How to Overcome Fear

We live in an age of fear. Terrorist attacks, identity theft and threats of nuclear war rule the headlines. In an age of rapid and discontinuous change, where the only certainty available is that the future is impossible to predict and we are either headed for a glorious utopia of human achievement or nothing short of the apocalypse. Even our personal lives are controlled by fear. With public speaking often being cited as a more prevalent fear than death, and thousands of self-help programs offering to create instant confidence, fear plays an incredibly important role in our lives.

Fear doesn’t operate rationally. Although you are far more likely to die from a falling coconut than a shark, few people are afraid of pina colada. Similarly, terrorist attacks work because they create fear. You are more likely to die from swimming than from a terrorist attack. Few people logically believe that public speaking is actually dangerous.

Not all fear is bad, however. Fear keeps you from doing things that are obviously dangerous, and fear allows you to immediately react to a situation. A fear of poisonous snakes probably kept our ancestors alive. Similarly, fear of getting shot keeps you from grabbing the gun out of a muggers hand.

Some fears help us, some devastate our lives. Some fears are the remnants of an ancestry that needed to be afraid of snakes, tigers and that fellow swinging the bigger club. Other fears have been incorrectly created by our environments that tell us that public speaking is bad, trying new activities isn’t fun and to care way too much what others think of us.

In this article I’d like to discuss how you can build up your courage and tackle those fears which have no logical basis. Being able to overcome minor fears enables you to take intelligent risks where the expected payoff is greater than possible loss. Overcoming fears also builds your internal self-confidence as you express more conscious control over your behavior.

Examine Beliefs

The first step to overcome any fear is to examine the beliefs associated with that fear. Beliefs are the rules we use when evaluated our world. These beliefs tell us how the world works, what we should do in certain situations in order to gain certain results. Beliefs tell us what is good and what is bad. If life is a game, then your beliefs are the rules and your strategy.

It is important to examine beliefs, because many times you aren’t even aware of the beliefs you have that create fear. If you believe that it is rude to start talking to a stranger, but you don’t realize it consciously, a fear of talking to strangers will result. If you believe that trying new activities will be embarrassing, you will fear doing it.

There are a number of ways to uncover the beliefs that are supporting your fears. The important thing is to think of as many beliefs you hold that could possibly be creating the fear. Some ways to uncover these beliefs are:

Journaling – Taking out a piece of paper and writing about your fear, why you fear it and what beliefs you have associated with it is a great way to start. It isn’t the only way, but writing is an excellent method to solve problems.

Behavior – Look at your behavior in this situation. Think of other times you have acted in similar ways and you may find some universal beliefs that connect in all situations. If you get fear when speaking in public you might realize that you get the same feelings and act the same way talking to strangers. This may stem from a belief that people who don’t know you won’t respect your ideas or dislike you.

Meditation –
Reflecting inward to think about the issue can often bring up the answers you need. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting on a hard mat with your legs crossed. I often find taking a solitary walk is an excellent form of meditation. I use the term to describe any period of time where you can carefully reflect without distraction.

Test Beliefs Against Reality

Once you have uncovered the beliefs that are supporting your fear, you need to test them against reality to see if they are actually valid. You wouldn’t have beliefs if you didn’t believe them, so it is important to actually break these beliefs down with new references. If you try to just deceive yourself into thinking you don’t have those old beliefs, you won’t see results. Actually get some experiences where you get the opposite effects your belief predicts.

Usually your fears will keep you from doing major testing of your beliefs. If you are terrified of public speaking, you will probably have a lot of trouble getting in front of an auditorium to see if your fears are justified. Testing simply means giving the fear a small push and see if it wobbles.

If you are afraid of asking someone out on a date, and it is based on a belief that members of the opposite sex aren’t attracted to you, it might be incredibly difficult to actually test by asking someone. A better strategy might be to try and smile or flirt with several people to get some references that don’t meet your expectations set forth by your disempowering belief.

Occasionally you will get experiences that confirm your limiting belief. In these cases you have two options. The first option is simply to get more references. If you speak to a group of five and they quickly dismiss your comments, this reaffirms your belief that public speaking is negative. By doing this several times you may realize that rejection is outweighed by support and your belief will start to fall apart.

The second possibility is that your belief is, in fact, justified. You may try speaking in public several times and get dismissed each time. In this case, you need to move back a step and build up your public speaking skills. Once you have built up your skills in an area you can start to break down the fear. If you are awkward with members of the opposite sex, you may need to improve your social skills before you can break down limiting beliefs. Usually the actual fear is only partially justified and you can work on breaking down the fear and building your skills simultaneously.

Train Progressively

If you want to build up your strength you don’t grab the biggest weight in the gym and try to lift it. Not only are you likely to pull a muscle, but the experience generally isn’t going to give you a workout. Fear works in a very similar way. Trying to conquer your biggest fear without breaking it down usually will just leave you stressed and frustrated.

To break down your fears you need to first take a major fear and split it into different gradients of the same fear. If your fear is public speaking, you may list talking to a stranger as being the lightest fear, whereas speaking in front of a crowd of a thousand people could register as your heaviest fear. Your goal is to lift as much of your fears as you can. So if you can’t speak in front of thirty people, try twenty or fifteen.

Progressive training takes time and it is a lot of work, so it is very easy to get disheartened and give up. The key is to just keep pushing and make small increments. Create a schedule to tackle your fears so you continue to push it even when you don’t want to. When you encounter discouraging situations, you need to focus on recovering from them quickly so you can keep going. I wrote about how to overcome discouragement, here.

Courage Boosters

There are several things you can do to boost your amount of courage and speed up your progressive training:

Get a Mentor or Coach – Find someone who has had the same fears as you and has overcome them. Having a mentor who can push you and give you support is invaluable. Just remember to make the relationship mutually beneficial, and to offer valuable help to the person you want to mentor you.

Get a Group – If you can’t find a mentor or coach, you might want to tackle some of your fears in a group. This way you can use each other for support. It is easier to act confident when you have a group of supporters on your side. Groups like Toastmasters work great for this purpose.

Living the best life possible is fundamentally about asserting conscious control over your life. Without control, you are at the mercy of your environment. Fear is a huge limitation to living consciously. Being able to overcome your fears, so you can have improved confidence, courage and character, is one of the best experiences in the world. Take control of your life and start breaking down your fears.

  • Mama Duck

    Nicely detailed, gradual process. So, does it really work?? 😉 Our list is up as well if you’d like to check it out!!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments, great list too, btw.

  • Northern Girl

    Well thought out list. Toastmasters is an excellent suggestion – worked wonders for me. (Found you through ProBlogger’s Group Writing Project.)

  • Jersey Girl

    Well done…interesting read.

  • cjcm

    Very philosophical indeed….except for the progressive training part which is more down to earth,

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Graham English

    Great words, very thoughtful. My how to is up.

  • Ririran

    Interesting read. Fear can be one of the worst experiences for mankind.

    And prolonged fear can lead to chronic health conditions and chronic health conditions can ultimately lead to a shortened life.

    Fear can be real or imagined. When a bear crosses your path you feel objective (real) fear. If you think there may be a bear waiting for you when you open your door it is an imagined fear (usually).

    So overcoming fear is indeed very important.

    Thank you for your post.

  • selfstarter

    Beliefs are a huge part of fear. Very observant. My beliefs are constantly being challenged. This sometimes forces me adjust my beliefs. Even beyond fear, beliefs effect every aspect of what we consider REAL.

    I just finished Mike Dooleys, Infinite Possibilities (the art of living your dreams). He explains this perfectly.

  • Olivia

    An important list, Scott. I think that learning to overcome our fears is one of the most important life lessons we’re here to learn.

  • Ray Dotson

    Great article, Scott. I think fear is the greatest motivator of all in our lives and probably everyone’s worst demon. Thanks for the tips on getting a handle on it.

  • Milo Riano

    I really like this post especially because I don’t fear much in life and these are added things I could keep in mind.

    I found you at problogger by the way.

    My how to is entitled [URL=”http://miloriano.com/how-to-le…“]How to Let Go and Move On[/URL]:

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

  • Steven Aitchison

    Hi Scott

    Good post. I agree with you about the writing. Writing is a great tool for overcoming fear and a host of other obstacles in life.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Steven.

  • Mahavir

    Really awsome article…has created a new ways to conquer fear for me.

    Thkx very much.

  • Connor

    Well..i’m a kid..and i skateboard..and obviously throwing myself over a 9 set of stairs on a plank of wood is risky and scary buissness..so i was trying to find out how to overcome this fear and just do it so i can progress at my sport..an your article helped me alot.. so thanks for the help =] keep it up.

  • max night

    usually fear of something real that is happening right then or something real you should avoid that could affect you is a very smart fear to have because it could get you away from danger. Imagined fear is silly because it could never happen to you unless it was staring you in the face. NEVER have a fear of death, because it will happen and when you think about it, usually its the fear of having pain when you die that makes people shudder. I think whatever happens afterward will be an excellent adventure to take up on.

  • Scott McClung

    yo max night, what you said just there helped me out on my progression in skateboarding. I mean im good but i can really be afraid of gaps and other obstacles that stand in my way of progressing as a sk8er. I mean why fear death when it will happen some time in my life. i just got to live it up 🙂 may get hurt quite a bit which is scary but its not like im dieing or anything. Oh and good article scott young pretty interesting!

  • Jackie

    Hi there

    I was recently a victim of crime. The last one, has left me totaly unnerved, stressed out and living in fear. I have fallen very ill, where it came to the point that my “system” almost crashed. My doctor has given me a short term relaxation tablet which I need to take for 2 weeks. It seems to help a bit, but my thoughts are driving me crazy. It has become so bad, that I no longer can sleep in my own house by myself, and have been sleeping in the guest room in my in-laws’ house. I have tried everything to overcome my fear, even told myself over and over again, that I am safe with all the security precautions which was installed, but somehow, my brain just does not want to register this information. I am desperate for some help please,

  • Scott Young

    Jackie,

    I haven’t been through your situation so I can’t give specific advice. Here are some things you might want to consider:

    1) Seek professional therapy. Psychology has many different methods for handling fears that may go beyond what you can do yourself.

    2) Practice meditation and breathing exercises. If your thoughts are causing you a lot of anxiety, meditation and breathing exercises might be able to help you control your thinking and internal anxiety levels. This may help you avoid worse episodes of panic as you make a recovery process.

    3) Find meaning in your victimization. Part of the problem may be that you see yourself as a victim. This may be true, but it is a very disempowering meaning to attach to your situation. Try to draw a meaning from this situation that will make you stronger.

    -Scott

  • Kendra

    Hi, I know this isnt ganna fall into the “real” categorie but to me it is REAL fear, im sure you know what Halloween Horror Nights is, where people get paid to dress and get made over and scarey as possible work in a “haunted house” and scare you to death. I HAVE to go and im so scared im ganna get physically sick from being so scared. I have really bad anxiety and im terrified it will kick in at any givin second i am there. So what i wanted to ask what how do i prepare myself enough to relize NONE of its real and overcome my fear of this event?

  • Scott Young

    Kendra,

    The best method would be gradual progression, where you slowly condition yourself. But if you don’t have much time, you might just have to dive right in. Try going with other people and laughing as a way to reduce the stress.

  • sunil

    Dear Scott,
    My dream was to become an actor and i have joined film institute and have acted few Indian films ..but i have a strange feeling while performing , I become very over conscious of what i am doing and the fear of not performing well is always in my mind…and ends up very bad . I have lost my confidence to act. Even when i am standing at crowded bus stand I feel every one is looking at me and this makes me very restricted. I am afraid of speaking in public. …. Please help me to achieve my goal

  • steph

    Hiii… basically i have a really bad phobia of sick .. i have to watch almost everything i eat and it really bugs me..and if i think im gonna be sick i literally cry and i get really nervous … just thinking about it makes me feel sick 🙁 .. i was just wonderinf if anyone has experienced this and has any advice on what to do. If so i woulld really appreciate an email on scolarostephanie@yahoo.com Cheers . x

  • Scott Young

    Steph,

    Hmmmm… Not quite sure what to suggest. I get frustrated when I feel illness coming on, but not in the way you describe. I’d probably start by trying to dissect your feelings to see if you can pinpoint why you have such a strong reaction to potential illness.

    Based on that you could experiment with different methods to help alleviate the problems when you feel illness coming on.

    -Scott

  • mai cafe

    …hear me..i do admit that 1 of my psychological problem is having this fear in me. it’s really devastating because it’s had affecting my studies. let’s just say, we wil be having a demonstration or a presentation report on the class or on our professor. am good at studying the report, but when the day comes for our presentation, am totally block out, and i keep on trembling, i can’t stop my fear. this has been a problem eversince i was a child, i’ve grown up such a shy girl. honestly when it comes to an intense stuation, i caannot relax, i tend to get so irritable, i really worry so much even with simple problems,. i have this friends around me but i don’t want to open it up with them, because it’s kind a wierd to them anyway. i did try but they can’t say anything. even with my family, i just don’t. one reason for these is that i want to find those people who can really understand me. second is that, is my pride, i don’t want to let people think that am such a freak or a loser itself.. am so worried that this fear will coquer my life forever..sometimes i just wanna kill my self…rather than living with this….hey, anyone who could say something pls reply at my email add

  • Scott Young

    mai cafe,

    I can’t offer great advice because I don’t know you or your situation. But if you’re looking to improve your social confidence and public speaking skills, I suggest checking out a Toastmasters club in your area: toastmasters.org

    As for overcoming your general fears, I suggest the same thing I did for myself. Focus on self-improvement. Focus on the ability to eventually improve yourself by working on your habits, beliefs, skills and confidence.

    I’m not sure how much a blog comment can help, but I wish you the best of luck.

    -Scott

  • Eleanor

    Hello. I know this may sound like a ridiculous fear, but I’m scared of video tapes and audio cassettes. I’ve feared them for 7 years now, and it’s completely taking over my life. I’m a student at school, so I often have to watch educational videos and I’m terrified of them – I usually feel physically sick. Today I was watching one in English and it went very fuzzy for a few seconds and was very grey and jumpy. It started working again after a few seconds, but I felt so faint after that, I had to get my friend to take me out of class and get me some fresh air. I didn’t tell her it was because of the video, I just made up something about not feeling very well. I was violently shaking and I felt sick. I’ve never told anybody about this fear, and I don’t think I have the guts too in real life. I have to watch the same video on Monday (4 days away), and I am completely terrified. Most days I dread because I know I might have to watch a video or listen to a cassette, and the thought just terrifies me. Can anybody please offer me help??

  • Scott Young

    Eleanor,

    If your phobia is a real problem, I suggest seeing a therapist. Otherwise, the only solution I know of is to slowly condition yourself to be comfortable with video tapes. Start with mild exposure (holding a cassette) and slowly training yourself up until you can watch a full tape.

    Best of luck.

    -Scott

  • Dan

    Thanks! What a Great Article!

  • ajay

    its really useful than you for those ideas

  • sanmani

    hi scott,

    i am just getting scared of living the life its way…donno what happens next minute donno whether the next minute would be according to my expectation or not….life is getting scared scott please give me a helping hand in over coming this fear…
    i dint know whom to tell regarding my fear…by google came across your blog…please help me over come this fear

    regards
    sanmani

  • Liza

    I am scared of a lot of things but i think my greastest fear is living a funnless and lonely life, i’m so lonely. I need to know if it is possible to have a life that is intresting and fun but my fears are weighing me down. Ok i laugh make people laugh and peop.e i relate with won’t believe this but my life is too bland for me. I need schanleges and people friends. Mostly i need help to overcome my fears. Thanks.

  • P_jay

    I have fear every day and its constantly growing,I hate it.A couple of months ago some guys got over the fence and broke into the car.Usually you think these things happen to other people,then you get reminded it can happen to you.Now I am frightened sometimes,and get weak,but I try to face even if it means I might get hurt.I cant sleep at night,I stay awake til 5a.m just waiting,listening.Just last night I heard a woman get robbed a street or two,I really wanted to help her.I dont like it when planes fly over the house,thinking they might fall,I try as much as possible not to get into a car cause am afraid an accident might occur.Once I was at a traffic and a container fell off a truck and was heading downhill towards us,its lucky it stopped a few feet away,but thats after crashing a few other cars.I have been through explosions,once we were through for up to 4 hours bombings non stop.I walk like a normal person,but I know its eating into me.I find comfort when I pray,the belief of a watchful overbeing helps calm me down,and once or twice I actually accept that I dont know what might happen just the next second…and I hate that loss of certainty,it just started this year.I have no fear of pain,i have accepted (God forbid) that in a fight you might get hurt,but I am working on programming my mind to persevere if (again,God forbid) I get into something that meant it might get fatal otherwise.I hate this…the police is unresponsive and weak,it sucks.

  • Calgary Listings

    I have this fear of loosing my family. I know that this would happen anytime, but i am afraid of it. Don’t know if i would overcome. But thanks for sharing your ideas. It helps me a lot on how to overcome with it.

  • genevieve

    I’m doing a science project on whether fears change with change or not, and if so how. I found your website very helpful. I have a few questions such as: why do peoples fear change with age? Which age group has the most fears? why do people become afraid?
    Thanks alot!

  • Shannah Ybarra

    I have this fear of tiny holes and cracks also known as trypophobia. Just the thought of like cracked screens ; enlarged pores ; ect make me ITCHY. I recently was in school and I had my ipod and I drpped it on a concrete floor. It shattered and now just at the thought of it, it drives me mad! How do I overcome this fear?

  • Jenny

    I am absolutely scared of small flies flying in clusters. I feel like something is turning inside my body.

    Once, a fly went into my eyes, and I was so terrified. Then it went through my nose, mouth, ears.. everywhere!
    Now, I;m just scared of seeing them.

    Whenever I have to do household chores, I get so scared and my legs get wobbly and all…

    I really do need a help. i can even go outside now.

    First it was just a small cluster of flies, now I’m even scared of big bees, not in clusters.

    At first, I thought it was trypophobia, but I’m not scared of holes, or dots in clusters. It’s just when I those dots move or get bigger.

    Help me!!!

  • Dave Bosworth

    Great you sound practical and very helpful here thanks for taking the time to do this

  • scott

    I like what you have to say and I cant wait to tri these methods thank you

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