Today, I am writing about fear. It is one of the oldest emotions. Usually, in order to do anything worth doing, you need to overcome your fear(s). It can manifest as a worry, anxiety, or not feeling confident, but it is still the same.
I am a long-time fan of (almost) everything Ryan Holiday writes. The way he digests hundreds of sources and boils down the message to the essence really fascinates me. When he wrote the book Courage is Calling in 2021 (link to Goodreads), in the middle of the global pandemic (is it too early to start capitalizing it?), I knew it would be worth the read.
In this article, I will emphasize on deciphering fear in order to conquer it.
What is fear?
Fear is one of the strongest and most useful of all human emotions. Or at least it used to be. It is what makes you run from a bear, what makes you throw away that berry which looks suspicious. When you see the bear, it is fear which makes you run like you have never ran before.
Today, there are no bears, at least for most of us. Instead, you fear your boss (who is, hopefully, not a bear). You fear losing your job (which is not he same as losing your life). You fear being stuck in a traffic (which is not the same as being stuck in a canyon with no way out with a bunch of coyotes behind you). Fear has turned into the voice in your head that roots against you! It diminishes your abilities and over-exaggerates the obstacles in front of you.
Being scared vs being afraid
Being scared makes you act. This is why they say, “scared for your life”. If you are scared, then there is usually a legitimate reason to be, and you find yourself acting, usually without even knowing it. This is called instinct. Being afraid prevents you from acting. It leads to analysis paralysis. It leads to inaction and to the opposite of success.
What is the root of most fear?
The root of most fear is what other people will think of us. Again, this was really helpful in our evolution. What others thought about us directly correlated with our usefulness. And if you lose your usefulness, then you lose everything. But we’ve changed a lot since then. Now you can be useful in many different ways and the opinion of the masses is less and less relevant.
Can it be useful?
There is nothing worth doing which is not scary. Nobody achieved anything worth doing without wrestling with doubt, fear, uncertainty. Everything new, everything impressive, everything right, was done in spite of the objections of the masses or the status quo.
What is the reality?
In reality, the obstacles are not as numerous and unsurmountable as you think. The people that you envision standing in your way are not as strong as you think. Most of them don’t even know you exist. Your fears are not specific, they are shadows and illusions. Accept that life is risky and things are hard. Do not worry whether this will be the case – at some point in time, it will be.
4 steps to conquer fear
Step 1: Deconstruct the fear
You conquer fear with logic. You need to set some time to explore your fears, deconstruct them, and act on them. There is usually a set of assumptions behind each fear. Look into yourself and define those assumptions. Are all of them true?
This reminds of of Byron Katie’s The Work (link to the website) and her hour questions to counter negative thoughts. Is it true? Are you absolutely sure that it is true? How do you act when you believe this thought? Who would you be without your though?
Step 2: Define actions
Conquer these assumptions one by one. If you are afraid of losing your job – start saving or start learning (why not both?). If you are afraid you are going to lose a loved one – invest in your relationship with them. The only way through is to attack the fear.
Step 3: Get busy
Instead of counting all the dangers ahead of you, get busy doing the work. Focus on the present and don’t fill your mind with what-ifs. Treat fear as information – there is something troubling you about the road ahead. But do not let it paralyze you.
Feel the fear and do it anyway!Susan Jeffers
Step 4: Embrace your fears
Fear is not a useless mechanism. Analysis paralysis is useless. You need to cultivate the courage to look at your fears and to embrace them. Tim Ferris calls this “fear setting” (link to his blog), where you set some time to examine your fears and try to learn from them. It is easy to define something which is defined.
You can start conquering fear with one tiny and simple step. Every time when you catch yourself being afraid and as long as the situation is not life-threatening, stop and describe the fear (as well as you can do). Allow yourself to delay the worry to a future moment in time. If you want, you can even book an hour every week when you are free to worry. This way you will create a habit of not diving into your fears and another one of deliberately examining your fears with you “thinking brain” at a time which you have defined.
What are the next steps?
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