Fear is a powerful human response, as it should be. It is our primal risk management tool; it controls our actions, nervous system, and hormone system to keep us safe. Although fear is a risk management tool, it can also hold us back from challenges, opportunities, and success had from overcoming risks. You can only realize your full potential when you take risks and push yourself to your limits.
There is no doubt there are differences between people in risk tolerance and ability to overcome fear. One’s individual tolerance level for risk is one of the defining things that has separated the great leaders and visionaries in history from the rest of us. It is also, however, what separates those who could have been one of those historical figures, but instead died young, lost their fortunes, or destroyed themself in some other fashion.
If you have interest in realizing your full potential the question becomes, “How do I effectively improve my ability to overcome fear and improve my ability to tolerate risk?” While on the outside this may appear to be a move that increases your personal risk, or potentially risk in supporting your family, it can be managed. Understand that fear is a “primal” risk management tool that employs only your body’s and mind’s perceptions of risk, without utilizing the logical thinking and analysis tools we have developed over time. As you improve your ability to overcome fear and tolerate risk you will have to rely on these logical tools to take an objective look at the risk you are considering. If you are going to short circuit or dampen you natural response to risk, it does need to be replaced with something else. That is unless you wish to end up dead, broke, or derelict as opposed to realizing your full potential.
An example would be not having any level of fear and being challenged to a game of Russian roulette. Without fear you may actually engage in this game. If you employ a little thought, however, you would realize you have one in six chance of death.
There are lots of methods for overcoming fear and even specialists you can consult with. Here are some methods you can be employed to overcome fear on your own. These are organized starting with the easiest to employ, which is also least effective, and ending with hardest to employ, but most effective.
Logical Thought is much like the Russian roulette example above but done in reverse. It is simply using the advanced logical thought and analysis tools to overcome the fear. It does work, proven by people jumping out of airplanes with parachutes. Sure there is still some level of fear, but not enough to keep someone from jumping. as they know the aerodynamics of the parachute will keep them alive. We are reduced to having fear about the chute actually opening or something else going wrong. While it does work, it only works for very specific examples and usually doesn’t stop fear as a whole around that activity.
In this scenario fear is still in place and just working on a number of other levels, reducing ones performance and ability to realize your potential. Fear creates a negative spiral of thought that once initiated consumes your mental capacity, slowing and clouding your mental and physical reactions and your decision-making. This is the “what if” fear spiral. A “what if” is fear about something else going wrong. Sure you’re not afraid the concepts that keep a parachute afloat won’t suddenly work, but other fears such as getting separated from the instructor, the parachute not being packed right, freezing and not pulling the cord, or other visions come into play. Once the “what if” happens, things begin to spiral. What if I don’t complete this project on schedule, then I lose my job, then I can’t make my house payment, and so on. This is how your mind gets consumed. You’re thinking down these paths and not focused on acting to your maximal potential in the present. Not realizing your potential.
Specific Exposure is the next step in overcoming fear. It is simply exposing yourself to that fear or components of that fear repeatedly. This tool is very effective. Generally overcoming a specific fear is much harder than the actual activity that scares you. You may be scarred of speaking in public, but after doing so you realize it was much easier than the actual stress you put yourself under leading up the that event.
A favorite example of mine is that simply overcoming the fear of squatting 1000 lbs. is a harder task than developing the ability to do so. So many things can go wrong that if you walk up to that bar without a complete lack of fear the “what if” spiral will destroy any possibility of you achieving that lift. A mind clear and focused on the task at hand and reacting at optimal speed with confidence is the only way you can pull that lift off. Doubt and “what if” spirals are how fear holds you back. Specific exposure to this environment will allow you to overcome this fear. Again, overcoming the imagined fear is actually harder to achieve than developing the physical strength required.
Random Planned Exposure while an oxymoron in title is an accurate description. You never know where the opportunities for taking risk will be in the future, but you must plan on taking them. This is where overcoming fear becomes a practice, a part of your life.
Just like you never know where that big opportunity or overwhelming challenge will be, or even what it will be, you must be prepared to act at the time it appears. This means you have not had the chance to apply specific exposure techniques, you must be prepared for handling fear of the unknown. To prepare you need to make a practice of finding the things that make you uncomfortable in life and jumping into them. Constantly push yourself into unknown territory as a practice. This is not something that comes naturally, as human nature is to fall into routine. Life moves on and moments of chaos and decision arise, and when this happens don’t take the easy path that allows you not to make a change and fall back into routine.
You must stay in the practice of conquering and living in the unknown. When it comes to a new job are you going to take the job that is going to challenge you or the one you can do with your eyes closed? I can tell you that as an introvert my choice for a career in leadership and human interaction was the best thing I could have done. If you’re afraid of commitment, are you going to run away when you find someone you think may actually be the one for you?
What is that scary opportunity in front of you right now? Stay in the practice of stepping into and walking in the unknown, as this is the path to personal achievement. This is how you discover your limits, what your capable of, and truly who you are.