â€œWe have nothing to fear but fear itselfâ€ – Franklin D. Roosevelt
There is a lot of talk on social media that seems to indicate that fear in some form or another is the major hurdle we have to break through to achieve our wildest dreams.
Your biggest fear should be complacency and not fear itself.
Lets take a quick look at the definition of fear:
Fear (n) An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
People will act more strongly to keep from losing $50 than gaining $100 because our fear of loss is more powerful. Once people become successful, fear of loss of success might cause them to try to stick with what they know and stop innovating. But when you are starting out, humans programming to prefer things that are easy is our biggest barrier to success
In the course of a normal day, fear is actually only a small part of hard things: when you line up to start your marathon, step onto stage before a speech, or walk up to a beautiful person and ask them out, you experience a momentary fear of rejection or judgement. This is legitimate because we are social being and if you screw up royally you might become an outcast, harming your ability to survive.
As I was working on my new website the other day and getting increasingly frustrated with the things I didnâ€™t know, I had to keep reminding myself to dig in just a little bit more to solve the problem instead of turning to Facebook or sommelier chore.
I think we like the idea that fear is holding us back because we believe we can just exercise a little bravery or willpower and get over the hump.
Even if we experience fear the first or second time we do something – like when I was learning to give live workshops or moving to a new continent – eventually it becomes part of the tapestry of our regular work.
Imagine if you really were able to experience fear every day – that would mean you are doing something new and bold and unique every day. Pretty soon you would just run out of things that scare you. I think part of the reason that old people are so calm is that they have experienced pretty much everything they were afraid of at some point.
But fear is really a minor player in our ability to achieve success.
As Cal Newport told me about his latest book Deep Work, creating our best work requires concentration and persistence. World renown educator Tom Hoerr told me that teaching his elementary students grit was the greatest factor in determining their success as adults. This determination is the exact opposite of complacency and leads to our best results.
Why are Japanese kids so much better at math than Americans? In some case they have been show to be willing to spend two to 100 times longer working on a problem. Itâ€™s merely their ingrained belief that struggle will lead to eventually better outcomes that lead to their eventual skill.
In the book Becoming Superman, Steven Kotler actually calculated that an ideal activity must be 4% harder than your skill level to put you into a flow state. What this feels like in real life is something that is a little uncomfortable. Stephen Pressfield calls this the resistance in his book the War of Art.
Even big wave surfers who set world records on 75 foot tall waves are not fighting fear. What might seem brave to us is simply them showing up for work – they already have the skills and talent they need to succeed.
President Obama has a plaque on his desk that says “hard things are hard”.
In sports or music, we love to practice the things we are already good at. It is easier to eat a premade dinner than chop all your veggies and make yourself the most delicious stir fry.
Why are the streets of Lower Manhattan so curvy? Because when they were paving the early road of New York, they simply used the existing cow tracks! Why bother doing any city planning?
Resistance is the big reason why I prioritize good sleep and take naps every day – I need to be able to make it through the discomfort of concentrating hard on a project.
When you feel the discomfort of wanting to switch to an easier task, that is when you know you are working on the good stuff. Let the resistance be your guide about what is worthwhile.
The Pomodoro technique has become popular – working hard on something for 20 minute blocks. I think people like this because they know there is a release valve for their effort. Often Iâ€™ll set myself a timer and then get so into the zone on a project that I will completely blow through my stopping time and work for hours.
So stop thinking that you have to beat fear every day. Realize that as a human, your subconscious programming wants to make your life easy, but your highest aspirations can only be achieved through focused effort. Just notice whenever you take the easy way out on your work or your health or your relationship and realize that choice is keeping you from getting where you want to be.
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