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.
Last updated: September 25, 2009