“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield
In 2017, I posted for the first time, something real and vulnerable on Instagram. This is what I wrote:
“Ok, so i’ve decited to give this a shot. Documenting and sharing my life on social media (and hopefully bring you some value). This is something that i’ve been thinking about for a while now, and honestly, it’s scary… There are probably different kinds of subconscious fears that is present within me. Not just in this case, but in all kinds of different situations in life… I always hear that the biggest thing that is holding people back, is the fear of what other people might think. If that’s the case, I will not let it hold me back. This one has actually been quite defined by me now, meaning that I can recognize it, and therefore choose to ignore it.
This kind of fear is stupid… I think we all kind of know this, but still, it’s holding us back. My personal advice is this; learn abouth what fears that might be present within you. Keep a journal, write things down. Define why it’s there, and think about what beating the fear can provide for you. Here is an example I wrote in my notes a while back: If the rewards of facing the fear, trumps not doing it, why shouldn’t I do it? What do you think? Is there anything that’s holding you back?
I’m posting this, and then i’m going to bed. I will sleep through my fears, and see how the world reacted on this when I wake up. I already have a feeling that nothing bad will happen.”
I was right in my prediction: nothing bad happened. Before sharing it, I had worried about a negative outcome, but the reality turned out differently. It was a good experience.
At present, because I faced my fear back then, I have less of a problem sharing vulnerable things today. I don’t fear social judgement as much as I did before. And it allows me to live on my own terms. I don’t fear it. I faced it; a lesson I took to the heart.
If you want to overcome your fears as well, then here’s what I learned in detail. Hope it helps:
The Fear of the Unknown
There’s this story about a criminal stealing fish from a barrel. When the police caught him, he exclaimed, “It’s only I’m so hungry.” “Doesn’t matter, a crime’s a crime”, replied the officer, before he continued, “I’ll send you to the king now, where your punishment will be decided.”
At the king’s palace, the criminal got to choose between two punishments: the rope. Or whatever was behind a big, scary iron door. Without hesitation, the criminal said, “I choose the rope.”
As the noose slipped around this neck, he asked, out of curiosity, “What’s behind the iron door?” The king chuckled and replied, “It’s funny, I offer everyone the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope.”
“Well,” said the criminal. “Tell me. What’s behind it?” There was a pause, before the king said, “It’s freedom… but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown they immediately take the rope.”
As this story exemplifies, the unknown is something we’re all afraid of. And indeed, Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton argues the fear of the unknown may be the fundamental fear of all.
This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Because no one knows what exists in the unknown, we need to prepare for the fact that all kinds of threats might be lurking there. And when it comes to survival, it’s better to be on the safe side — inside the realm of the known — than it’s to take unnecessary risks in the unknown.
Fear is something that concerns us all. It creeps up on us, distorts our minds, and stops us from achieving our dreams. Iron Maiden, the legendary heavy metal band, sums it up nicely:
“The unknown troubles on your mind. Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense, and suddenly eyes fix. On dancing shadows from behind. Fear of the dark, fear of the dark. I have constant fear that something is always near. Fear of the dark, fear of the dark. I have a phobia that someone is always there.”
The Other Side of Fear
The things you want is on the other side of fear. And the only way to get them, is through conquering the world outside your comfort zone. As dale Carnegie, the famous author and coach, said:
“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
If you learn how to face your fears on a regular basis, then there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. Success, freedom, love, happiness — they all await you on the other side. Just imagine. Conquer fear, and you will conquer the freedom to live on your terms.
While fear might stand in the way of the things you want, you must realize it’s only temporary. There’s something inside you just waiting to unfold, and you have the power to unleash it.
When the legendary investor Warren Buffett was in college, he avoided courses that required him to speak in front of the class. In the courses that he did take, simply getting up and stating his name made him terrified.
This fear — the fear of public speaking — crippled him for most of his adolescence years. But at twenty-one, when he started his career as a stockbroker, he realized he couldn’t continue being afraid.
In order to reach his highest potential, he knew he had to face his fear. And so, he enrolled in a course on public speaking.
“You have to do it,” Buffett said in a later interview. “And the sooner you do it, the better… If you have a fear of associating with people, you have to go out there and do it, and it’s painful.” But as history played out, Buffett faced his fears and became one of the richest people alive.
Lessons from Psychotherapy
The advice I posted on Instagram wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very good either. You see, what I didn’t know back then, was that it’s not enough to reason with the fear. In order to really beat it, you have to expose yourself to it as well (which I ended up doing when I actually posted my advice).
If there’s one thing from clinical psychology that everyone needs to know, it’s this:
If you confront your fears voluntarily, one step at the time, you’ll eventually learn to overcome them.
This is called exposure therapy, and it works because, well, you expose your fears. First, you expose yourself to them, and then they’ll be exposed for what they are: nothing to be afraid of. Then they lose all their credibility.
More practically, the only way to overcome a fear is to confront the fear and stand in it for a while — without resorting to anything to compensate for it (such as compulsively repeating calming words or pinching yourself). This is how your brain turns the unknown into a known.
The reason it works, is because your brain has to register that everything is ok. It needs to see and experience that nothing bad will happen — irrespectively of what you “tell it”. The part of your brain that processes fear doesn’t understand language, so trying to talk yourself out of it won’t help.
Now, let’s say you want to get rid of a fear of public speaking (this is probably what Buffett learned in his course as well). The way to approach it — and any other type of fear — is by making a detailed plan, involving incremental steps of increasing challenge. Here’s how that might look:
- Step 1: Speak aloud by yourself.
- Step 2: Speak in front of a friend or family member.
- Step 3: Visit a podium, but stand there without speaking.
- Step 4: Speak aloud from the podium, but with no attendances.
- Step 5: Speak from the podium in front of a friend or family member.
- Step 6: Speak in front of a larger audience.
Reaching success lies in pushing yourself just a tiny bit outside your comfort zone — one incremental step at a time. Try to plan so you know you can succeed in the first couple of steps. Make it ridiculously easy, and move on from there.
You can also take as long as you need on each step, and you don’t have to move on before you feel you can handle the one you’re at.
There’s no need to rush; just keep at it. The comfort zone will gradually expand, and you’ll gradually increase your confidence. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
Not Facing Your Fears
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic Philosopher, said,
“It’s not death you should fear, but you should fear never beginning to live.”
We’re all going to die at some point, and we might as well live the best life we’re capable of in the meantime. Although fear can stop us, it doesn’t have to. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen if I did this? What is it that I’m so afraid of? Judgement? Failure? (Success?)
Doing something you’re afraid to do isn’t really the problem. You can learn to overcome it. The problem is not doing something you want to do. That’s the difference between a good and bad life. Just think of how much worse it would be if you never faced your fears.
- Not talking to that girl. What if she’s the most capable of loving you? And you her? Would you take your chances on missing that? Would you rather play it safe than feel slightly uncomfortable during the twenty seconds it takes to talk to her?
- Not achieving your goals. What if you end up doing something you hate, just because you never did what you actually wanted to? Would you forsake your dreams out of fear? And would you really enjoy a life with the safety setting on?
- Not writing that book. Would you let your innermost thoughts die with you? Would you refrain from potentially changing someone’s life through your words? Would you miss out on leaving a legacy?
Truth is, we can’t fulfill our lives if we’re living in a state of fear. And we can’t help other people if we’re living in fear either. In a state of fear, we’re useless. So I ask, are you willing to not face them?
You can learn to overcome them. And you do it by facing them voluntarily.
Want to live a more meaningful life? Get my free PDF here.