“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” Eddie Rickenback
I’m not a fearful sort of person so it always throws me a bit when someone asks, “How do I overcome my fears?” Being “fearless” is more than developing courage. Here’s the quick cure to fear:
1. Get that fear is your friend.
It is there to tell you something and keep you safe from potentially harmful situations. If you are afraid to quit your job because you have a mortgage and a family to support and no savings, well, you should be afraid because to quit would put your family at risk. Eliminate or reduce the fear by keeping your day job and using holiday time to find a new job or start moonlighting in a potential new career or business in the evenings. Ask yourself how you can reduce or eliminate your fears at their source.
2. Fear may simply indicate that you have insufficient financial reserves or need more support.
Let the fear motivate you to start an aggressive savings plan so that you can afford to quit at a moment’s notice (two year’s living expenses socked away alleviates most common fears.) Reserves of time, money, friends, love, community, and health mean that we have more than enough to get us through the rough patches in life. Reserves act as a buffer against the inevitable pitfalls and problems in life and do wonders for reducing fear.
3. Take on a bigger challenge.
If you aren’t experiencing any fear in your life, you need a bigger goal. A little kid might be afraid to go to school the first time, but soon overcomes this fear. If you aren’t doing anything new, different, scary or challenging, you may find life becomes dull and stale. Fear is good sign that you are up to something!
4. Start taking little risks.
On the other hand, if you are too afraid to even get started, set a smaller, easier target and work your way up to the scarier stuff. No point in being so scared you are paralyzed stiff. Build courage as you would start lifting weights. You don’t start off lifting the huge weights, you work up to them gradually. Take small risks and work your way up to the really scary stuff and it won’t be scary by the time you get there. What is one thing you could do today that scares you? Go out to dinner or the movies by yourself. Book a solo trip to a foreign country. Make that difficult call. Confront someone who has offended you. Do that and you’ll be on your way.
5. Make more mistakes.
Often fear is about making mistakes or getting it wrong. What do you have to change so that you can afford to make loads of mistakes and get it wrong a lot? If you have the freedom to err, then life gets a whole lot easier and just becomes a series of experiments—some of which work out better than others. This is the cure for perfectionism as well. Set out to deliberately make some mistakes and see what happens. You’ll notice that you typically survive the experience and may even be delighted to find out that your mistake becomes the next great idea (the famous Post-It Note was thanks to a “failed” glue that wasn’t quite sticky enough).
6. Practice until you are bored.
Let’s say you want to ask your boss for a raise and are too terrified to ask. Try an old trick from professional speakers. Stand in front of a mirror (the bathroom is ideal) and practice. You’ll notice all sorts of stuff, like you have a nervous hand gesture or odd expression. Keep asking for that raise and presenting your case until you are completely confident in front of that mirror and can do it repeatedly without making any odd gestures or nervous tics. Then practice on a friend or family member just to make sure you are getting it right. Successful speakers make it look effortless and easy because they’ve done loads of practice. Everyone practices, even presidents, so why should you deprive yourself of this powerful, but underutilized technique? You should be scared going in cold! That is your fear telling you aren’t fully prepared (see point 1).
7. Minimize your fear.
Sometimes people worry so much about something that they blow it all out of proportion and that brings them to a complete standstill. Although it can be healthy to imagine the worst case scenario and realize that you probably won’t end up being a bag lady homeless on the streets, the problem with that strategy is that you end up focusing on what you don’t want instead of what you do want. We spend far too much time imagining the worst when we really would be better off imagining and visualizing it all turning out exactly how we want.
Sports coaches have long been using the power of positive visualization. In fact, they’ve discovered that mentally picturing yourself shooting that ball through the hoop can be just as effective as practicing on the court. Spend some time picturing what you want to have happen, not the worst case scenario! Imagine your boss nodding his head in agreement while you state your case for why you deserve a raise. You are much more likely to get the end result you want if you’ve visualized it happening. It plants that positive expectation in your mind and when you act as if it has already happened, it is much more likely that it will.
8. We are all afraid.
Most fear comes from cultural conditioning. We have been raised to be cautious. Let’s face it, how many mothers have you heard calling out to their children, as they go off to school, “Take lots of risks today, darling!” Instead you hear, “Be careful!” in a thousand different ways. No one is out there encouraging us to be bold, to take risks, to throw caution to the wind, to experiment, to make mistakes. It is all about being safe, cautious, towing the line, fitting in, not ruffling any feather and of course, getting it right. Heaven forbid that we should fail. So don’t worry, we are all in the same boat, it isn’t just you that is afraid. Once you know everyone is afraid – it all gets easier. The difference is that some people don’t let their fears stop them.
9. Don’t wait for the fear to disappear.
People make the mistake of thinking that one day the fear will go away and then they’ll be ready. The only way to make the fear go away is to do the thing you are afraid of. Just bring the fear along with you for the ride. The more you do this, the easier it gets, but the fear may still be there every time. Every time I do a speaking event, I get nervous and don’t sleep much the night before. I use this nervous energy to prepare and, since I’m not sleeping, I instead visualize the event turning out wonderfully. The great thing about fear is that you get pumped full of adrenaline and don’t need much sleep and get loads of energy. Just make sure you get plenty of rest afterwards to make up for it.
10. Reverse your fear.
Most people are afraid of doing something different or trying something they’ve never done before. Instead of being afraid of doing something, the greater fear should be NOT doing something. Imagine you are on your deathbed looking back at your life. You will be at peace if you tried something and failed because you know that you’ve given it your best shot. You won’t be at peace if you never tried at all. You’ll be left wondering what your life might have been like. The greatest risk is NOT doing it. Far better to do it and fail than never do it at all.