The value of facing your fear and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone
Doesn’t fear keep us safe?
People are often encouraged to ‘do the thing that scare you’. But why? Fear is, after all, a natural response that has helped keep humanity safe through the ages. Why should we push ourselves out of our comfort zone?
Fear exists to protect us from harm. It kicks in our fight-flight-freeze response system, releasing stress hormones that elevate our heart rate, heighten our senses, divert blood flow from non-essential functions (like the gut), increase our blood pressure and breathing rate, and flood our skeletal muscles with blood glucose and oxygen.
This all makes us much more successful at life if we’re being chased down by a wild animal, but that’s not a situation most of us encounter on a day to day basis.
In the urbanised world most of us live in, fear doesn’t keep us safe – it most often serves to hold us back and create a cascade of health issues. Our brains can’t tell the difference between fear created by a wild bear, and the fear of:
As residents of today’s world, to make our lives better, we actually need to break through our fear barriers to find the confidence and power waiting on the other side.
“Do the thing you think you cannot do.”
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt:
Fear is a bully. It tells you what to do, and when you obey it, it gains power. However, when you acknowledge what it tells you but do the opposite, you build courage.
“An individual develops courage by doing courageous acts.” Aristotle
So how can you start on that journey of courage?
Think through the worst-case scenario
“Fear is your friend,” says Tim Ferriss in his TED talk. “Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?”
In her 1987 bestseller Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Dr. Susan Jeffers recommends you think through the outcome that makes you most afraid, so that you can then consider how you would deal with it were it to happen. Fear doesn’t ever really go away, it’s probably not healthy if it does. But confronting it is the way to move forward.
Face up to the worst thing that can happen, make a plan for what you’d do in that situation, then see if you think it’s a risk worth taking.
How to get started
The most effective way to eliminate the fears that don’t serve you is to systematically expose yourself to the thing that scares you. Start small and build up your tolerance and confidence as you go.
If your biggest fear is public speaking, speak in front of a small, supportive audience to start with. Taking those baby steps will open up the world to you.
As James Clear says: “a 1% change every day will enable you to be 37 times better by the end of a year.” Imagine what impact incremental but continuous improvement could have on your life.
Fear makes us do the opposite of what’s best for us
As with stress, a certain amount of fear is healthy, even beneficial. The trap fear sets us is that there’s an invisible line between what’s healthy and what isn’t.
The challenge is in determining when to listen to fear, and when to ignore it.
Processing your thoughts out loud or journalling about the fears you encounter can be some of the best ways to explore whether you are being held back by fear or stating a healthy limit.
Getting to know yourself, where your personal boundaries and non-negotiables are, and the ‘why’ of how you choose to live your life will help you work out when fears are serving you.
The more we listen to fear without questioning whether it serves us, the more power it will hold over our lives. Breaking free brings us courage and the confidence that we can try, fail, learn and succeed, but most importantly, survive through it all.
What baby step towards facing a fear will you take in the next week?