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Tools for Courage: Two Ways to Better Face Your Fears

Personally, fear is one the main things I struggle with. If I’m off my game, it can usually be traced back to me being afraid of something. Take this blog for example. I put off starting it for over a year because I was afraid and, even after I began, didn’t post more than five posts until a full year after that. Right now, I’m afraid that I don’t have enough time between Jiu Jitsu, teaching summer school, and my blog to do anything effectively.

Being afraid doesn’t feel good, but the thing that really sucks is that eventually, if we want to see the realization of our goals at all, we all have to face our fears.

It’s true that may be able to get away with avoiding them for the mean time. Maybe we rationalize our avoidance, or tell ourselves that we will face the fear later. By doing this we momentarily escape from our fear and regain comfort and peace of mind, but there is an unseen consequence of this behavior. When we avoid facing our fears, we reinforce the habit of shrinking in the face of something we are scared of.

Inevitably, sometime in our lives, something we want will be behind the barrier of fear. That something could be anything, but most likely it will be big – a dream job or opportunity, an amazing idea with potential to change the world, the love of your life. As life would have it, usually, the more we want or need something, the more fear we feel about going after it.

Unfortunately, by then, if we haven’t taken an active role in facing our fears, avoidance will have become our default reaction. How could it not? We’ve been practicing it at every turn. If we don’t hurry up and start practicing, facing our fears will be much harder when it’s time for the big show.

This past week, I re-read one of Sci-Fi’s all time great novels, Dune. In dune, when the characters are faced with mortal danger, there is a prayer they recite. It’s called the Litany Against Fear,and it goes like this:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

Think of mortal danger. The stakes are steep, the life or death of you and your loved ones. What is required of you? Nothing less than everything you can possibly muster; and you must concentrate. A moment’s distraction could cost you and they their lives. That’s what the Litany is about – focus under fire. 

The Litany exposes the true nature of fear. And once we can understand fear for what it is, we can mount a defense against it.

THE NATURE OF FEAR

Fear, in essence, is data. Our bodies and minds are telling us that we are confronting something dangerous or important. It’s a signal that we need to pay attention! Fear is important. Without fear, many of our early ancestors would not have run away from a scary bear or avoided a sketchy cave, and we may not even be here today.

However, in the modern era, there aren’t as many immediate threats to our lives or wellbeing. There is no more bear coming after us (usually), and the things we are afraid of pose no real threat to life or limb, yet our brains are still wired in the same way. But remember, fear is just data. There is no tangible obstacle blocking you from what you want to do – it’s all in your head.

But still the fact remains that we still feel fear, and as such we must find ways to dispel this illusion of the mind.

Two Weapons Against Fears

1. Negative Visualization – Imagine the worst possible outcome.

In, On the Shortness of Life, Seneca advises his readers to:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ” Is this the condition that I feared?”

Tim Ferriss this tactic “negative visualization.” While you don’t have to go as far as Seneca did and live in poverty for a week,  if you find yourself afraid to act because of the possibility of a negative outcome, try to imagine the worst possible result of taking action. While this outcome is probably highly unlikely to happen, it’s still usually not as bad as we thought it could be. At the very least, having an established “bottom” that you can watch out for gives you more peace of mind than endlessly mulling over the possible bad-ends.

2. Habituation

This one is less sex appeal and more grit, but it’s the best way to overcome fear. The truth is, no matter what manner of tips or tactics you employ, you’ll always feel some sort of fear. Being afraid in the face of danger or difficult task is a sign of a healthy psyche. And since you can’t get rid of it, the next best option is to get used to it. Eleanor Roosevelt said to, “do one thing every day that scares you.” In other words, practice.

If you proactively face your fears every time they rear up, you’ll eventually train yourself to react the same way by default. One way you can hack this strategy is to up the intensity (link) of the fears you tackle. By overcoming scarier obstacles, you’ll feel less afraid when come up against lesser ones.

That’s it! As with a lot of the tactics I share with you on this blog, they’re easier said than done. But really, what choice do we have? When we find ourselves separated from the lives we want to live by fear, the only viable option is to face it. Choosing otherwise means that we’re forfeiting what we want – don’t do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Face your fear. What’s the worst that could happen? Chances are, it’s not the end of the world.

Till’ Next Time

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