“There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
This is part 2 of the 2-part series on how to get beyond fear. You can read part 1 here.
If you would like to just see and go through the visual SlideShare presentation, please scroll to the end of the post!
6. Action Dispels Fear
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
Dr. David Schwartz in his classic book, The Magic of Thinking Big, tells the story of how fear was dispelled in navy recruits in World War II. All the recruits had to learn or know how to swim and were placed in classes if they did not know how.
Dr. Schwartz describes one of the exercises where the recruits had to jump from a board that was 6 feet in the air into water that was 8 or more feet deep with many expert swimmers watching all around. He explains that the fear displayed by these young men was real but when a recruit was “accidentally” pushed into the water, their fears were conquered.
“Jot that down in your success rule book right now. Action cures fear.”
Dr. Schwartz outlines the following steps to conquer your fears:
1. The first step is to become very clear about what you are afraid of. Pinpoint your fear down.
2. The second step is to take action and that there is an action for every type of fear.
Dr. Schwartz rightly mentions that being hesitant and not being decisive causes the fears to magnify and intensify and I think that he is right on. Whenever, I hesitated and was indecisive about a task, it became more fearful in my mind.
One of Brian Tracy’s books is called: Eat that Frog and he recommends doing the one thing you are fearful about or you are putting off as your first task in the morning. I think that doing the difficult task first opens up a huge reserve of energy and confidence for the rest of the day.
When you take action and do the thing that you fear most, you feel instantly courageous and feel like you have achieved something of relevance.
“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Another very effective technique to get through fears is to break up the task or fear into very small parts and take action on one very small thing that scares you. The flight or flight response kicks into overdrive when the tasks and the fears you perceive are huge but very small fears and actions are more tolerable.
Action dispels fear and inaction fuels more fear.
Break the project or task into very small parts. It is much easier to take a small step forward.
7. Fear as a Teacher: What are your fears trying to tell you?
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” ― C. JoyBell C.
Fear is often portrayed in a negative light with the idea being that you need to slay it quickly. For a moment, consider if your fears are telling you valuable information that you may be able to learn from.
In a highly engaging TED talk, writer Karen Thompson Walker describes a very different perspective of fear, one where you ask the question: “what can I learn from this fear.”
She tells us the story of 20 American sailors aboard the whaleship Essex in 1819 when a sperm whale punctured their ship. As they watched in horror from three little whaleboats thousands of miles from home and in a location so remote that a rescue was out of the question, they were confronted with three scary propositions.
One choice was to attempt to reach the closest island, 1200 miles away that was supposedly inhabited with cannibals, the second choice was attempting to make their way to Hawaii and brave the stormy weather. The third scary choice was to attempt to go thousands of miles to South America and face the possibility of starvation while getting there.
Walker makes the connection between vivid fears and our imagination. When we are children, our fears are very vivid and imaginative.
“Our fears are an amazing gift of the imagination…a way of glimpsing what might be the future when there’s still time to influence how that future will play out.”
Interestingly, she says that the most creative minds do not leave that connection between imagination and fear behind. The brilliant minds and imagination of Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë and Marcel Proust that produced The Origin of Species, Jane Eyre and The Remembrance of things past also generated intense worries and fears that ended up haunting their adult lives.
Walker suggests that the similarities between a story and our fears are striking. Both have a beginning, a plot and an end. Both have the same architecture and have a main character and provoke suspense. In both cases, one thing leads to another. Fears are like writing fiction or storytelling because each part affects the whole. She says that our fears are a kind of unintentional storytelling that we are all born knowing how to tell and engage with.
“Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next?” – Karen Thompson Walker
Walker suggests that if fears are stories with you as the main character, you are the author of that story and how you choose to read the story has profound impact on your life.
She says that studies have shown that positively paranoid successful entrepreneurs monitor and read their fears very closely and translate those fears into preparation and action. This is a preemptive action to thwart the adversity if their fears indeed came true.
So the question is which fear should we be listening to and learning from?
Unfortunately, the men of Essex chose to listen to the story of fear of cannibalism and took the long route to South America and half of them died of starvation before they were rescued.
While reading stories, Walker points out that we need two distinct abilities: one of the imaginative, artistic and poetic kind and the other of a cool, calculated judgment of the scientist.
“The men of the Essex had no trouble with the artistic part, they dreamed of a variety of horrifying scenarios. The problem was that they listened to the wrong story. Of all the narratives their fears wrote, they responded only to the most lurid, the most vivid, the one that was easiest for their imagination to picture: Cannibals. Perhaps if they been able to read their fears more like a scientist with more coolness of judgment, they would have listened to the less violent but more likely tale of starvation, they would have headed to Tahiti.”
Consider the possibility that our fears are constructs that behave like stories we tell ourselves.
There may be valuable information locked into the architecture of fears and the stories that may have something to teach you.
While reading stories of fear, use the cool judgment of a scientist along with the vivid imagination of an artist.
8. Fear and the role of Excitement and courage: Transform Fear into Excitement
“Most hatred is based on fear, one way or another. Yeah. I wrapped myself in anger, with a dash of hate, and at the bottom of it all was an icy center of pure terror.” ― Laurell K. Hamilton
In the classic Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, the apprentice Jedi warrior and student Luke Skywalker is instructed to enter a cave by Master Yoda where he must confront his worst fears.
The cave provides a reflection of all the fears and his worst nightmares that he must confront before he can proceed in his training as a Jedi master. In a fit of fear and anger, Skywalker quickly chops off the head of the apparition of his nemesis and his greatest fear, the evil sith lord, Darth Vader.
The cave is a metaphor for our imaginative fears that confront us on every dark corner of our lives, challenging us, mocking us.
To live a daring creative adventure, we have to confront our greatest fears and deepest discomfort.
According to Professor Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap:
“There’s only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that’s to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.”
Hendricks explains that fear and excitement are related and uses the example from Dr. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy.
Dr. Perls said:
“Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Dr. Hendricks goes on to explain that fear and excitement are produced by the same mechanisms. Fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing fully into it.
On the other hand, excitement can turn into fear by holding the breath and trying to get rid of the feeling of fear.
Next time you are afraid of something like public speaking, pay attention to your breath and become aware if it is deep or shallow. Unfortunately, most people are shallow breathers and that makes fear to be easily sustained. Deep belly breathing relaxes the body and with shallow chest breathing, we might be more prone to stress and fear.
Become aware of the possibility that anger, hate and other difficult emotions might have a core of fear. Fear has the power to mask itself and manifest as anger and hate. If you slow down and ask what is the root of a difficult emotion, you may find that fear may be playing a part.
True bravery is not the elimination of fear but the capacity to move on despite the fear. Ask, “What is the worst that can happen?”
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.”-Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement 2005
Usually our perceived expectation of what can happen is always a lot worse than what might really happen.
Jonathan Fields explains in his TED talk that it the questions that we do not ask, things we do not notice and things we do not see that keep the fears alive and allow it to blossom. According to him the three big fears are the fear of failure, the fear of judgment and the fear of success. We create a doomsday scenario when we ask the question “what if I fail.” When we repeat the scenario in our mind, we have paralysis by fear.
Fields says that two questions can reframe fear: “what if I do nothing” and “what if I succeed.” Create a realistic scenario of “What If I fail” and “how will I recover.” “What If I do nothing” is a very scary reality in the future and usually not a preferred option. The third scenario is hope and success: “what if I succeed.” Imagine and feel vividly the scenario of success and then repeat the process in your mind.
Transform the fog of fear into the clarity of excitement by deep breathing into the fear.
Reframe fear by asking what if I fail and how will I recover, what if I do nothing and what if I succeed beyond my wildest dreams.
9. Get Community Support and Find Examples of People Who Got Beyond Their Fears.
“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.” ― Isabel Allende, The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir
Fear has the unique ability to grip you in its story and make you feel like you are facing the storm all alone. If you reach out to mentors or friends, you will be immediately reassured that fear is something that everyone has to deal in some form or the other.
When you reach out for community and allow others to give you insights on how they dealt with similar fears, you find out that you are not alone in the journey.
For example, if you are afraid of public speaking and presenting to others, ask how others have become more confident in their approach of speaking. Dr. Schwartz suggests that there is an action to cure every fear, and when you take effective steps to counter your fears, you will see that eventually the fears diminish.
I was quite fearful the first time I had to speak in front of fifty students and engage their attention. I remember vividly that I looked at myself in the mirror and repeatedly reaffirmed that I was going to be enthusiastic and I was indeed capable and believed that I could do a good job. I also asked other colleagues how they managed their own fears of public speaking.
If you are afraid of public speaking, perhaps you need to prepare more and practice and present in front of friends or strike a conversation with business acquaintances to break through the fear. Remember that you are not alone but your friends and loved ones cannot read your mind and can only support you if you ask them of their support and opinion.
Find others that have similar fears like you and ask how they managed and overcame their fears.
10. Learn How to Manage Your Energy: Exercise, Move, Feel Powerful, Feel Gratitude and Transform Fear into Fuel for Change
“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” ― Anthony Robbins
Research work and studies on willpower and motivation have come to the conclusion that it is easier to deplete motivation and willpower than what we previously thought.
For example, in one study, half of the subjects were asked to display greater willpower by choosing a healthier option over fresh baked cookies while the other half were asked to eat the cookies.
Subsequently, unsolvable puzzles were administered to both groups and the group that did not exercise self-control fared more than twice better in persisting to solve the puzzles. The theory that was demonstrated here was that pre-using your willpower makes you not have enough reserves for later on use and that self-control is an exhaustible resource.
If you attempt to try something that is fearful when your willpower is depleted and your motivation is at its lowest, chances are that you will not be successful. You will need to have some understanding of your rhythms and willpower potential and energy before you can assess if it is the right time to attempt something that induces fear.
Becoming well rested, relaxed, exercising regularly and eating well are all self-care attributes that predispose us to better manage and handle our fears. I have always noticed without exception when I am sleep deprived, tired and overwhelmed, it is not a good time to get through activities that induce fear and need my willpower to power through.
Another way to transform fear is to find things that you can express deep heartfelt gratitude and love towards. I learnt from the amazing Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron that we can envelope the root of fear with a blanket of loving compassion or unconditional friendliness or what is called “maitri.”
Our conscious minds can only process 40 to 60 bits of information per second and if we occupy our thoughts with joy, humor, happiness and other powerful feelings, we can learn to manage fears better.
According to John Lennon:
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”
Yet another technique that works well for me is to find intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that allow me to connect to a bigger picture while facing or managing my fears. If you input more energy and more engagement into taking small steps towards moving through your fears, chances are that you will find more success.
Understand your natural rhythms and when your will power is depleted and become well rested before tackling your fears.
Connect to a bigger picture through intrinsic and extrinsic motivations while facing and managing fear inducing things.
Transform fear into love and gratitude by increasing the incidence of thoughts, feelings and actions that cultivate love.
Here is a new model to get beyond fear:
Now over to you! Please let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you and how you manage your fears and hesitations.