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Intelligent Fear: How to Make Fear Work for You    by Michael Clarkson order for
Intelligent Fear
by Michael Clarkson
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Clarkson tells us all about tachypsychia (Greek for 'speed of the mind'), and how to manage the energy of fear in pressure situations. It can work for us, resulting in significantly improved performance, but its downside is choking during high arousal, becoming unable to perform. How do we achieve the former and avoid the latter? That's what Intelligent Fear is all about, exploring the emergency fear system and individual reactions to it, and providing techniques to manage it.

The author goes into three strategies in detail - Awareness, that is recognition of fears and their sources; Management, which relates to control of pressure in order to remain effective; and Focus or channeling techniques for high-pressure situations. We are told that our fear reaction, hard-wired millions of years ago, is often invoked inappropriately; it's 'outdated and confused'. Biochemical changes of the emergency fear system are outlined, and the hormones described - their purposes and how they are triggered. I was intrigued by a quote that our intelligence developed through fear via our worry system. We are told that fears in modern society relate less to day-to-day survival issues and more to self-esteem and ego, and advised to identify our personal fears and pressure points.

Under Management comes advice on dealing with external and internal pressures, including 'Learn to say no if you are overtaxed; Superman is a fictional character.' I also like 'If your inner critic is too much of a perfectionist, tell it to please be quiet.' We are advised to ally fear with other emotions, like excitement or anger, in order to move forward. Love and humor can help - I found the statistic that 'a child laughs 400 times a day, an adult only 15' rather sad. There is a table of optimal arousal levels in different situations and discussion of how to come down (through deep breathing, mantras, visualization etc.) from high arousal. There is also discussion of the 'worry gene' and varying individual responses to pressure from both nature and nurture.

The author states that 'Staying in the present is the aim of focus' and suggests techniques to channel fear and nervousness, in order to perform under pressure - with examples from situations ranging from courtroom, stage and athletic performances to meeting newspaper deadlines, handling exams and interviews ('research yourself' seems like particularly sound advice for the latter). The issue of the distortion of perceptions in fear situations is fascinating in its application to training of emergency personnel. And we are told that 'Too much stress can kill you, but without enough you're not really living.'

Though at times dry in presentation, there is a depth of useful material in Intelligent Fear for anyone interested in understanding our physical reactions to stress, and how to manage them better.

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