Susan Jeffers described it best in the title of her excellent book: ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’ It’s a simple key: do things that scare you. And don’t wait for the fear to go away before you do it.
‘. . . the old adage of “Just do it.” Unfortunately, there’s no good way around it. It’s just getting out there, it’s doing things that you’re scared of. It’s approaching those situations, facing your fears over and over and over again.’
Professor Ron Rapee, on the ABCs Insight Program.
The benefits? You become invincible. (Well, you feel invincible.) Each time you overcome a fear you significantly add to that feeling that whatever happens in life, you can handle it. Your confidence grows, along with the feeling that you’re resilient.
‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’
Q. ‘Mark, if I am phobic with spiders, you want me to pick up a spider?’
Showering yourself with a bucketful of spiders, or just picking one up, is asking to much. You might traumatise yourself and enhance your phobia. Work up to it. If you feel uncomfortable being in the same room as a photo of spider, but could handle it, start there. With a phobia, you might want to get professional advice. But ultimately, if the phobia is disabling you, working through it slowly will benefit you.
Q. ‘So the message is, if something is safe, but scary, do it despite the fear?’
If you want to do it, yes.
‘Like speeding in a suburban street?’
Not like speeding. Stupidity sours the process. There is a difference between being courageous and being a jerk. In his book, When Anger Scares You, Christopher Kilmartin says, ‘Courage is about what you feel a need to do, whereas bravado is about how you want others to think of you . . .’
Q. ‘I want to try skydiving, but if I can’t bring myself to jump, does it matter?’
On one hand it’s a missed opportunity, because by moving through fear you gain confidence in yourself, and that confidence helps you become proficient in making decisions, and in making the right decisions. Plus, you come to feel safer in the world and that leads to the feeling that we can handle life.
And you will find it easier to trust yourself, and others, because you are less afraid of the outcome.
‘You said “on one hand.” What’s the other?’
If you can’t jump out of that plane it’s no big deal. Don’t criticise yourself. Forget it.
Honestly. There are plenty of other fears to face. Congratulate yourself for at least having a go.
‘Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.’
I once asked a friend why he went to kickboxing classes. He replied, ‘As a kid I always had trouble standing up for myself. If I were bullied I’d back down, trying to convince myself I was being mature, that I was taking the non-violent path. But I knew the truth: I was afraid, and hated myself for it. As I grew older I hoped confidence would come, but it didn’t. If someone picked a fight with me in a pub, or treated me badly, I’d feel the same fear, the same powerlessness. I’d again back down.’
‘So you took up kickboxing?’ I asked him.
‘If you lived a life of cowardice, so would you.’
‘So what happens now when someone in a pub treats you badly?’
‘So far, I’ve only had to back off.’
‘You back off? So, nothing has changed?’
‘Sure it has. Before, I used to back off out of fear. Now I back off, but not out of fear. There’s a difference. I look at the guy and wonder what he must be feeling to be so aggressive. I have no interest in hurting him, and figure I might as well find somewhere else to enjoy myself. I leave the pub in a good mood.’
In overcoming his fear my friend had become compassionate.
‘The more powerful I become, the gentler I am.’
Q. ‘How do I actually jump from a plane if I’m afraid to jump? How does an arachnophobe let a spider run up their arm? How do I ‘just do it?’
Step 1. Label the fear. Say it to yourself or out loud: ‘I’m afraid.’ Don’t waste your time and energy criticising yourself for feeling afraid. Expect to be anxious. Remind yourself that it’s normal and understandable.
Step 2. Don’t wait for the fear to go away. Instead, examine your fear. Ask yourself: ‘What is it precisely that I am afraid of?’
‘Menacing shapes half-glimpsed from the corner of our vision are far more disturbing than the things we can see clearly. That’s why, in horror movies, they always film the monster lurking in the darkness; if they brought it out into broad daylight, it wouldn’t be nearly so scary.’
Dr Russ Harris, in his book, ‘The Happiness Trap.‘
Most of the time, the fear of being unable to handle the situation is the real fear. You don’t fear failing a test; you fear you won’t handle failing the test. You don’t fear an encounter with a spider; you fear you won’t handle the encounter.
The story of the Tibetan mystic, Milarepa: One day his cave was invaded by fearful demons, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get rid of them. Finally he invited them to stay, and at that point they left. Except one, the largest of the demons. Milarepa placed his head in the demon’s mouth, and that demon disappeared too.
Step 3. Ask yourself:
‘Do I need to fear this? ’
‘Assuming the worst happens, will I be able to handle it?’
Step 4. Ask yourself, ‘What would I say to a friend in a similar position?’
Step 5. If you are tempted to change your mind about doing something, ‘for rational reasons’ ask yourself, ‘Would I do it if I were not afraid?’
Step 6. Break the task into little steps, and do one step at a time. As you do each step, breathe deeply to relax your mind and body.
Step 7. Then, while feeling the fear, do it anyway.
If you can’t do it anyway, don’t beat yourself up. Congratulate yourself on having a go, and continue to stretch your boundaries by attempting other scary tasks.
‘Accept fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change. Move ahead despite the pounding in your heart that says: turn back.’