Your heart starts racing uncontrollably. Your knees weaken and your stomach sinks. You start to imagine everything that could go wrong. You know this feeling. It’s Fear. Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of separation. Fear is everywhere and we must recognize it exists before we can manage it. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who deal with fear, uncertainty, and risk on a daily basis with added pressure from employees, partners and investors. Ambitious people who choose to walk paths steeped in uncertainty have to learn how to manage fear if they want to go far. The scariest thing about fear is not how it makes us feel, but how it tricks us into denying ourselves the things we want most out of life.
3 Steps to Conquer Fear
Through experience and a little bit of research, I’ve compiled these three steps to conquer fear:
- Understand fear
- Acknowledge fear
- Challenge fear
Fear is just mismanaged imagination. Being afraid involves imagining a negative outcome. There’s some science to this. Without getting too wordy, there’s a part of the brain, the Amygdala, that decides how we respond to perceived threats (Trends in Cognitive Sciences). The Amygdala helped our ancestors survive hostile environments. It’s responsible for the fight or flight response. Our brain and body evolved in the wild, and our ancestors, quite often, just barely got away. Today, the threats have changed. Taxes, tardiness, and thunder threaten us instead of cave-bears and carnivorous kangaroos. Fear objects range from very strange to very common. For example — fear of the dark, fear of heights, fear of gravity, and fear of mirrors.
Fear is biological response to a perceived threat that affects us mentally (imagining every possible worst-case scenario) and physically (rapid heart rate, sweatiness). Understanding that fear is a feeling that invades your conscious mind is the first step toward managing it. It may not always feel like it, but feelings can be managed.
Acknowledging when you are afraid is the next step toward conquering fear. Acknowledging fear means being vulnerable. It will help you recognize your own anxieties and limitations and give you an opportunity to work through them. Denying fear or pretending not to be afraid does not give you an opportunity to work through your fears. Denial is an unconscious retreat from a threat. It’s a very natural response to fear. Rather than trying to squash fear down, try acknowledging fear. This statement has helped me “I am afraid of (blank) and it is a valid fear.”
The only way out is through! We cannot challenge fear unless we’ve understood and acknowledged it first. Remember the Amygdala? It does its work unconsciously. Quite often it chooses “flight” instead of “fight” for us. By understanding fear, and acknowledging it, we can begin to challenge it. The key is to take small steps. At its core, challenging fear allows you to create new ‘memories’ that say “this isn’t so bad.” The fear will always exist. But the idea is to reduce the biological fear response, create a level of comfort and familiarity, and ultimately create a new, better memory.
For example, if you are afraid of rejection, you could challenge yourself to collect NOs. You could start by asking a stranger for the time (8:38 AM). Most likely, you won’t get many NOs. Next you could strike up a conversation with a stranger. See how many people don’t want to talk. Then you could walk into a store and ask for a discount before checking out (try this at Walmart and you’ll definitely get a NO). Then you could go to a bar and ask the most beautiful girl in there for her number (she probably has a boyfriend). The point is, you’ll slowly create a new memory of rejection — it’s not so bad and there’s nothing to be fearful of. You didn’t die. Life goes on.
Contrary to popular belief, fearless does not exists. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the mastery of fear. If we understand fear, acknowledge it and then repeatedly challenge it, we can learn to take control. Learning how to conquer fear is a great way to know ourselves better. It helps us push beyond what we previously thought possible and can fundamentally change the stories that hold us back from being who we really are.