1. Accept Fear and Embrace It
Fear is natural. We all feel it sometimes, but how we acknowledge it and work with it is what defines us. After recognizing that fear is universal (seriously, everyone is scared of something!), it is also helpful to try to find out just what is causing that fear. Isolating the causes of fear can make the issue seem much smaller and actually absurd!
But we shouldn't just laugh at our worries, we should embrace it! As Susan Jeffers notes in her fantastic book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways, “The fear will never go away as long as [you] continue to grow” (pg. 22). Fear is often a good thing, a sign that you are growing or taking on something new. So seek after it and embrace it!
2. Lean Just Outside of Your Comfort Zone
“The only sure way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it” Susan Jeffers tells us. (Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways, pg. 23). I'm not saying go conquer all of your fears in one go. Not even the bravest people can do that. The key to building up courage is simply to take things one step at a time.
So, if you have a fear of public speaking, don’t try to give a massive presentation to a packed audience right out of the gate. Work up to that until you are comfortable with the thing you once feared. A famous saying goes that “comfort makes cowards of us all.” So don’t let yourself get comfortable!
3. Remind Yourself of the Context
Most people (myself included) get too wrapped up in everyday life that we forget to look at the big picture. Brian Tracey, in his excellent book Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, mentions that “The great spiritual teachers, such as Buddha and Jesus, have emphasized the importance of separating yourself emotionally from the situation (disidentification), in order to regain your calmness and composure.” (Pg. 24)
Compared to the size and history of the universe, we are rather insignificant. While that may sound disheartening, it also means our problems and fears are rather insignificant as well.
One of the biggest fears is the fear of being judged. I would say it’s almost universal in our society. Accepting that criticism is everywhere is the first step to overcome this fear, but honesty is also important. Demand that your friends, family, supervisors, colleagues and subordinates give you honest feedback and give it to them as well.
5. Personal Rules and Practice
Thinking and making decisions can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need to give yourself simple rules to follow in certain situations. For example, one of the best proposed rules I’ve heard and started to use was from Brian Tracey in the book listed above,
“There is a rule that I have learned from experience: Never do or refrain from doing something because you are concerned about what people might think about you. The fact is that nobody is even thinking about you at all.” (Change Your Thinking; Change Your Life, pg. 26)
Rules like this should be automatic and can defeat fears before they even come up. Of course, we have to remember that practice makes perfect (although, as already mentioned, fear never goes away nor should you want it to). Along the way, mistakes are to be expected. In fact, like fear, mikstakes are often signs that we are growing and trying new things. As former IBM CEO Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure.”
And if all else fails, just read this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which I always find helpful:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”