A couple weeks ago, I came face to face with the scariest creature on earth. I was laying in a fortress made of nylon (a tent) in the middle of bear country during breeding season.
But the scariest creature on earth was not a bear – there was no bear. It was my fear taking complete control of my mind. Every time I heard a suspicious noise, my mind turned it into a bear in my head. I laid wide awake all night – ready for fight or flight.
This reaction, while often necessary for our safety, has unwanted side-effects in non-life-threatening situations – like our relationships, business, sports, and more. It starts to show up the moment we set out to change our situation. Fear loves the status quo – it only shows itself with bold, new, boundary-stretching pursuits.
Each time I think about how I want this life to go, I get this feeling: I’m capable of doing something important. I’m capable of making a meaningful impact. I have another gear to give to the world. I call it my thing.
I’m not sure what this thing is, or what to call it. I don’t know what it looks like. But I am sure of this: It’s in there, and if my thing is going to come out into the world, I’m going to need to conquer my fears.
As Steven Pressfield says, I’m an amateur, not yet a pro. So how do the professionals recommend we handle our fear?
1. Follow your fear
My fears are like rudders – they point me this way or that way in life under the surface of my consciousness. They’re what makes option X “impossible” or what keeps option Y from ever crossing my mind.
For that reason, we’d do well to explore our fears.
2. Then ignore it
Fear saves our lives in the jungle, in the streets, and even at the doctor’s office. Fear is one of the most useful emotions you’ve got.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a killer. Anxiety is the false fear that corrupts your life. Anxiety is what happens when you imagine possible negative outcomes instead of embracing the reality of right now. Anxiety is also the reason that organizations overstudy opportunities—and then hesitate to take action until it’s too late. Make a list of the last fifteen things you and your peers were anxious about. How many of them actually occurred? If you had ignored that anxiety, wouldn’t things have gone a lot more smoothly?
“People should certainly ignore fear if it’s irrational. Even if it’s rational and the stake is worth it, it’s still worth proceeding,”
3. Dance with it
The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.
No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?”
Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.
4. Then beat it with action
The enemy of creativity…is fear.
We’re all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.
A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.
What we need to do is say, “What’s the smallest, tiniest thing that I can master and what’s the scariest thing I can do in front of the smallest number of people that can teach me how to dance with the fear?” Once we get good at that, we just realize that it’s not fatal. And it’s not intellectually realize — we’ve lived something that wasn’t fatal. And that idea is what’s so key — because then you can do it a little bit more.