There are only two human emotions that matter: Love and Fear. The rest are simply variations of these. Every important decision we make is reducible to either Love, Fear, or a combination of both. When I first encountered this proposition, many years ago, I thought the concept was so simple that it was not worth my attention. Still, I experimented with the concept and that is when I realized the simplicity is what makes it so powerful. By examining your decisions and actions through the lenses of Love and Fear you will become more skillful at navigating the most challenging situations.
First, we’ll start with a simple definition of Love and Fear. I think we each have an embodied sense of what these words mean, but I think these definitions will help to establish a common baseline. The biggest resistance that I get when I suggest there are only two emotions is that people feel there are other emotions that don’t reduce to these two. This is where a common set of definitions will help. (NOTE: I have included list of some common emotions and mapped them to Love and Fear at the end of this post.)
Next, you simply need to pick some area of your life that interests you. A good place to start would be a decision that you recently made or one that you are in the process of making. Take out a sheet of paper or your computer and create two columns, one labeled Love and the other Fear. Begin listing evidence of Love and Fear at work in your decision making. Ask yourself questions such as:
Really challenge yourself to determine which force, Love or Fear is having the greatest effect. When I do this process, I find that I resist putting things into the Fear column, probably because my ego doesn’t want me to admit that I am sometimes driven by Fear! By forcing myself to acknowledge how Fear is affecting my decision-making, I’m able to keep Fear from playing too large a role.
I also like using the Love/Fear lenses when I find myself in a challenging situation or relationship. For example, in a previous blog post, Spying in the Sauna, I described how I found myself confronted with a man who was playing his music in a confined public space. The situation made me anxious and I used the Love and Fear lenses to examine what was going on for me. My inclination was to put things in the Love column, such as…I love to have quiet time to meditate or I love to live in a society where people are considerate of one another. Although both are true, they didn’t account for my anxiety.
It wasn’t until I forced myself to acknowledge my Fears that my situation became clear. In the end I determined the most powerful emotion was my Fear that people would take advantage of me. By noticing and labeling my fear I was able to soften the effects it had on me.
The effects of Love and Fear on our decision-making are massive. Imagine you are in a heated argument with your spouse or rebellious teenager and you are awash in a pool of emotions. You are about to choose your next words. How will they come out of your mouth if they are fueled by feelings of fear? How might this change if the primary fuel was love? Why does it matter? How would you even know which was happening? Can you imagine how noticing your motivation would shape your action?
Warning!!! It is hard to step back and examine your emotions in the heat of the moment. In fact, unless you have practiced extensively, it is nearly impossible. Applying the concept in hindsight to past situations is very helpful. It is also helpful to start using the Love/Fear lenses when the stakes are lower rather than jumping right into the biggest decisions of your life or highly volatile relationships.
If you would like additional support for your practice, you can download the free Love vs. Fear Workbook below.
You might think the goal is to get to the point where you only act from a place of Love. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Both Love and Fear are legitimate emotions that have a valid contribution to our decision process. Rather than setting a rule that we must always act a certain way, our goal should be to identify our patterns and tendencies to determine which motives yield the best results under which circumstances.
Personally, I do find that most of the time I am better served by acting from a place of Love and limiting the impact of Fear on my decisions. That said, I still use the lenses to examine each situation uniquely with an open mind. I hope you will too.
Here is an article from Inc. Magazine that makes the case for choosing Love over Fear.
For the slightly nerdier crowd, here is an article that explains how Love and Fear are linked by a common chemical in our brains.
As promised, here are some examples of common emotions and how they map to either Love or Fear: