Remember the fear that kept you from jumping off the high dive as a kid? I mean the kind of fear that makes you dread speaking in public or asking for a raise.
Everybody experiences this type of fear, but some handle it better than others.
Many people allow fear to paralyze them and keep them from the doing things they want to do. Lucky for us, we have the ability to defy fear, we call this courage.
Bravery is not fearlessness. Courage is resolve in spite of fear. I like the way Ned Stark says it in Game of Thrones:
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
Think of courage as fear management. Brave people are just better at handling their fear. You can learn to manage your fear through determination and practice.
Here is what I mean.
Take Your Thoughts Captive
The best way to keep your fear from “running away with you” is to shut it down as soon as possible. This means rejecting thoughts about your fear.
Fear feeds on itself. Think of fear as a snowball, the more you think about it the more power it will have over you. People who succumb to their fear imagine worst case scenarios until they find themselves crippled.
Take ownership of your own thoughts, chose where your mind goes. Like a diet of the mind, be selective with your mental images.
For example, on a recent trip to the Caribbean, I was forced to control one of my deepest fears, sharks.
The first time I got in the water, I was terrified. There hadn’t been a shark attack in that area in years, but my fear didn’t care. I did my best to hide my fear (be the viking) but it was all I could think about. I was constantly looking over one shoulder, scanning for that dreaded fin, the Jaws theme on repeat in my head. The more I thought about sharks the more afraid I became, until finally I swam back to the boat as casually as I could manage.
I sat there with my feet dangling and a decision to make. Would I let this fear ruin my entire trip?
No. That can’t be the answer.
So I returned to the water and banished all thoughts of sharks from my mind. There was never any danger any way, it was all in my head. So every time fear started poking at the edges of my consciousness I focused on something else with all my might. I took absolute control over my thoughts and pointed them in the directions I wanted them to go, denying my fear the fuel it needed.
Train the Courage Muscle
Courage is a muscle; use makes it stronger while disuse makes it weaker. You can train your mind to conquer specific fears with practice.
Think of it like your running workouts. How do you get better at running? You run a lot, incrementally increasing speed and distance.
I used this technique with my fear of heights. With my current occupation in the army, I deal with heights all the time. We rappel down cliffs, dangle off helicopters, and jump out of airplanes.
As a kid, I was super scared of heights.
When I recognized this fear was incompatible with my dream job, I started looking for ways to face it. I would sit on the roof. I would go rock climbing. I would climb trees. Anything that would stretch and strengthen the part of my mind that stifled my fear of heights.
The fear has never gone away, but I don’t let it limit me like it used to.
Another example would be public speaking. John Michael wants to be better at talking to large crowds but gets nervous every time.
How does he get better at facing this fear?
He pushes himself and makes himself seek out that discomfort (embrace the suck). By progressively facing his fear, he is building his courage over time.
Everybody has different fears.
Take a moment to identify a fear you have, it could be anything from traveling to tight spaces.
How could you work towards conquering that fear? Will you manage your fear, or become a slave to it?