I talk a lot about fear. Fear fascinates me because of its power.
We usually think of a person experiencing fear when faced with something dangerous, but that is the power of fear. You don’t have to be in real danger for your nervous system to act like you are.
What you need to know about fear:
- Your mind is stronger than fear.
- Everything you fear is worse in your imagination than reality.
- We tend to focus on what is missing and what can go wrong.
- Humans are naturally more pessimistic than optimistic.
This is a result of Amos Tversky’s Loss Aversion Bias, a natural cognitive bias that has the great purpose of keeping us safe and alive, but can also lead to debilitating fear, anxiety, and dread.
What are you really afraid of?
All your fears come back to vulnerability. You are not afraid of pain. You are not afraid of death. You fear what you cannot control.
This is why people fear public speaking more than death.
The speaker is completely vulnerable and cannot control the reactions of the audience. Maybe they think you’re brilliant. Maybe they think you’re stupid. Normally you don’t care what they think, but you’ve opened yourself up to their judgment. Abusing this vulnerability is what you really fear.
Your physical fears are based on this perception.
No matter how tough you are, your worst fears about death are about facing an inevitability that won’t end quickly. Its burning, drowning, spiders, snakes or heights don’t scare you.
It’s facing something that exposes human vulnerability in a way that shows how powerless you really are.
You are not afraid of public speaking. You are not afraid of death. You’re not afraid to talk to strangers or ask someone out. What you’re really afraid of is vulnerability.
You fear this because your vulnerabilities remind you of how worthless you are in the grand scheme of things. Logically, you understand that rejection is meaningless, humiliation is temporary, people’s opinions don’t matter, and you must die.
Viscerally, you fear that your existence is worth so little that the judgments of others matter. You worry that your life is so fragile that the opinions of others can extinguish it.
The only way to free yourself from fear
The only way to free yourself from fear is to accept that you are weak.
Image credit: EpicStockMedia
Only by acknowledging this can you become strong. When you accept that you care about what other people think and that your life could end at any time, you recognize your fears for what they really are. Fears are nothing but a way to strengthen your false security wall.
You fear that your personal security wall is not as high or strong as you think. Instead of testing its structure so that you can systematically find its weaknesses and strengthen them, you avoid putting the wall to the test.
You know the probability of dying in a plane crash. Instead of exposing your personal firewall to test this fact, you avoid flying. Instead of learning to thrive in your vulnerability, you hide behind a wall and hope it will protect you when the world judges you.
Your wall is not perfect. You are being tested. If you are not ready, you will fail.
3 tips to help you face your fears
1. Accept the frailty of being human.
Don’t hide. Accept your weaknesses.
Realize that your personal wall is useless at best and debilitating at worst. Your fear of being vulnerable, worthless, and powerless cannot be completely eradicated. It can only be mitigated and managed.
This process cannot begin until you acknowledge your weakness. Only when you admit your flaws can you fix them.
It is impossible to completely eliminate fear, but it can be reduced to a manageable level.
There are only two ways to this destination: preparation and familiarization.
2. Own the power of preparation.
I was once evaluated by a sports psychologist and noticed that I am less anxious during a boxing match than before. The explanation was that I prepared too much, so I leave as little uncertainty as possible. Yes, there are doubts, but my preparation outweighs them.
Fear is a sign that something needs to be prepared.
It’s like an exam. If you’ve studied and know the material, you’ll have much less anxiety than if you haven’t yet. Preparation means different things for different events, but the idea is the same: honing the skills needed for the task. The more prepared you are, the less fear you will experience.
3. Know your enemy.
Familiarity is another factor that reduces fear. If you do something enough times to survive and learn from the mistakes you make along the way, you’ll stop feeling anxious about doing it.
Continuing the exam analogy, that’s why the most valuable practice exams are copies of the professor’s old exams. They allow you to familiarize yourself with his testing style without the consequences of making a mistake.
That’s why simulators are great training. This is why sparring is so valuable in boxing. Both feed each other.
Your familiarity increases with your readiness and vice versa. You feel most prepared when you are most familiar with the upcoming event. This reduces uncertainty. That’s the part we fear; we have to overcome in real time a problem that we have never faced before.
This is a message of fear: there is uncertainty on the horizon, and you must prepare yourself to avoid harm to your body, mind, reputation, or spirit. Heed this sign and you will master your fear.
Ed Latimore is a retired American professional boxer, influencer and bestselling author. His work focuses on self-improvement and a practical approach to Stoic philosophy.
This article was originally published in Ed Latimore’s substack. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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