30 Days to a Better Man Day 29: Conquer a Fear

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 28, 2009 · 16 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

Fear can be a good thing.  It’s a biological instinct that prevents us from doing stupid things that might kill us. For example, fear kicks in with good reason when we see a slithering snake or look over the edge of a cliff.

Unfortunately, fear is not always rational and not always healthy. Thus, our heart races when we’re getting on a plane but not when we’re driving, even though we have a far greater chance of dying while behind the wheel. And while fear works to prevent us from physical pain, it can also hold us back from the chance at both the pain of a crushed ego and the exhilaration of victory and success.

The Manliness of Overcoming Your Fears

Fear is irrational. No one can ever be fully rational in their choices and behavior. But every man should strive to live with reason and ration as his guide. Fear is a primal instinct, not a function of higher brain faculties. When we logically think through our fears, we often find that they have no real rational basis.

Fear is cowardly. We often try to frame our fears in ways that soothe our egos. We say that we’re being prudent or cautious. We say that we haven’t tried simply because it’s not important to us. We say that we’re just a little nervous. But if you want to start overcoming your fears, it’s helpful to call a spade a spade. Don’t say, “I’m not doing this because I’m nervous,” say, “I’m not doing this because I’m a coward.” This is not meant to be harsh; I actually find it quite helpful to frame my internal debate this way. Because who wants to be a coward? A man seeks to be brave and courageous.

Fear robs you of your integrity. Integrity means behaving in a way wholly congruous with your beliefs and values. But when we want to do something and we believe it’s the right thing to do, but we fail to do it because of fear, we violate our core values. Living true to your principles will always involve a healthy measure of overcoming your fears.

Fear pushes you from the driver’s seat. A man is a captain of his own destiny. He makes the choices and chooses the roads that lead him to his goals. A man ruled by fear abdicates his captainship to his fear. He gives his fear the steering wheel. Who is the master of your life, you or your fears?

Fear leaves regrets. A man does not dwell on the past. He learns from it, but never lets it hinder him. Yet if you allow fear to keep you from seizing opportunities that come your way, you will inevitably look back, kick yourself, and wonder why the heck you let fear have its way with you.

Fear slows our personal growth. A man should always be striving to improve himself, to be a little better than he was the day before. But there is no growth without risk.

How to Overcome Our Fears

“Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.” ~ Brendan Francis

We need not live our lives captive to our fears and insecurities. You can, through your will, become the master of your fears.

Change your perspective on fear. Is the pain you experience while working out a negative thing? Or is it just the feeling of your body getting stronger? Fear is only a negative thing if you believe that it is. You can choose to think about it simply as the “pain” your body experiences as your character develops and expands. There is very little growth where there is no pain and work.

Instead of seeing the tackling of our fears as nerve-racking, see it as an adventure. An adventure is anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and into unexplored territory. It can be as grand as an African safari or as basic as talking to a stranger. Conquering a fear, big or small, can be downright thrilling. Every man should try to scare himself a little every day.

Change your perspective on risk. The root of our fear is our fear of trying something and crashing and burning. What if I get rejected? What if I fail? These are short-term risk assessments. Yes, there is a chance that you will fall on your face.  And if you don’t take the risk,  you’re guaranteed not to face failure.

But in making such a calculation, you are leaving out the long-term risk, a risk that’s far riskier than any short term blow to your ego. The long term risk is this: The risk of never amounting to anything. The risk of living a completely mediocre life. The risk of looking back in 10, 20, or 30 years and feeling your stomach turn with regret.

When I was a kid and was afraid to do something, whether it was slide down the water slide backwards or ride a huge roller coaster, I would ask myself this question: “Which choice are you going to regret more? Doing this thing and being scared for a few minutes or not doing it and missing out on the experience and always wondering what it would have been like?” Even my ten year old brain knew the answer.

Remember, when you skip an opportunity because you’re afraid, you’ll never get that moment back. Never.

Finally, we often fear failure and rejection because it hurts to think that we’re not as suave or talented as we had supposed. This is a blow to the ego. But when we don’t act on our fears, we send a message to ourselves that we are in fact cowardly, and this subconsciously wears away our sense of self and will stick with us far after the sting of any failed enterprise has passed.

Maybe it’s time you updated your criteria for risk assessment.

Act courageous. Teddy Roosevelt overcame his fears by acting as if he were not afraid. Do the same.

“There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to afraid.”

Think about the great men of history. Our own personal fears and challenges can seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But with the proper perspective, they can seem rightfully manageable. The next time you you feel paralyzed by a fear, think of the courageous men of the past. Think of Edmund Hillary ascending Mt. Everest, the Freedom Riders meeting a crowd of angry Klansmen, the astronauts sitting in Apollo 13. You’ll soon think, “Dammit! And here I am unable to make this flippin’ phone call!”

Kill the fear with logic. As we mentioned above, fear is not a rational thing. The solution is thus to kill it with logic. The best way to do this is to ask yourself this question: “If I do this, what is the worst that can happen?”

What’s the worst that could happen if you asked someone out and they said no? You didn’t have a date then, you don’t have a date now. Nothing has changed.

What’s the worst that could happen if you apply for a job and don’t get it? You didn’t have the job before, you don’t have the job now. Nothing has changed.

What’s the worst that can happen if I give a speech at the conference and bomb? No one will ever tell you, and you’ll never know you were bad.

And so on and so on. With almost any scenario the worst that could happen might be temporarily unpleasant, but is infinitely manageable.

Memorize this quote. We’ve already talked about the power of having memorized quotes at your ready disposable. One of the best passages to memorize and recite to yourself when you’re afraid is this one from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

There’s no need to feel the fear, just do it. A lot of self-help gurus recommend that you fully feel the fear and go ahead and tackle it anyway. I disagree. Giving the fear wholesale residency in your body is just going to make you get all tense and freaked out. What I find works is acknowledging the fear, but then immediately going for it, even before your brain has time to dwell on what you’re about to do. Just put your brain on cruise control. Check out a little bit and start down a path you can’t return from. Dial that number. Walk into that office. Once you’re in the mix, you’re forced to carry on, and you’ll find that you do indeed have the strength to pull it off.

The men of Easy Company signed up to be paratroopers with only the faintest idea of what jumping out of an airplane entailed. As they donned their packs and climbed into the hull of the plan on their first training flight, some of the men were feeling the fear big time. Others chose not to think about it. When the green light went off, they lined up, stepped to the door and jumped.

Just do it.

Today’s Task: Conquer a Fear

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” -Helen Keller

Pick a fear you’ve had for some time. Something you need to do, something you want to do, but you’ve been continually putting off. We think we stay safe by playing it small, but our unconquered fears sit like a weight on our shoulders. They’re there when you wake up and when you go to bed. They keep whispering in your ear that today is the day to go for it, and you keep ignoring the call. The weight of your unconquered fears builds slowly, almost imperceptibly, but it grows each and every day, slowing down your progress and cluttering your mind.

Ask that girl out that you’ve liked for a very long time. Tell your best friend how you really feel about her. Break-up with your girlfriend that you stopped having feelings for months ago. Ask for that raise you deserve. Confess your mistake to your friend or boss. Ask your brother for forgiveness.

Perhaps there are some 30 Days tasks that you haven’t done yet because you’ve been afraid to. Today is the day that the excuses and procrastination absolutely must end. Talk to 3 strangers. Write your dad a letter. Take a woman on a date. Just do it.

Tell us what your fear was and how you conquered it in the Community.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zach June 29, 2009 at 6:09 am

It was spiders for me. Fear started leaving after we had an invasion of spiders in our home one night; I found five of them on my pillow. I emailed a guy I found on the web, an arachnologist at UC Riverside. After a few exchanges with him, I was at least curious. So I bought a pet tarantula. Now I have three. I also keep jumping spiders when I can catch them.

So fear is just a lack of understanding. As you understand things more, fear subsides. And you might even find a hobby that interests you.

My son is still nervous around spiders, but his little sister thinks they’re great. . .

2 Wayne June 29, 2009 at 6:49 am

As you probably know, the Greeks believed that Courage was the King of the Virtues because it was the Virtue that guaranteed the others. I can only say, “Yes!”
We have all succeeded at this, and we have all failed. Its the getting up that matters!

Wayne

3 Brian June 29, 2009 at 7:30 am

I’m afraid of heights, it’s not just a little bit afraid, more like I’m gonna puke and pass out type fear.

4 Mark June 29, 2009 at 8:33 am

My dad taught me to live in fear. It was always under the guise of “I don’t want you to be afraid, but be cautious.” Also, this entry focuses mainly on the fear of the unknown, yet there is also the fear that stems from prior experiences. Let me give you an example of both of these things in action…

I once worked in the daycare area of a 24 Hr Fitness. I love kids, and I’m good with them, so it was a wonderful part-time job. The kids loved me, the parents loved me. One day, I was accused of doing “something” with two of the little kids (which I didn’t, of course), and instead of take another position at the gym when it was offered, I just decided to leave. There was no legal action taken on the parents’ end, so I’m sure they couldn’t have been TOO convinced.

Months later, I came across a great opportunity to try working at the YMCA – again, with kids. Upon telling my dad, he cringed and told me it was a horrible idea. He responded out of fear. I took the job, and yet because of the pain I’d gone through with my prior accusation, I was doing the job in fear. I was holding myself back with the kids, beyond reason, simply because I had been scarred by my previous experience and was afraid. It took me a long time to overcome that hesitation.

While the decision to take the job was made firmly, my ability to conquer the other fear of another accusation took much longer. So, a word of encouragement to you folks out there… for those of you in a situation of fear that is being dictated not by the unknown, but by your own past – face it! Since this fear carries an emotional weight, I think it can be much more crippling, but it can still be defeated with the same tactics of logic and the brute strength of facing it.

5 Jesvin June 29, 2009 at 9:32 am

Let me share my fave quotes on fear.

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture

What worked for me was: when I have to face a fear, I try to ‘learn’ what I fear. Problems seem intimidating when they are whizzing around in your head. They seem much smaller when you can see them in the light.

Maybe its me, but I love my flashlight of knowledge more than my sword of logic!

6 Alejandro June 30, 2009 at 10:57 pm

This article spoke to me directly! Fear always has been one of my greatest handicaps. I grew up shy and introverted. Fear of the unknown and of getting hurt always kept me from doing things. It’s a handicap that carried over into my adult years. I’m 45 and just now overcoming my various fears. For one thing, I’ve always been afraid of getting into arguments or fights, so I’d back down; take the high road; turn the other cheek; think of the consequences of acting or speaking before thinking. I’d over-analyze situations and end up paralyzed. I’ve never really liked confrontation, yet I’ve had to realize and accept that it’s an inevitable fact of life. I’ve gotten to the point now, though, that I don’t care much what other people think of me and to speak without thinking too much. For me, it’s an ongoing battle, but one I know I have to win. Above all, I realized long ago that I don’t want to reach old age and wished I’d done certain things.

7 TheManRevolution July 2, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Man, that’s great and all but I don’t think anything in this world is going to cure me from arachnophobia.

Heights and public speaking I can deal with, but 8 legged freaks? Nah.

8 mane July 9, 2009 at 11:54 am

hey Alejandro,
I am 20 and your thoughts resonate exactly with mine. I considered all that ‘thinking before leaping’ thing to be more of a virtue. But after this post I’m getting a look of the other side. Being purely logical about stuff doesn’t work either, right? Maybe we need to trust our instincts more. I too don’t want to feel missed out on stuff I could have done.

9 nuno January 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm

that was really good.

i agree & relate with everything

10 Piano_man April 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I’m looking ahead through the 30 days of tasks…
I’m not to this one yet, and it’s going to be a HUGE challenge.
Fistfighting, dancing, public speaking and the possibility of getting lodged in a tight space and not being able to get a full breath.
These things make me feel like I will throw up!

11 Shawn Fairweather May 22, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Great advice “Today’s Task: Conquer a Fear”

There’s nothing like taking action especially when it comes to conquering fear. Good reinforcement of this truth.

I just happened upon your site after posting a similar article about facing fear.

Keep up the good work! ~ All the best ~
Shawn

12 Tyler December 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I used the “just do it” technique to get over my fear of roller coasters. I once went to an amusement park with some friends, and they wanted to go on the biggest coaster first. Not wanting to object (another fear of mine) or “chicken out,” I just went along with them and got in line. Sure, I was nervous until I got to the top of the first hill, but I ended up having a blast, and I rode most of the other coasters in the park after that.

13 leo March 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm

awesome…just awesome.
I read the entire artikle with that Roky’s voice…

14 virgo May 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

I think i am coward .. I dont know why but i think i am.. ! i am afraid of death,strong peoples with strong personalities and i have a fear of failure.. !
I dont know why i am like this. but i want to overcome it i have read some atricles and steps but i dont know why i dont apply.implement those steps and tricks may be because of cowardness or the fear of failure
can any body help me?

15 MIke May 14, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I think this is a good task, but I’m not going to go out and look for something I’m afraid of. Doing so seems like a quest for unnecessary stress. I think people face and sometimes conquer fears as the occasion arises. have conquered some fears: public speaking, asking people for money (I did fundraising), using power tools, but I have others that stay with me, and which I deal with according to my aspirations. I have what I think is a healthy fear of heights; falling from them can, after all, result in ones injury or death, but I still climb the ruins when I travel in Central America. Doing so has not made this fear go away, but it’s something I deal with when the pay-off warrants it. For me, ancient ruins, and the views atop them, do. Becoming a window washer by trade would not. I think it’s about priorities. Ultimately, living without fear is living recklessly. Before taking on a risk, one should assess whether the pay-off is worth it. If so, then letting fear prevent action is crippling. If not, then congratulations; you’ve learned something about yourself and you needn’t invest further mental energy in the matter.

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