There was a time in my life when I was afraid of my own shadow. I’d jump at any loud noise, never visit a new place alone and not apply for any jobs – even those I was fully qualified for.
There was a time in my life when I was fearless. I’d throw all caution to the wind, get in a car with a perfect stranger, invest all my money in a new business idea without bothering to do any market research first.
I thought I had to become fearless to beat my fear. Turns out, fear and fearless are two sides of the same coin: the fear you don’t need.
The Fear You Need
Fear is one of the basic emotions every human being experiences. Nature has instilled it in us for a reason: to keep us safe.
Without fear, our ancestors would have been mauled to death when they happily walked into a lion’s den, killed jumping from a high mountain or drowned when bathing in tempestuous oceans. No one would have survived to pass on their genes to the next generation.
This kind of fear was useful then and is still useful now. It’s what tells you that walking alone at 3:00 am in a dangerous neighbourhood is a bad idea, keeps you from drink driving and raises red flags when you realise your partner is lying.Fear keeps us from doing a lot of stupid and dangerous things that could get us in trouble - or, worse, killed.
This is the fear you need.
The Fear You Don’t Need
Fear isn’t the smartest tool in the box. It’s not designed to be. Its job is to get you out of there asap. If it made you stop and think in the face of real danger, you wouldn’t survive long.
Problem is, your fear doesn’t know what real danger is. For fear, travelling alone is dangerous. Raising your hand in class to ask a question is dangerous. Deciding to write and publish a book is dangerous.
Your creativity is dangerous. You don’t know if your book will flop, if someone will buy your paintings or how successful your new business will be.
For fear, that’s enough to call it quits before you even start. Fear hates uncertainty. But every outcome is uncertain. Unless you do the very same things you’ve always done, in the very same places and with the very same people, your fear is gonna ring the alarm: danger! Danger! Danger! Get out of here, NOW!To listen to this kind of fear is to never try. To never take any risks. To never thrive.
This is the fear you don’t need.
Fearlessness Isn’t The Answer
Fearlessness isn’t bravery. Fearlessness is stupidity.
Fearlessness, like fear, doesn’t make you stop and think, either. Regardless of whether there’s real danger ahead or not, it keeps you plodding ahead without a safety net.
You may get lucky once. Or twice. But, in the end, taking the fearlessness path ends in tears.[clickToTweet tweet=”We’re so busy thinking of all the things that could go wrong, we never realise inaction is the greatest risk of all.” quote=”We’re so busy thinking of all the things that could go wrong, we never realise inaction is the greatest risk of all.”]
The Healthy Way To Deal With Fear
Fear is gonna show up every time you do something new. You can’t get rid of it. But you can learn how to deal with it. Here’s my 5-step process to overcome the fear you don’t need:
1. Define Your Nightmare, The Worst Possible Case Scenario
Let’s say that you want to quit your job to start your own business. In the worst case scenario, you’d lose all your money, become homeless and die on the streets. Get to the bottom of it. Imagine it as vividly as you can. When I was thinking of moving to London to pursue my dream of being a writer, I was already seeing myself living under a bridge, riddled with fleas and starving to death.
2. Ask Yourself, “Is This Really Going To Happen?”
Your fear plays tricks on you and makes you think the worst case scenario is the only possible scenario. But, stop and think about it for a moment. How likely is that to happen? What are the chances that you will become homeless and lose all your friends if your business fails? Not many, when you think about it rationally. For example, if things hadn’t gone well for me in London, I would simply have moved back in with my parents. My ego would have been a little bruised, but it was far from the death scenario my fear believed would come true. Living under a bridge was never an option.
3. What Steps Can You Take To Avoid The Worst Case Scenario From Happening?
Not everything you do will be a shining success. But, there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate the risks. For example, you can spend more time researching the market to see if people actually want what you’re selling instead of going straight out and making it before you’ve even talked to a single soul. You can invest only a defined amount of savings into your business and set aside the rest to carry you through any rainy days. My first year in London, I lived with a friend, often took the bus and ate noodles out of a cardboard box to stretch my savings until a regular income started rolling in.
4. If The Worst Happened, How Would You Turn Things Around?
Let’s say your business is failing. What can you do to turn things around? Can you do some customer research, figure out what they really want and give it to them? Can you make some structural changes to your business that will cut unnecessary expenses and make you more productive? Shit will happen. Make a contingency plan to deal with it and turn a bad hand into a great opportunity. My contingency plan included returning home and using what I learned during the experience to position myself better to future clients.
5. What Would Happen If You Didn’t Try?
We’re so busy thinking about all the things that could go wrong that we never realise staying put is often the worst thing that can happen to us. Think what your life would be like if you decided to bury your dreams in a box and never give them a chance. If you don’t take action now, where would you be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? If your crystal ball tells you that, in this scenario, you’d become a bitter old woman filled with regret, inaction is the greatest risk you can take.
Think of something you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting off because you’re afraid. Go through the five questions above. Is the fear you need or the fear you don’t need that’s holding you back? Is fear or inaction the greatest risk for you?
I hope this 5-step process will help you recognize the fear you need from the fear you don’t need. When you learn to master the latter, there is no limit to what you can accomplish.
Over to you now. Think of a time in your life when the fear you don’t need kept you playing small. How did you overcome it? If you haven’t yet, what steps can you take to put it back in its place? Share in the comments below.