looks like a pair of designer cut-offs or a laptop on a beach. It isn't terribly serious.

In fact, it's rarely serious. Yet it makes sense--more sense than any other age because it's newly educated, self-discovered, and hopeful.


This is what social media tells me. It is what college told me. It is something many of us believe.

I am convinced, however, that there is more to it than this.

Someone or some book neglected to add a few more postscripts to this chapter of the Book of Life. Or maybe they were lodged under the "Recommended Reading" portion of the syllabus (and hence overlooked).

Whatever the case, your real twenties are about something in between the really good vodka and the wandering. That something has the power to shape this decade of your life into a different kind of gem.

(Yes, you can cut your teeth on it.)


College (or life after high school) somehow perpetuates the myth that graduation precedes a concrete stairway. And that stairway leads clearly to a life path, a career, a vision, and a culmination, all to the tune of Jimmy Hendrix.

A bachelor's or associate's degree initiates many into the world of work and careerdom. But it does not necessarily make things any more certain.

Perhaps you've graduated with a degree in French literature and suddenly feel an impulse to stare at lots of graphs and statistics.

Maybe you have no impulse whatsoever. You have hobbies—fixing bikes, swiping left—but cannot seem to grasp a vision.

If you're like I was in my twenties, perhaps you sense you want to do everything your parents didn't, if only your feet would touch ground sometime soon.

This decade is definitively unknown. Not having a solid sense of what comes next is not an inherent fault of yours; it's part and parcel of life's whimsical years.

Want in on a shinier secret? All decades are uncertain. This one just feels the ripest.

If you wake up every morning and have no answers (or job, or health insurance, or girlfriend, or house), great! You're doing this right. Answers will emerge, but in the meantime, sit with the discomfort of being simply where you are at.


As the decade of uncertainty unfolds, lean into it. I found that I could get more comfortable with being an unknown entity in my twenties by forgiving myself (and others).

You don't have to go to an ashram to practice forgiveness, although I'm not discouraging you from this path. Nor do you have to start embracing a new religion or giving up red meat and Cheetos.

Forgiveness starts with awareness. Beginning to recognize the difference between personal goals and societal demands is the prelude to following a gentler, more visionary path.

When I forgave myself for being a perfectionist, despairing that I would never find a job, and wondering if I really should have chosen my English major, life became much easier.

Science also tells us that our brains are still firing, forming, and developing in our twenties.

As such, friendships may peel away. Certain kinds of knowledge may dissolve. You may start to realize that holding grudges or avoiding conflict isn't worth it anymore—or is now worth forgiveness.

Forgiveness can also be empowering. It's one of many doors that can shuttle you more effectively into the unknown (with grace and a good pair of heels).


Everything we learn in childhood, high school, and beyond is not necessarily the truth. The decade of your twenties is about the conscious and willing abandonment of past ideals, notions, and information.

To some, this may be simple rebellion. To others, it may be part of the self's natural evolution.

To me, it's about an exchange.

Being in your twenties can involve trading in those old ideas for more relevant ones. It's like a consignment store for self.

At this stage in life, a lot of things crumble. A lot of new buildings and scaffolding develop. Sometimes, this is brutal. It may feel unfair. It may feel like a relief.

No one is here to say that you have to be the self of your childhood or the self of eighteen (or last year). Mindfully weeding out the old and heralding in a more graceful, informed you will make that part of your thirties that much easier.


If you haven't gotten the memo yet, this is all really risky.

I mean, trekking across Mongolia, coming out, changing your name, abandoning your career, or taking up deep water diving isn't easy.

Forgiving yourself and leaning into uncertainty—those are hard, too.

A lot can get lost. A lot more can crack, splinter, and explode. It's a minefield for the mind and heart.

This decade may be the riskiest of your life. But that's how you know you're playing a good hand.

Without risk, the path becomes in danger of getting "too comfortable." That's one thing we millennials can agree on, at least—to be comfortable is to be stagnant.

I say, be risky. Feel imperiled, whether it involves a belief system or relationship or vision. On the other side of risk is knowing.


This decade is yours. It can shimmer, darken, or expand depending on what you do with it. No one can tell you otherwise.

Society may urge you to be free, playful, and exuberant in your twenties. Excellent.

It may also urge you to be driven, focused, and cynical. Also excellent.

But your twenties are really all about authenticity, or what you do with it. The greatest years of your life won't necessarily be college—they may just be the ones in which you chose to live powerfully within the scope of your greatest and truest self.

If no one was there to prep you for your twenties, or if you feel that the ones who were got it all wrong, take these words to heart. Be uncertain and timid. But also be audacious and genuine.

The one who's looking closest is, after all, you.

Note: Another version of this piece appeared on Thought Catalog.

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