The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear– fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable.Â What he wants above everything else is safety. –Henry Louis Mencken
Fear is probably the most common factor in stagnation of the self.Â It can be paralysing, long-lasting and will ultimately hold you back from doing what you want to do with your life.Â Pushing through your fears can open doors that once seemed permanently closed.
And yet, conquering your fears can be the most difficult thing you’ll ever face.Â So how do you do it?Â How do you gain access to what you want by working through your fears?
There’s no secret to conquering your fears
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no secret to conquering your fears.Â There’s no magical key, no trick to eliminating fears quickly and painlessly.Â However, there are ways of getting through fear– getting around it and getting through it.Â The methods in this article are very akin to ripping off a bandaid (Or for the women reading, ripping off a wax strip.) in that they are relatively quick fixes, but that they hurt like hell.
The first step to eliminating fear is to recognize when you have a fear of something.Â Some fears are very obvious.Â A fear of spiders for instance is an easily recognizable fear.Â It doesn’t take much observation to realize that you are afraid of spiders if you are.Â You see a spider, you feel the fear in your chest, you realize that you are afraid of spiders.Â Simple, right?
Unfortunately not all fear is so straight forward.Â Although fear serves us genetically for purposes of survival, in this day and age it has become much more of a prohibitive device than a useful one.Â Fear will keep you looking both ways when you cross the street, or make you run when someone intends to hurt you; but it will also do things like keep you from ever committing in a relationship due to the fear of being ‘locked in’.
I’m going to use the example of fear of commitment as an example of harmful fear because it’s an easy one to demonstrate and it’s fairly common.
Let’s say you date fairly often.Â Your relationships don’t really last longer than a few months and usually your first fight is also your last.Â Â Within a month of beginning a relationship you find innumerable faults in your prospective partner.Â You find it difficult to see the good in people that you date, and you usually have a wandering eye if your relationship makes it to month three.Â As soon as the relationship starts to get exclusive, or there’s talk of any long term plans, you immediately want out.
These can be signs of a fear of commitment.Â When you’re actually experiencing them, it can be hard to associate what your feeling with something more abstract like a fear of commitment, but nonetheless the signs are there.Â Â You could potentially go on for years without realizing that you are really scared of commitment.Â The entire time, you’re thinking to yourself: I just can’t seem to find anyone I want to settle down with.Â There’s just no one good out there.
I’ve met countless people who figured that there was just no one worth it out there to settle down with.Â There was always one imperfection too many in anyone they dated.
Now, don’t let me get ahead of myself.Â Those ‘symptoms’ if you will, are not always a sign of a fear of commitment.Â Sometimes you just have a string of bad luck with people, sometimes you just really haven’t met the right person for you.Â It happens.Â It took me twenty-one years to find the person I belong with.Â But when she came around, I had no qualms about commiting myself to the relationship.
So, the need inevitably arises to verify that you are actually experiencing a fear and not just having a lot of bad luck.Â There’s only one way to do this, and it’s pretty simple.
Ask yourself if you’re afraid
If there’s an area of your life you feel might be affected by an unknown fear, or you have an inkling that you might be afraid of something– like commitment– but you’re not sure if you’re actually afraid or not, do the following:
Sit by yourself for ten minutes.Â Turn off the T.V., the radio, turn off any music or noise.Â Shut yourself off from outside influences as if you were about to meditate.Â Once you’ve had some time to your thoughts, ask yourself if you are afraid of what you suspect you might be.
An easy way to ‘ask yourself’ without actually asking is to imagine yourself in the scenario you believe you might be afraid of encountering.Â In the case of being afraid to be commited, imagine yourself in a long term relationship.Â Imagine yourself married and commited, with no others on your dating radar.Â Imagine spending the rest of your life with someone.
You’ll know pretty quickly whether or not you’re afraid of commitment.Â If you immediately recoil to the thought, it’s a sure sign that you are scared of the outcome you just imagined.Â After all, what could be wrong with your imaginary partner?Â They’re everything you could possibly imagine!
If you’re okay with the image and don’t have any problem imagining yourself in that situation, then it’s probably not fear that you’re dealing with.Â You’ll know the difference.
If it is fear you’re dealing with, congratulations.Â You’ve saved yourself a potential life-time of avoidance.Â Now that you know your fear you can begin to work through it.
Turning fear into confidence
This is the hard part of conquering your fears.Â The old axiom of facing your fears is an old axiom for a reason.Â Facing your fear head on and doing whatever it is that you’re so terrified to do is the only way you will ever surpass the limitations your fears have placed upon you.
Some things are easy to face.Â Afraid of spiders?Â Watch a bunch of spider related youtube videos in High Definition.Â If you’re anything like most arachnaphobes, this will probably be incredibly difficult for you at first.Â Your skin will crawl, you’ll cringe and you’ll be dying to look away, but that’s just the fear talking.Â It’s irrational.Â You’ve got to watch if you want to get over it.
It’s important to start small, especially if your fear is a large fear.Â If spiders are simply the most terrifying thing on the planet to you, then reading about spiders before watching any videos might be your best bet at first.Â Then move on to still images, then to videos, and from there to live spiders.Â You’re going to have to push yourself to move from one area of exposure to the next, and each step will push you a little further towards the root of your fear.
An easy way to know when you’re ready to move to the next level of exposure is when you’re comfortable with your current level.Â If you find yourself sitting at one level of exposure for too long, it’s probably time to move onto the next one.Â It’s very natural to avoid that which you are afraid of, so don’t be surprised if it happens to you.Â Once you realize that you’ve been procrastinating, move onto the next stage.Â Don’t beat yourself up about getting stuck at one stage or another.Â It’s completely normal, and you are (As are we all.) only human.
While it’s possible, and certainly faster to simply start with a live spider placed on your hand, if spiders are your greatest fear on the planet, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to be able to do anything except flail wildly and scream until your throat is raw.Â Know your limits, and try to push a little bit past them with each attempt.Â Conquering small fears might take you only a day, whereas the really massive fears can take upwards of a month.
However the transformation that takes place in yourself after only a few hours of facing your fears is simply incredible.Â You’ll find yourself doing things in your pursuit to end fear that a mere week ago would have stopped you dead in your tracks.Â When you’re finally able to look at that spider and not so much as flinch, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.
My fear of spiders isn’t hurting anyone, and it doesn’t bother me.Â So why should I bother tormenting myself to be rid of my phobia?
The short answer is that if it isn’t worth it to you, then don’t bother.Â If you’re okay with jumping up on the highest piece of furniture available everytime a spider one-one-millionth the size of you decides to walk by, so be it.
But there are other fears, like the fear of failure that can be so strong that they simply dictate your entire life.Â Fear of failure in particular will ensure that you never start a business, it will ensure that you rarely if ever take risks, that you rarely ask anyone out on a date, that you never undertake projects that stretch your limits.Â In short, a fear of failure is a fear of growth.Â The fear of failure is so strong in so many of us due to the formal education process that it destroys any chance we have of following our pasions and seeing their realization within our lifetime.
That’s the kind of fear you would want to be rid of, right?Â Right.Â But the only way past it is to fail.Â Keep failing, and keep learning.Â Realize that every failure is a success because you learned what not to do.Â The only way to improve is to fail.Â To face your fear.
Don’t wait to face your fears.Â Every moment you have those big, monstrous fears looming over you is a moment you could have spent enjoying the treasures that lay just beyond them.Â Start small, but start today.Â Start right now.Â Identify a small fear and face it.Â The benefits you reap will last a life time, and the discomfort you will experience will be a mere second in comparison.