Overcoming Fear

Looking at the sheer volume of quotes that have been generated over the years regarding overcoming fear, it becomes fairly obvious that fear is a pretty ordinary part of human existence. Sometimes it’s healthy. For example, it’s fear of injury that (generally) keeps us from doing stupid things.

But more frequently fear is a negative thing. It can kill your mojo and cause you to miss out on amazing opportunities and experiences. After all…

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

-Wayne Gretzky

So how do you overcome fear? I asked that question on Facebook and here are some of the responses I received:

  • The only way I have (overcome my fear) is to face it. I had a fear of heights and to over come it I went on the sky coaster at Lagoon, scared the crap out of me but I lived!
  • i was gonna say the same thing about doing exactly what you’re scared of … i was scared of heights too, so i went skydiving. now i’m cured! i still get scared when i’m up high and i’m thinking about it, but then i remember, what’s scarier than jumping out of a plane? nothing!
  • I think about people who have been there for me, who count on me to just do things. I don’t want to let them down, and think to myself – if I don’t do this – who will? Then I take a breathe and leap. Usually its all good.
  • My biggest revelation came by observing that my 3 year old daughter is a chip off the old block. She’s the type to hem & haw 30 minutes before she’ll set foot in a cold swimming pool. Sometime (most of the time), you just have to get in the #@!#$% water, already.

This big takeaway from these is that if you hope to overcome your fears, ultimately you’ll have to face them. But how do you get to that point? From these quotes and my own experience, I’ve compiled a list of several ways to overcome your fears.

  1. Peer pressure – Think about how many times in your life you let somebody talk you into doing something you didn’t want to do. It’s a fairly obvious fact that peer pressure absolutely influences our decisions. Most of the time it’s viewed negatively. But what if you could use it as a tool to help you overcome your fears? One possible solution is to share what you’re trying to overcome with friends and colleagues and ask them to help you get past your fear. Most of them will be more than happy to help and encourage you. I think another effective and interesting application of this idea is to identify some people you know and admire who demonstrate a fearlessness in the area you’re working on. Start spending time with those individuals, watch what they do, learn from them, and allow yourself to be infected by their enthusiasm. I can name several instances in my own life where I learned how to overcome my fear merely by associating with people I admired for their fearlessness.
  2. Obligation – This is the  “If I don’t do this, who will?” idea. Obligating yourself is a great motivator. Whether it’s a promise (verbal or implied) to a beloved family member or a commitment to a boss, creating an expectation in others is a great way to give yourself some extra incentive to get past the initial “I’m scared” bump. Another variation on this is to make the obligation to yourself. While an internal promise may be enough, I’ve found another motivator – money. I’ve found that when I pony up and pay some cash to do something I’m scared of while I’m removed from the situation and still able to think logically, I’m way more likely to do it, because I don’t want to waste my money.
  3. Optimism – Paralyzing fear is often rooted in the spectre of failure. Nobody wants to fail. Next time you’re afraid of failure, sit down with yourself and take inventory of what you would actually lose if you fail. While in some cases, this won’t help (if you fail in skydiving, you have a LOT to lose) in many of the day to day things that we avoid because of fear, our actual potential losses are insignificant at best.

    “It is not failure itself that holds you back; it is the fear of failure that paralyzes you.”
    – Brian Tracy

    As an addendum to this, learn to deal with failure positively. In this engrossing article about learning the skill of luck, the author points out that one of the things that makes people lucky is their attitude towards ill fortune (or failure, for that matter). From the article:

    Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

    When you learn to deal with failure in a healthy, optimistic way, all of a sudden, it’s not so scary anymore.

  4. Persistence – This is a tactic I use myself, with great success. Here’s how it works: pick one thing every day that scares you. Start little, but make sure that you do it. You’ll find that as you build up a pattern of facing your fears, it will become easier and easier to do, until you don’t think twice about those little butterflies in your stomach.
  5. Bravery – They say that fortune favors the bold, and I can prove it. Just talk to Nate Bagley about The Blogworld Miracle. ‘Nuff said.

So that’s my list. There are all sorts of other ideas and hundreds of books about this, but these are just some of the things I came up with. What do you do to overcome your fears?

4 Comments

  1. It’s true that fear can help us from doing stupid things, but sometimes our fear is of something stupid (like the dark).

    When I was younger I was terrified of the dark, so one day I decided I would face the fear and, hopefully, overcome it. I sat a chair in the middle of my room at night, turned off the lights, and sat there. Not surprisingly: nothing happened. I haven’t been afraid of the dark since.

    My question to you is this: how do you know when you should face a fear, rather than let it stay a fear? What defines that “stupid” line?

  2. One of the things that helps me overcome fear is knowing that no matter what happens, sink or swim, win or lose, there is a small group of close friends and family that will always be there to pick up the pieces, remind me how important I am, help me move forward and find purpose again.

  3. Wow, I’m impressed with the depth of this post about overcoming fear as well as what Tanner also said! Thanks.

    To answer your question, I think it’s vital that you know you have a fear to overcome. That’s definitely step 1). I also think it’s important not to feel obliged to fight every battle. That’s step 3) and what Tanner is referring to, I think.

    So to the important step 2) of taking action – well I really believe that ‘action’ starts with different thinking about a situation. So if talking to strangers at a party is difficult, then you *think* about the people as friends already and approach them with that thought.

    So you have to change how you think about the fear, I believe, and then you have to take action!

    Doing this puts you in the shoes of a person who doesn’t have this particular fear to overcome.

    Maybe.

    Anyway, thanks for getting my ‘thought juices’, Nate! 🙂

    Steve

  4. @Tanner – Good question. I think it’s probably important to do a cost-benefit analysis whenever you’re considering a fear. Honestly, if you’re taking the time to consider a fear, it’s probably because it’s preventing you from doing something you’d like to be doing. To me, the “stupid line” is the point where I decide that overcoming the fear isn’t worth the benefits I’d derive from doing so. For example, if I’m a little scared of spiders, but not so much that it impairs my ability to function, it’s probably not worth the time to overcome that fear. On the other hand, if I’m so scared of spiders that I’m paralyzed whenever I see one, then maybe it’s worth it to me to get over that so I don’t live in constant fear. Just my $.02 on that.

    @Bags – Amen to that. It’s nice knowing you have a safety net.

    @Steve – Thanks for the comment! I agree that it really does take adopting a different mindset. I like the strategy of imagining what someone without the fear might feel. It lets you envision what success looks like and lets your brain think creatively about how to achieve that success. Awesome.

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