How to Avoid Being Controlled by Fear

What are you afraid of?  Really think about it.  Now think about whether your fear makes sense.  Are the things you’re afraid of really a threat to you?  The answer is probably no.

Fear was a big part of my life for a long time.  I worried about, well… pretty much everything.  My imagination would come up with terrible scenarios.  Some of it was fear of failure, some of it was fear of the unknown, some of it was simply fear of pain and death.  I spent so much time being afraid that I was missing out on life.  Worse than that I was not happy.

Though my fears were all possible, they were not very likely.  Still, I based many of my choices on their possibility.  I refused to try things if I thought I might fail.  I didn’t do anything that risked injury or death.  I made excuses for not trying new foods or activities.  As a consequence I avoided lots of risks that were really never there.  Fear was holding me back.  I decided that I had to do something about it.

There is no way to kill fear altogether, everyone is afraid. You can learn to fight it however. The first step is to accept that you are afraid of something, and then do it anyway.  If you can acclimate yourself to this, then you are on your way to freedom.

My path began when the starter went out on my truck.  I decided to try to change it myself.  It was a frustrating, dirty, and mildly painful job, but it really wasn’t that hard.  Most of the problem was my own ignorance. When I turned the key, and the engine fired up, the feeling of accomplishment I had was amazing.

A few weeks later I was invited to a friend’s wedding…in Ireland.  I had only been on a plane once before.  I didn’t have a passport.  I had never been outside North America.  My fears told me that I should just send a gift and leave it at that.  Instead I booked a ticket.  Then I saw how cheap it was to fly to other countries once I was already in Europe.  I booked a second ticket to Germany, and ended up spending two weeks with a backpack wandering across five countries, mostly by myself,  before the wedding.

That trip showed me that I was silly to be afraid of the unknown.  Even in places where I didn’t speak the language, I was able to communicate, connect with people, and have a good time.

I got lost a LOT and it didn’t kill me.  There were times when I had no place to stay.  My travel plans were complicated by weather issues and in one case by a transportation strike.  I learned that if I stayed calm and kept an open mind, I could always find a way forward.  I also discovered that no matter where you go in the world, people are just people.  We are all just trying to live our lives in the best way we know how.

I was confused when I got home.  People kept telling me how brave I was to have gone overseas by myself.  It seemed a little ridiculous.  It hadn’t been dangerous at all.

The next year I started studying jujitsu.  I didn’t do it because I wanted to learn to fight.  I signed up to overcome my fear of being choked.  My whole life I had gone into a state of panic when my air was cut off.  Learning how to choke someone, and more importantly to me, how to be choked and defend against it, are among the first things you learn in jujitsu.  To overcome my fear of asphyxiation I intentionally let people choke me…a lot.  It took time, but I eventually learned that I was not going to die.  More importantly I got pretty good at defending myself.

Sometimes I got hurt.  It happens in combat sports.  Being hurt helped me to learn another lesson.  Most of the time, you heal.  Sure there are some permanent injuries, but the human body is a lot more resilient that you would think.  I learned that pain was not going to kill me.

These were the first steps on my journey to break the control fear had over my life.  They showed me the blueprint.

The more fears I confronted and conquered, the more the fears of those around me began to come into to more focus.  I was horrified, not just by the money thrown away on useless fears, but also by the incredible amount of wasted potential.  So many people have it in them to be great; to shape the world.  Far too many let fear keep the best inside them.

Don’t let it happen to you.  Fight it.  Start today.  Do the things you are afraid of.  Learn how shaky their foundations really are.  Then smash them.

Thad
I am addicted to learning about why. From nutrition to neuroscience and philosophy to behavioral economics I am always seeking to understand. When I am not completely immersed in the latest book to catch my eye or practicing Brazilian jujitsu, I am usually cooking for my wonderful wife, playing with my two beautiful kids or out running with one of our dogs.

2 Comments

  1. Thad, this is such a wonderful post. It’s so sad that we spend so much of our lives anchored by ridiculous fears. Like you, I spent a good portion of my life worrying about the “ifs” and as a result I have let a lot of opportunities and experiences pass me by.

    It was very generous of you to share your personal struggle with your fears, and how you slowly started working through them and defeating them. It is so much easier for others to relate when they can compare what you’ve experienced to their own lives.

    Best Wishes ~ Donna

    1. Thanks Donna! I’m glad you liked it. I don’t believe that fear can ever be completely beaten. Every day I run into things that I am afraid of. every day I have to recognize my fear and decide to ignore it and do the right thing. Mostly they are small things, but I have learned that avoiding them is the first step on a path to where I once was and don’t want to be again.

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