I’m sure we’ve all heard this quote, and perhaps thought it yet another wise and witty statement by Shakespeare, or another pithy response by Churchill when questioned by those who doubted his course of action. It is actually a paraphrase of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s line, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless,unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” This speech was made in 1933, when the Depression had reached its depth.

This phrase will mean different things to each of us, no matter where or how we heard it. Fear can take many forms – for me it can take the shape of worst case scenarios. Only recently I found myself contemplating a new project. I started to think about the possibilities and how I could make it work. Then I found that I was starting to think about all that could go wrong and because I focused on what could go wrong that was all I could see. I was focusing on problems that didn’t even exist. It’s easy to do. We can slip into patterns of thinking that don’t serve us or move us forward.

I listen to music when I work and I’m often sat at my desk in Twickenham with headphones on and as I was thinking up all the ways it wouldn’t be successful a song came on from that day’s playlist. It was Rush’s ‘The Weapon” and the opening line is, ”We’ve got nothing to fear…but fear itself?” I caught myself singing it and then I realised what I was doing. It reminded me that of course we should make plans to minimise possible negative outcomes, but to worry about what hasn’t happened and may never happen isn’t helpful (to say the least).

We learn in Cognitive Hypnotherapy that when we focus on something then we are priming ourselves to find evidence of that thing happening – that’s why when you want to buy a new car for example you’ll see the model of the car you want everywhere. You never noticed it before, but because it’s now on your mind you’re seeing it everywhere. Evidence is important.

So when you focus on the negative your unconscious mind will provide you with the evidence of that negative taking place and will ignore any contradictory evidence. Which is why it’s so important to be solution focused and that we find the evidence to show that we’re moving in the right direction, to where we want to be.

To me, right now, that phrase is a means of encouragement, a reminder that the biggest obstacles I face are those I place in my own way because of my ‘fear’ of an unknown and unknowable future. And I can deal with those because I know they are just thoughts, my thoughts. And if you can’t get past your thoughts then remember that “we have nothing to fear except what we choose to fear.” Choose well.