“An individual develops courage by doing courageous acts” — Aristotle
Fear is your brain’s pre-programmed response to something scary. It is completely natural for a spooky thought or image to be imprinted in your head, and make it hard for you to sleep. Small amounts of fear are positive for your health, but when it takes over it can interfere with your peace and happiness. Whether you’re afraid because of a movie, a natural disaster, or even spiders, there are ways of coping.
”Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
The magic happens outside your comfort zone! Well-meaning … is fraught. So what’s the scientific case to be made for doing things that scare you? … “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get … You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me.
I begin writing this post, and then stop. I return to it the next day, only to freeze up again so that I can watch Netflix or get some ice cream or even better to do something “productive” like clean my house or catch up on sleep or read some bullshit book about how if you just think happy thoughts and watch Teletubbies your fear will go away.
I’m engaging in a dance of stupidity, but I feel that I can’t help myself. Why? Because I’m scared. I’m scared because I’ve had a mammoth amount of psychological, cultural and environmental conditioning. I spent my first few decades agonizing over what people thought of me and living a recipe comprised of one part action, five parts hiding, so it’s not hard to see how I ended up giving years of my life to everything except what was most important to me, wondering what I was doing with my life.
I was relinquishing my power repeatedly, day by day, and it felt like there was nothing I could do about it.
I had some great “help” with this growing up. Some of my earliest memories involve being ostracized for living with a disability, wanting to die in the wake of devastating seizures, and fighting periods of debilitating depression.
As a kid, I was too afraid to do anything about it. On the surface, I appeared to be fine, but internally I was a time bomb. My life became a cataclysm of shame. I had periodic successes—moments of authenticity —but I did all I could to hide that from the world. I gave a fuck about everything I didn’t need to give a fuck about and not nearly enough of a fuck about what really mattered.
But not now. I no longer really give a shit about what people think of me, most of the time. But here’s the kicker: I’m not in a position to say this because I’m strong, I can say this with confidence because I’m weak, and I know I’m weak.
Many people ask me how I’ve managed to create a meaningful, “successful” life, despite my losses and the daily physical and neurological challenges I face. My responses are decidedly unsexy: I’ve found power in my vulnerability, strength in my weaknesses, and resilience in my trials. I’ve forced myself to become disciplined and focused, through thousands of hours of tedious, hair-splitting practice, and by intentionally putting myself in uncomfortable, constraining environments.
I speak to people about their struggles all the time, and the most common thread that binds most people’s adversities together is fear: fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of abandonment, and on and on.
One of my biggest issues with the personal development space is that the vast majority of responses to questions surrounding fear are grounded in mindless platitudes. People are told that if they just take responsibility for their fear or tell themselves how awesome they are every morning or follow so-and-so’s seven steps to confidence, their lives will be transformed and they’ll conquer fear forever.
Bullshit. We’ll never conquer fear. It’s literally hardwired into our brains and serves a very important evolutionary purpose. Unfortunately, we also happen to live in an age of rampant loneliness and individualism, which exacerbates the usage of our favorite cocktail of idiocy: platitudes. In so doing, we pathologize fear in a way that’s not entirely dissimilar to how we pathologize grief.
We’re happy to acknowledge people’s fears when they seem to “beat” them, but when people are paralyzed by fear we’re much quicker to ridicule and marginalize them; treating them as if there’s something wrong with their fears. This creates an ethos of humiliation, which is passed down from generation to generation in a cycle of shameful insanity.
This ethos is horrific because it essentially says if you can’t beat your fears, you’re a loser, a coward, or a weakling. You’re not entitled to people’s respect, so piss off. This isn’t just cruel, it’s ridiculous. Why? Because our abandonment of the fearful only exacerbates the fear. And since we’re all afraid, it’s no wonder we’re all beginning every year “resolving” to move beyond our terrors only to come to the end of the year and find that we’re just as scared as we were 12 months prior. I’m not very prescriptive in my writings, because I’d much rather challenge you to think and come to your own conclusions, and the reality is that there aren’t any clear-cut answers to these types of questions.
This is ultimately what leads to our killing our fears. The caveat is that we’ll be killing them for the rest of our lives. And the only way to do that is via action in the face of fear. After all, what is courage if not the decision to take meaningful action when fear is smiling at you? They’re simple, but not easy, so if you want these to have any real effect on your life, you actually have to do them. I’ve radically transformed my life, and I return to them regularly.