The word fear is not a pleasant word.
Instant gut reaction to the word fear for me? Paralyzing anxiety, crippling depression, and this weird hot feeling in my chest.
It’s one of those things, one of those complicated emotions that we don’t really get taught about growing up. It’s kind of just something we all feel, something we all deal with, but not something that’s normal everyday conversation for most people.
And because of that weird “taboo-ness” of the subject, it’s something that becomes a lot harder to confront and deal with, much less actually grow from.
The truth is fear is an amazing motivator and fantastic device that is 100% necessary for growth.
Confronting fear isn’t about not being scared. In fact, you kind of need to be scared for it to even matter to you as a tool. But once you learn how to use it to your advantage, it will be one of the greatest tools in your life.
I’m going to explain to you an invaluable process on how to confront your fears, deal with them, and create lifelong habits that will inevitably lead you to kick life’s ass.
Step 1: Define Your Fears and See them for What they are
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” ~Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
What is it about fear of the unknown that has that ridiculously paralyzing effect on us?
After analyzing the many, many situations that I had backed away from out of fear, I came to a realization.
Every single one of these situations that created so much fear in my life had a certain sense of ambiguity. If I could visualize what these fears looked like in a physical form, it was this dark, mysterious cloud that I wouldn’t dare enter.
When we think of something that we’re scared to do, our imaginations run wild, and then we tend to hide from whatever it was, when we should be analyzing and defining them.
Tim Ferriss, basically the master of all things growth and personal development, discusses his fear-setting exercise as one of the most important exercises he’s ever added to his repertoire. It’s a process of analyzing and defining what those fears actually entail, and consequently clearing that mysterious dark cloud.
Here are the steps that he claims changed his life:
Define your nightmare, the absolute worst thing that could happen if you leaped off the cliff to take the chance on whatever it is you’re fearing. Describe them in painstaking detail. What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1-10? Are they really permanent? How likely is it that they would actually happen?
What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you could imagine. How could you get things back under your control?
What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined your nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external?
How would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1-10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1-3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
What are you putting off out of fear? Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do that one thing every day that you fear.
What is it costing you – financially, emotionally and physically – to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside. Where will you be 10 years from now if you continue to not take action?
What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: you’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.
Basically what Tim is saying is instead of letting fear be this vague, scary, mysterious blob – look at it for what it really is – something with real positive and negative details that can be analyzed if you take the proper steps.
More often than not, you’ll find that a lot of things that you were scared of just aren’t as scary as your mind made them up to be after you clearly define them.
Step 2: Examine the Past and Write Down Times you Felt Fear and Succeeded Anyways
We often build up fear-inducing future experiences in our head.
An extremely useful way to put those experiences into perspective is to reflect on your past fear-inducing experiences – the ones you succeeded at despite the initial risk that you felt.
I for one used to be the poster child for someone who would completely build something crazy up in my head, go into the event, realize it wasn’t half as scary as I built it up to be, and then totally forget and not appreciate the disparity of what you initially thought, and what it the actual result was.
I’ll give you a few examples.
Stressing out for an important interview, staying up all night allowing myself to get anxious. Then actually going to the interview, nailing it easily, and walking out like “What the heck was I so worried about?”
Sending that risky text to that girl that I planned out for hours, and then getting a simple “yes” back, like itwas nothing.
Quitting my jobs and buying a one way ticket to Australia and Southeast Asia. When I tell the story to people, it always come off as like “Holy shit, this huge ridiculous risk that I took, and luckily had worked out.” But in reality, once I got out there, it was kind of just like, “That’s it? That was the risk I was scared of?”
We’re humans. We build stuff up in our minds. It’s something everyone struggles with.
But make sure you create a habit to reflect on those past risks that you’ve taken where everything worked out in the end.
You’ve conquered tons of scary things in your life. Don’t forget about them or take them from granted. Write them down and pat yourself on the back.
You’ve conquered scary things before. You’re stronger than you think.
Step 3: Use the AWARE Technique
This next technique was written about by Mark Tyrell on his blog post in Uncommon Help.
It’s yet another technique designed to really look at your fears straight in the eye, and learning to slow down and take control, as opposed to letting anxiety get the best of you and put you in a state of panic.
“The acronym AWARE stands for:
A: Accept the anxiety. Don’t try to fight it.
W: Watch the anxiety. Just watch it and when you notice it, scale your level of fear and start to breathe longer on the out-breath.
A: “Act normally.” Carry on talking or behaving as if nothing is different. This sends a powerful signal to your unconscious mind that its over-dramatic response is actually not needed because nothing that unusual is going on. Like fire fighters coming out and seeing that no emergency is happening, and so going back to the fire station.
R: Repeat the above steps in your mind if necessary.
E: Expect the best. One of the greatest feelings in life is the realization that you can control fear much more than you thought possible.”
The first three steps are about slowing ourselves down instead of giving into anxiety.
Stop. Breathe. Relax. Take a big step back from focusing on the minutia and look at the big picture.
The last step is a vital point to come to terms with:
Realize that once you learn to slow down, you are in more control than you think.
Anxiety and fear doesn’t control you: you control them.
Step 4: Change Your State and Get Grateful
This is an extremely important step. Personally, this was one of the simplest, yet life-changing habits I applied to my life.
If you let your brain roll on autopilot, it’s extremely easy to get stuck in this shitty loop from hell of comparing yourself to everyone around you. Especially with social media. You never have the money other people have, have the experiences they have, have the looks they have …. I could go on for days about this.
It’s something everyone talks about, it’s something we hear about every once in a while – to just be grateful.
We hear some amazing inspiring stories that helps us become grateful for what we have, we act grateful every time Thanksgiving comes around, but let’s be honest – it’s hard to keep that feeling going.
It’s hard to harness the power of gratitude every single second of the day. The second we get back to our routines and everyday problems, we easily slink back into this defensive mindset of “the universe is picking on me” with all of these problems.
So how do you harness that feeling?
You need to create habits of gratitude. Use your free time to do things that make you appreciate the world.
Here’s an example of a simple activity that seriously changed my life.
I’ve lived in Southern California all my life. I grew up in Orange County, went to college in San Diego, and worked in Los Angeles for a couple years.
What are some things that they all have in common? Perfect weather year-round? A surplus of amazing beaches and nature?
And you can bet your ass I took those things for granted. Especially the beach. It was always just something that was there for me, something I could always access. Sure, I went to the beach a ton growing up, learned how to surf, yada yada yada.
But I realized, after 24 years of living by the beach, that I never really fully appreciated how blessed I was to have such easy access to it – something most people in the world would kill for.
I decided to make a constant habit of dropping everything I’m doing at least once a week just to go sit at the beach. No objectives, no electronics, no nothing.
Sounds ridiculously simple, right? But it was an especially hard thing to push myself to do. I personally always feel like I have to be doing something.
What helped me at first was bringing my laptop, my GoPro, my cameras, a book. Just walk around, take pictures, whatever. But to just be there, just to sit there and realize how truly blessed I was to just be able to look at the Pacific the way I could.
It was learning how to be a tourist in my own city.
Eventually, I didn’t need any of those things. I get in my truck, drive the 20 minutes it takes to get to the beach, (struggle to find parking), and just go sit. And look. Watch other people enjoy it. Watch little kids play.
Doing this made me realize so many simple, amazing thoughts.
I think I literally said to myself the other day, I truly can’t believe that there is a sunset every single day that I get to look at.
Yeah, everyone knows that. But I don’t know that everyone appreciates the magnitude of it.
Where did I find the time to do this? I’d use the time that I usually would be spending melting into my couch watching reruns of mindless shows I’ve seen a million times. Trust me, if you care enough to make a change about anything, you will find the time to create good habits.
Creating this simple habit was life-changing. Creating this habit of gratitude.
Yes, yes, I know everyone doesn’t have a beach. (which is exactly why I get to use that one for myself).
What are you taking for granted right now? Your health? Your family and friends? The weather?
Some more simple things you can create a habit of – watch inspirational videos. (I personally watch GoPro, National Geographic, and Humans of New York’s Youtube Channels religiously.)
Or seriously, if you don’t already, try to find the time to just watch the sunset every night. Look at the trees or the blue sky. Am I starting to sound like a hippy? Well, you’re blessed if you have access to any of those things. (You do.)
To quote Corona, “Find your beach.”
Really think about it, really analyze it, really realize how lucky you are – and create a habit of gratitude for it.
Step 5: Rewire Your Brain with Affirmations
It has been scientifically proven again and again that our brains are malleable and can be rewired by our thoughts. With constant practice, we can control how we think and the positive associations that come along with it.
There are tons of small habits that you can implement in your daily routine that will help you change your thought patterns in a positive way.
Here are just a few, taken straight from a great article from Brain Sync:
Write down your thoughts and goals – Writing down affirmations has more permanence than thoughts or spoken words. Writing things down has a way of making things way more real. Get a notebook. Use your notes app. Get a whiteboard. Make your thoughts a real thing.
Visualize your success – a study conducted by the Lerner Research Institute found that mental training significantly enhances a higher activation level in muscles and increases in strength. Visualize the desired outcome in your mind. Not once. Over, and over, and over again. As you continue to do it, your brain will create a “neural net” in your brain, creating new, stronger pathways, and your desired result will manifest sooner than you think.
Take advantage of technology – There are tons of small little reminders you can take advantage of through the power of technology. Once you develop a personal affirmation, record it and listen to it several times. Set a reminder that will appear regularly on your iPhone screen. Set a notification to sound every hour, and repeat your affirmation when you hear the ring. You paid a shitload for that phone, put it to work.
These are just a few practices that you can start implementing today.
Realizing that you can train your brain to promote your everyday unconscious behavior is a huge tool for success and positive thinking.
Step 6: Create a Simple Plan that Cannot Fail
A huge part of giving into fear is the feeling of being overwhelmed. If you are any normal human being on planet earth, you’ve gotten to the point where there were way too many things to do, way too much for any one human to do.
Be conscious of the fact that this happens to everybody. You are far from the first person that has been overwhelmed by the constant stress that life throws at you.
After you come to that realization, chop it up.
No one can do a million things at a time, so why are you allowing yourself to look at your list of goals like you need to do everything at a time?
One step at a time. Starting an online business? Just buy the domain today. Maybe read an article from someone who’s done it before.
Need to get into shape? Eat healthy today. Start with the small weights.
Writing a paper? Open up Microsoft Word and title the document.
Look at you, accomplishing all these things.
There is always one small, easy step in the right direction for you to take.
One step at a time.
Step 7: Start Small and Up the Ante
The key to recalibrating fear in the long run, despite your previous beliefs, is realizing that facing your fears isn’t one huge event – it’s a long, beautiful process.
Most people haven’t even started it, because they don’t even realize what an important facet of growth that it is.
They end up wading in the shallow end of their comfort zone for their entire lives.
It’s a slow adjustment of what you previously thought you feared.
Start small, win those little victories, and you won’t even realize that you’re ready to move on to the next challenge. You’ll eventually look back at things you used to be afraid of like it’s nothing.
What used to be the “deep end” inevitably becomes the shallow end, readying you to face the next challenge.
I remember when I was a kid, I used to be really shy. I absolutely hated it. It was a trait about myself that I was deeply unsatisfied with, and hated it so much that one day I decided enough was enough. I had to change.
Nothing happened at once though. The first step was just making the decision. What came next was just one small victory at a time.
Raising my hand in class to volunteer to answer something.
I mean do you remember doing that when you were a kid? It was (at least for me) the most terrifying thing ever. Every millisecond that my hand floated in the air felt like a hundred years. And that feeling in your chest right before you spat out your answer was like someone set your whole body on fire.
And then I answered it.
And that was that. It was just another question. And slowly, eventually, raising my hand in class just wasn’t a big deal anymore. No feeling in my chest. No anxiety. Even if I was wrong in front of a hundred people.
It kind of just turned into… Who cares?
Then maybe it became giving speeches in front of people. Literally a terrifying, scarring experience at first. And then somehow, I just did it. And then again. And then again.
And then the next step was being able to talk to strangers. Or to ask out pretty girls. Or to stand up for what I believe in when no one else would.
It was a process – a culmination of many small victories. Once you conquer one, you realize how doable it was.
And now people ask me how in the hell I enjoy giving speeches, how it is that I enjoy talking to strangers, how social anxiety is something I never even think twice about.
Now, from the outside, it looks to people like I was born that way – just some social, fearless Zen master who’s unfazed by the crowds.
Let me just tell you from a firsthand account that that is complete bullshit.
I literally was the shyest person on planet earth. But I made a decision, I analyzed it, and I just kept pushing myself to win the small victories.
It’s called growth. It’s a process. It’s life.
Nothing happens at once, and realizing that every step of the way is doable will help you progress naturally.
The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.
If you care enough to make a change about anything, stop procrastinating.
Fear will always be there, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s a tool.
After I learned how to confront fear – the initial gut reactions changed. Drastically.
That paralyzing anxiety and crippling depression – those were kind of just side effects of not learning about what
fear really was. Of not dissecting what it really means to be scared.
It was a weaker, younger version of me giving into these emotions that I would allow myself to feel while I was on autopilot.
Life isn’t really about getting rid of fear. It’s not about becoming fearless, per say.
It’s about winning over one fear, and moving on to the next.
That is literally what growth is.
If at some point you feel like you’re growth is stalling, chances are you’re comfortable. Chances are you’re not facing your fears and giving it a name. Chances are that next fear somehow got to you, and you’ve been waiting on life to give you some perfect moment to take it head on.
But the hard truth is there is no such thing as a perfect moment. There’s right now, and there’s you procrastinating.
Remember that hot feeling in my chest I was talking about in the beginning of this article?
It used to be a warning sign of sorts, telling me to back off and retreat into my comfort zone. Now, it’s an indicator of growth. It gets me excited now.
Don’t procrastinate one more second on hitting your fears head on. Go out there and embrace it and kick life’s ass.
Because once you do, I guarantee you’ll say to yourself:
“I can’t believe it took me so long to do this…
But I’m God damn happy I did it now.”