I talk a lot about fear. Fear fascinates me because of its power.
We usually think of someone experiencing fear when they are faced with something dangerous, but that is the power of fear. You don’t have to be in any 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 could go wrong.
- People are naturally more pessimistic than optimistic.
This is the result of Amos Tversky’s Loss Aversion Bias, a natural cognitive bias that serves a great purpose in keeping us safe and alive, but it can also result in debilitating fear, anxiety, and nervousness.
What are you really afraid of?
All your fears return to weakness. You are not afraid of pain. You are not afraid to die. You fear what you cannot control.
This is why people fear public speaking more than death.
The speaker is completely vulnerable and has no control over the audience’s reactions. They might think you’re good. They might think you’re stupid. You usually don’t care what they think, but you open yourself up to their judgment. The abuse of this weakness is what you really fear.
Your physical fears are based on this concept.
Regardless of how hardened you are, your worst fear about death is related to facing something inevitable that won’t end right away. It’s not burning, drowning, spiders, snakes, or heights that scare you.
It’s dealing with something that exposes your human weakness in a way that shows how powerless you are.
You are not afraid of public speaking. You are not afraid of death. You are not afraid to talk to strangers or ask someone out. What you really fear is being vulnerable.
You fear it because your weaknesses remind you how insignificant you are in the grand scheme. Logically, you understand that rejection is pointless, shame is temporary, people’s opinions don’t matter, and you must die.
Basically, you fear that your existence is so insignificant that the judgments of others matter. You worry that your life is so fragile that it can be killed by the opinions of others.
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 recognizing this can you be strong. Once you accept that you care what others think and that your life could end at any moment, you will recognize your fears for what they really are. Fears are nothing more than a way for you to reinforce your false wall of security.
You fear that your wall of personal security is not as high or strong as you believe. Instead of testing its structure to systematically discover its weaknesses and strengthen them, you avoid testing the wall.
You know the odds of dying in a plane crash. Instead of exposing your personal security wall to test this truth, you avoid flying. Instead of learning to thrive in your weakness, you hide behind a wall and hope it will protect you when the world judges you.
Your wall is not perfect. You will be tested. Unless you are prepared, you will fail.
3 Pieces of Advice to Help You Face Your Fears
1. Embrace the vulnerability of being human.
Don’t hide. Embrace your weakness.
Recognize that your personal wall is, at best, useless, and at worst, debilitating. Your fear of being weak, worthless, and powerless cannot be completely eradicated. It can only be mitigated and managed.
This process cannot begin until you acknowledge your weakness. Once you admit that you have shortcomings you can correct them.
It is impossible to completely eliminate fear, but it can be reduced to manageable levels.
There are only two roads to this destination: preparation and familiarity.
2. Own the power of preparation.
I was once examined by a sports psychologist and found that I was less anxious during a boxing match than I used to be. My explanation is that I over-prepare so I leave as little uncertainty as possible. Yes, there were doubts, but they were overcome by my preparation.
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 less anxiety than if you haven’t. Preparation means different things for different events, but the idea is the same: honing the necessary skills for your work. The more prepared you are, the less fear you will experience.
3. Know your enemy.
Familiarity is the other fear-reducing agent. If you do something enough times and survive and learn from the mistakes you make along the way, then you stop worrying about doing it.
Continuing the test analogy, this is why the most important practice tests are copies of old professors’ tests. This lets you familiarize yourself with his testing style without incurring the penalty for making a mistake.
That’s why simulators are wonderful training. This is why sparring is so important for boxing. The two feed off each other.
Your familiarity increases with your readiness and vice versa. You feel most prepared when you are most familiar with the upcoming event. It reduces uncertainty. That’s the part we fear; forced to overcome a problem in real time that we have never faced before.
This is the message of fear: there is uncertainty on the horizon, and you must prepare for it, lest you face damage to your body, mind, reputation, or spirit. Heed that signal, and you will overcome your fears.
Ed Latimore is a retired American professional boxer, influencer, and best-selling author. His work focuses on self-improvement and a practical approach to stoic philosophy.
This article was originally published on substack by Ed Latimore. Reprinted with permission from the author.
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