I would like to ask you, do you consider yourself brave? Most people don’t consider themselves as brave. If someone is afraid of something then how he can become fearless? If a man can become fearless then there is nothing that can stop him from achieving whatever he wants. Is there a panacea to become fearless?
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear”jack canfield
We are often told that “conquer your fears”. The problem with such a piece of advice is that it makes you think fear is an enemy. An enemy that stops you from achieving whatever you wish to do or accomplish in your life.
But what if I tell you – fear is the best friend you can have in your life. Fear as a friend can guide you to become fearless of anything you’re afraid of.
Fear is good. The key to becoming fearless is not to turn away from it but to become a friend of it and look it in its eyes.
Alexander the Great and Bucephalus
One of the greatest historical figures that I idolize is Alexander the Great. He may be the very first man and a leader who showed a great sense of courage in human history. Alexander became the king of Macedonia at the age of 19. By the age of 30, he owned an empire that spanned from Greece to India.
But unlike most people think, Alexander’s courage doesn’t come from conquering his fears but by understanding his fears. Here’s a story of Alexander, perhaps apocryphal but very famous.
Once a dealer presented a very elegant horse named Bucephalus to King Phillip who was the father of young Alexander. The King showed some interest in the horse despite its high asking price. The King along with the 9-year-old Alexander watched the horse’s trials. But the horse was found to be unmanageable and it refused anyone to mount him. The King became angry and ordered to take the horse away. But Alexander argued he could tame the horse. For he alone noticed that the horse was afraid of its shadow and moved whenever it appeared on its sideways. Alexander then turned the horse to face the sun. By doing so, the shadow moved from its sides and Alexander was able to mount the horse.
This story indicates Alexander’s understanding of how fear is managed to become fearless. He showed that instead of turning away from the fear of shadow, the horse should be moved against the sun that caused the fear.
As the horse did, most of us turn away or neglect the fear we face in real life. Instead of taking the time to examine our fears we consider it as an enemy and want to resolve the fear as quickly as possible. The truth is fear is not the problem. It is a signal of something else, just as pain is felt when a bone is fractured.
Fear is a Signal
We treat every negative emotion such as depression, the sadness or fear as a bad thing. But all those feelings are nature’s way of protecting us from the unknown.
If you put your hand in the fire, you will feel pain. If you don’t feel any pain, then you may continue to put the hand in the fire and end up burning. Here the pain was signalling the fire.
Yes, pain can feel bad but that doesn’t mean you want to eliminate the pain while your hand is in the fire. But the attitude of many people is to eliminate that pain or any such negative emotions instead of looking into what the pain or fear is signalling.
Such an attitude is the same as taking the fuel gauge out of the dashboard of a car so it doesn’t read empty.
Is Fear a Good Thing?
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”nelson mandela
I won’t say every fear is rational and good. But most common fears are neutral. It’s all about how we channelize our fears. Fear act as an alert signal and it’s up to us to take any action to resolve the problem or to be panic and run away from it.
Fear can be a very powerful ally. In my experience, fear often appeared whenever immediate attention was required from my part. In those situations fear wanted me to focus on that very urgent upcoming matter.
When you consider fear as your friend then it will be at your service, motivating you to prepare for upcoming challenges and be cautious of unknown situations. Whenever I felt fear, it only motivated me to take extreme ownership of whatever I was going to face and prepare for it.
The first time I had to give a public speech at school, I was apprehensive and was afraid of facing the audience. I couldn’t finish the speech and I cried. I still feel nervousness before addressing an audience but I learnt to channelize it to better prepare my speech and deliver it well.
Fear becomes an ally when you fear the right things, knows how to control it, understand, and use the fear.
Not everyone is driven by very pleasant emotions. People who have faced wars, loss of people, abuses, or any other hardships have found to become more resistant to such situations happening later in their lives.
They have somehow learnt to channelize such negative emotions for good use. Because, negative emotions like pain, fear are more powerful and motivating than pleasant emotions.
I have found myself as one such person who positively uses negative emotions. I won’t wake up every day in a very happy and pleasant state. I use my negative emotions as a source of motivation to take action. I’m afraid of the success of this blog but it only motivates me to write more valuable content.
Another example of channelizing fear to good use is found in the fictional character of Bruce Wayne who embodies the batman creature. Bruce Wayne lost his parents in a situation where he was unable to control his fear of bats. But instead of living with that regret, he learnt to channelize his fear and anger to become the batman.
So, if you understand your fears and channelize it in a good way, who knows, you can be a superhero version of yourself!
The Lizard Brain
We often want to do something and the next moment we do something else. We find people who want to wake up early and when the alarm rings they hit the snooze button. Some people want to become fit but they never work out. Some others want to become good at speaking but when the situation asks they are afraid and hide in the masses.
World-famous entrepreneur and thought leader Seth Godin put forward an interesting theory of how a special part of our brain controls our fears and actions. He calls it the lizard brain – a physical part of the brain near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and contradictory behaviours.
It’s funny to find what goes in our brain when we are in an unknown and uncomfortable situation. For example, someone who is afraid of addressing an audience thinks about every worst thing if they are asked to do so. The fears go from people mocking at them, fainting themselves, maintaining a body language, and even dying – all of this just to give a speech!
It’s okay to fear the right things. But fearing about crashing an aeroplane while riding a motorcycle doesn’t make sense. You have to understand that whenever we feel such things, it’s the lizard brain playing with you so that it won’t feel any discomfort.
Duality of Fear
To understand your fear, you should be aware of its dual nature. There is a certain level of truth and ridiculousness to fears.
In the case of a job interview, it’s true that how you perform and present yourself will decide whether you get hired or not. If you fail to do well, then you won’t get hired. Therefore your fear of delivering a good performance has a truth in it.
But there is also a certain degree of ridiculousness that if you’re less afraid, then you may perform well and get hired.
By understanding this dual nature of fear, one can avoid conceding to fear and attain a level of tolerance with it.
Using the Fear
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”Seneca
Tim Ferriss developed an exercise called fear-setting which he argues as way more critical to success than goal-setting. The idea is to make a clear vision of our fears. By visualising the worst-case scenarios in detail you can overcome the paralysis caused by them.
I found that this exercise is simple and at the same time very powerful to be at ease with our fears. This exercise comprises 5 questions. They have to be answered in the exact order to remove the fog around our fears.
- Define all the worst things that can happen if you do what you’re afraid of. Write down all the worst possible results of it. Name a 10 to 20 worst-case scenarios.
- Across each of the worst-cases, write what can you do to prevent it from happening or at least to decrease the likelihood.
- Even if something bad happens, write what can you do to prevent the damage.
- Now that you have clearly defined your fears, look into the benefits that can happen with an attempt or from a partial success.
- In the final part, examine what is the cost of inaction in the long-term. If you don’t confront your fears and don’t take action then what can happen in 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years.
There could be many other models to use the fears, but whatever approach you use, the idea is to think – has anyone in history less intelligent than you gone through those fears. The answer in most cases could be a – “yes”.
If there is one fear that you should keep to yourself, then let it be – Memento Mori. Memento mori is a Latin phrase that translates to the inevitability of death. Most people live as if they are going to live forever. We all are prone to death at any moment in our lives. We often forget that or once again neglect it.
Fear of death can be the most powerful impulse of the spirit. Understanding that you’re not going to live forever can motivate you to accomplish whatever you were afraid of. The worst thing that can happen to someone is death and everything that you’re afraid of comes below it.
The greatest tragedy that can happen to you is waiting for life to happen. As I have said before, you will never be more ready than you are at this moment. If you wait and are afraid of many things, your life will never happen. Whether you’re a college student or a man in the middle ages you are in the perfect moment of life to do whatever you want to do. Ultimately this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. Even if you live as a coward or a brave, you’re dying every day.
So the question is do you live in this precious time you have as a coward or as a brave? Meditate upon memento mori, then you will live the happiest and brave life.
Photo by Stefan Schäfer, Lich