The Power of Facing Your Fears

You’ll often hear various people say “anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and also “do something every day that scares you.” I’m on board with these ideas. In fact, I believe there’s great value in the experiences you gain from working through troubles and surviving difficulties.

It all boils down to the power of facing your fears.

But of course, that’s easier said than done. After all, your fears exist primarily to warn you of danger and keep you from harm. Although we live in today’s relatively safe and better controlled world (saber tooth tigers are extinct!), many of our fears are wildly generic – like a fear of darkness or of spiders. What’s more, many of them originated from personal experiences that once legitimately scared us because we were younger and far less capable than we are now.

Metaphorically, I think some of my fears fit the same mold as my high school building: they both feel much smaller now than when I was younger. I also think some of my fears are like bullies: they seem scary and try to intimidate, but if I refuse to wilt, many of my fears show themselves far less powerful than they originally seemed.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a series of three tasks that – for some reason – prompted me to feel an unusually strong fear of even attempting them. I waffled for a few days, of course, but ultimately I took them on. They proved surprisingly easy, and today I feel very satisfied having them done and dusted.

The same could happen for you.

Here are some ideas to help you try facing your fears:

Center, and Focus on Your Breath

Your ability to think and do is greatly influenced by your state of relative tension or relaxation. Generally speaking, the greater your tension, the lower your performance. This is important because fear triggers extra reluctance to attempt a task, project, or goal, and often creates enough tension and anxiety to compromise your odds of success.

Centering yourself by focusing on your breath, and thereby paying less attention to external factors, helps you reduce your tension and anxiety, making it easier to try whatever you’re afraid of, and also more likely you’ll do well at the relevant task, project, or goal.

Recognize Yourself in Others

Not all your fears involve other people, but when they do, it’s helpful to recognize the many bonds and similarities between you. Despite differences in some of the details, remember:

  • Whatever uncertainties you’re facing, they have faced uncertainties, too,
  • Whatever doubts you have, they have faced doubts, too
  • However fearful you feel, they have faced fears, too.

Acknowledging these bonds and similarities is helpful even when people are not central to the specific fear you’re trying to face: knowing other people have faced the same fear – and overcome it – is often comforting. After all, if others before you have successfully trod this path, it’s reasonable to expect you can make it through, too.

Take it Easy

Here is a performance-related piece of advice I gleaned from the first time I went to an automobile race: I remember being shocked at the drivers’ behavior. As soon as they went out on the track, they immediately started going super-fast. I had thought they’d ease into the higher speeds, as I would have, more gradually.

But then I realized I’d naturally feel very afraid to drive 300 kilometers per hour, while these professionals had long ago overcome any such fear.

My advice is this: when facing your fears, you have good reason to start slowly, take small steps, and ease into the action. Later, as you gain competence and confidence, you may feel ready to behave more boldly. But the first time walking out on a tightrope, or scaling a rocky cliff, or delivering a public presentation, or tackling a daunting challenge, it’s perfectly understandable for you to take it easy.

Act Confident and Happy

There’s growing evidence that “fake it until you make it” can be very helpful in many areas of your work and your life, particularly where confidence and emotion matter.

Psychologists are uncovering evidence that smiling can help make you happy, for example, and that showing confidence in a difficult situation can help you better cope with it.

This phenomenon might be another aspect of the Placebo Effect: the proven tendency for 30-50% of people to respond to an inactive pill with just as much improvement as those who receive a pill with a proven, helpful medicine.

No one knows why, but this Placebo effect works. In somewhat the same way, acting confident and happy seems to help reduce some fears.

Accept Failure

Another boost to your willingness to face your fears may come from the simple acceptance of failure.

Consider stories like:

Let’s face it: From a certain point of view, there’s an undeniable beauty and satisfaction in attempting a totally futile and stupid gesture, even though it’s likely to fail.

But all that aside, failure is entirely commonplace. In fact, failure is a lot more common than success. In sports, in business, in creative efforts, in love, in everyday activities and elsewhere, we all fail lots of times at lots of tasks, projects, and goals. So what’s the big deal about failure?

And here’s another important angle on this matter: with your current and growing skills, knowledge, experience, and talent, these days you can probably face some of your fears with a really good chance of prevailing over them. When you do, you’ll gain significant benefits, including: extra confidence, enhanced capabilities, and a longer, stronger track record of productivity and success.

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