How I got free from fear

In which I use dangerously new-agey sounding terms like “reality” and “consciousness” without once giving a sarcastic smirk.

I’m scared, to some degree, almost all the time. Let me rephrase that. Until recently, I was scared almost all the time. Fear’s exit has been so sudden and complete that I haven’t yet gotten into the habit of referring to its presence in the past tense.

You see, my life has been a battle of pushing and pulling with fear. It’s motivated just about every single decision of any magnitude I’ve ever made. I haven’t run from it since I was a small kid, choosing instead to challenge it.

As a result, I’ve done some amazing things. I’ve pushed my body to extremes to excel at things that haven’t come naturally. I’ve taken on huge challenges and risks in diverse fields because I was fighting against a voice that said “you can’t do that, you’re not good enough”.

Through it all, despite some remarkable success and costly failure, the voice never wavered, never faded. There was no sweetness achieving a goal. No rest in victory or waning need in failure. Fear ruled. Constantly. Completely. Fear robbed me of satisfaction and pushed me to take the difficult path, time and again.

My particular brand of fear was a one two punch of fear of failure and fear of not measuring up. Recently, fear had clamped down on my ability to be creative. I was trapped in a loop: I need to be creative in order to do my job, but I can’t be creative if I’m scared. If I don’t do my job, then something horrible will happen, so I need to be creative but I can’t because I’m scared. Sound familiar to anyone?

I’m sharing this with you because I know this is a relatively universal phenomenon. Through reading, thought, and experience, I stumbled on a very easy way to permanently break fear’s grasp. This is a remarkably simple method. I don’t know if it will work for you, but it certainly did work for me.

Step 1: I accepted that my reality is a construct of my perception and beliefs. In other words, my senses take input that is fed through the filter of my experience and belief system, and a model of the world around me is created in my consciousness.

Step 2: I accepted that my beliefs might be wrong. I’m reading “Mind Hacks”:http://www.mindhacks.com/, from O’Reilly. Through it (and a number of other books on neurology and physics), I’ve learned that my beliefs about reality as I perceive it are sometimes flawed.

Step 3: I realized that if my beliefs can be wrong, then my model of reality can also be wrong.

Step 4: I applied this logic to my beliefs about my fear. My fear was based on the belief that if I failed, something horrible would happen (exactly what would happen changed with the subject at hand). Examining this belief in the light of my actual experience, I learned two things: failure is just a step on the way to success, and despite innumerable failures, nothing catastrophic had ever happened to me. My belief about my fear was wrong.

Step 5: I adjusted my view of reality to accommodate this updated belief. There was no magic to this step. I simply accepted what I already knew.

Note that there was no deep soul searching for the root of my fear. God knows I’ve done enough of that to little result. Instead, I objectively looked at the subject of my fear (something horrible happening) and measured it against my experience of reality. Clearly they didn’t measure up, so I adjusted my beliefs and went on about my business.

My constant fear has gone. Totally and immediately. With it went my creative block and tendency towards avoiding difficult or unpleasant tasks. Free of the belief that failure and doom lie just around the corner, I’m able to focus on success on MY terms.

It’s amazing that I made it through 35 years before I realized what was pushing me. I’ve only recently come to realize how pervasive and predominent fear has been in my life. That realization was the turning point to relieving myself of its constant needling.

I credit that realization with the meditating I’ve been doing recently. Meditating doesn’t _feel_ like it should do anything. And yet it’s effects are pronounced and pretty immediate. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve become completely addicted to it. My meditation practice made huge leaps recently with the discovery of “zencast”:http://amberstar.libsyn.com/ via Merlin Mann’s “43Folders”:http://www.43folders.com/. Mediation lessons via podcast; does it get more new age than that? Check it out if you’re interested…

6 thoughts on “How I got free from fear”

  1. Wonderful post, Peter. It’s refreshing and relieving to hear a professional discuss fear-motived success, something we all experience to varying degrees.

    I’m (happily) surprised to hear how easy it was for you to get beyond the fear! When tackling something difficult, do you still get an immediate, visceral reaction of fear, then work through it with logic? Or have you found that the fear no longer comes automatically?

  2. Thanks Michael. To date, the fear’s just gone. I don’t expect it will always be this way – I’ve experienced life’s highs and lows enough to know to never say never. Still, when it does return, I’ll know what to do!

  3. In a lot of ways I’m also still dealing with fear of failure, fear of success, etc, but I’m working through it as well. I think one comforting thing is knowing that other people are going through the same thing, and I’m not alone. So thanks, dude, for sharing how you’re confronting your fears and putting them to rest.

  4. Hi Peter,

    I’ve just found this post on the web and, just in case the fear ever does return, or a variant of it, want to recommend taking a look at http://www.thework.com – this is some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen on picking up emotions and fears and finding the truth behind them – not to change them, just to find out what’s going on – and then they ‘magically’ change anyway.

    With love,

    Jon Willis

    PS Way to go on putting this out – and you’ve reminded me of something else – another way to look at beliefs is to see them as ‘scripts’ – sometimes really useful in one scenario, but totally inaccurate and dangerous in another.

  5. Nicely put…I think this is the hardest yet most rewarding way to practice being a human being…I strongly believe that the amount of balls we have to work out our fears determines the quality of our life. Thank you-Aaron

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