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American author David J Schwartz once said, “do what you fear and fear disappears”. There’s no shortage of quotes about facing your fears. They’re usually quite clichéd, but we shouldn’t overlook the truth behind the cliché.
Everyone feels fear. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Obviously getting chased by a pack of wolves is going to be scary. In that respect, fear has its place. But when it comes to our modern everyday fears, is there really anything to worry about?
Most people have an extensive list of fears, from snakes and spiders to important client meetings and solo travel. But imagine how much easier life would be without those fears. Here’s how and why you should face your fears.
Why you should do things that scare you
1. You won’t miss out on the party
Great things happen when we step outside our comfort zone. While you can very easily continue life ignoring your fears, you might end up missing out on some fun life-changing experiences as a result.
One of the benefits of facing your fears is the sense of achievement and success you feel when you do it. Research has even shown that fear can become pleasure, as it causes your brain to produce dopamine. The positive reaction you experience when you face your fears will leave you wondering why you didn’t do it sooner.
2. You’ll become stronger
In the wise words of Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
Love it or hate it, the idea behind this is solid. When you lift heavy things, you become stronger. The same goes for facing your fears.
Imagine you have a fear of heights (perhaps you don’t even have to imagine this), if you successfully jump off a five-metre diving board, chances are, you’re not going to be half as scared the second time you do it. Better yet, that three-metre diving board you were originally scared to jump off is going to feel like a piece of cake.
3. You’ll have fewer regrets
This one’s pretty simple. You’ll save a lot of time wondering what might have been if you just do it in the first place. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. This idea is supported by research in Psychology, finding that inaction is regretted more than action in the long run. And remember…fear is temporary, regret lasts forever.
4. Doing things that scare you will get easier every time
Once you’ve conquered your first big fear, you’ve pretty much got the foundations down. Facing your fears can establish confidence, making it easier to take the first step towards conquering your next fear. And the one after that too.
5. You’ll encourage others to face their fears
We’re all constantly looking for guidance from other people on what we should and shouldn’t do. By doing things that scare you, you’ll be setting an example to those around you. Imagine how great it would feel to know that someone conquered their fear because they were following your lead.
How to face your fears
1. Make a list of things that scare you
If you’re not sure how to face your fears, or where to even begin, take some time to note down anything you can think of that scares you. Maybe it’s spiders, or swimming in open water, or joining a circus arts class. Whatever it is, write it down. Once you’ve got your list, rewrite your list in ascending order based on how much it scares you.
2. Start off small
Set yourself the goal of facing one fear a week, starting with the least terrifying prospect, and gradually working your way up to the bigger things. Some fears you might have no problem with, while others you may have to chip away at. Techniques such as deep breathing and finding humour have also been proven to help reduce fear and anxiety.
3. Commit to facing your fears
Telling your family and friends about your plans is a great way to ensure you’re held accountable. You’re much more likely to commit to facing your fears if you know your Grandma is going to be asking about it the next time you see her. By making sure you’re held accountable, it’ll be much harder to give in to the ‘what if’ thoughts. On that note…
4. Ignore the ‘what ifs’
Usually the worst-case scenario is incredibly unlikely to happen to you when you face your fears. Even if it does, the success you feel because you tried is probably going to outweigh the negative outcome (unless your fear has anything to do with snakes).
5. Choose a lucky person to face your fears with you
If you can twist someone’s arm into facing your fears with you, you’ll probably halve the amount of fear you feel. You’ll also be able to hold each other accountable. Generally, everything's better when shared anyway.
To avoid or not to avoid
Whilst it’s definitely easier to avoid your fears, and perfectly acceptable in many cases, avoiding your fears is only going to make them stronger. Going back to the diving board example, avoiding jumping is probably going to feel worse in the long run than the actual jump itself.
Even though jumping off a diving board (probably) isn’t going to change your life, and you can most likely live a fulfilling life without doing it, by facing fears like this you can change your mindset. Then the next time you’re scared to schedule your important client meeting, you can remember the time you "just did it" and jumped off the high platform, and do the same again (metaphorically).
Whatever your fear is, whether it’s a deep-rooted fear of getting on an aeroplane, or something seemingly more superficial like getting a fringe, the likelihood of things going wrong is rarely going to outweigh the potential benefits.
Why should it take years to pluck up the courage to get that fringe? What is the worst that is going to happen if you ask someone out and they say no? And why are you afraid to ask your boss for that pay rise you know you deserve?
Often when we do these things that scare the s#!t out of us, we realise that actually, nothing bad happened. Better yet, there’s a positive outcome. Usually the fear itself is much worse than actually facing it. So why not just skip that part and get on with overcoming your fears?
Next time you feel the fear holding you back from doing something, don’t think about it, and just do it anyway.