When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
A few weeks ago a professional ultra-marathoner, Anton Krupicka, was in town for a screening of a film about him. As part of that he was also doing a group run with the local Seattle Running Club where anyone was invited to join. My friend forwarded me the invitation since she knew I admired him and immediately my inner voice of fear started to show up.
“What if you can’t keep up?”
“What if they don’t want you there?”
“What if you say something embarrassing?”
A million statements like those over the years have had a real inhibition on things I wanted to do but talked myself out of in life. Luckily over the past several years I’ve gotten ahead of this and that inner-dialog doesn’t have as much power over me as it used to. Some things I do now which I used to talk myself out of:
- Co-founded a company
- Build and share my side projects
- Sit in the front row, ask questions, offer opinions
- Introduce myself to people I want to meet
Looking at this list I see a theme—I was afraid of what other people might think of me. In some forms this is called Social Anxiety Disorder. I’m not sure what in my history caused me to have such a fear and may never know but I’ve found a way to overcome it.
One of my first successes in overcoming it was several years ago when I created my first app for the iPhone. It was an app targeted to skiers who wanted to wake up early on days when it snowed. I got everything ready, debugged, and published to the App Store just before the Thanksgiving Holiday. I eagerly logged in the next day to see how many people had downloaded my app (expecting hundreds) and was disappointed when it was only a single download. I had shipped many products before but I hadn’t ever been in a position where I needed to do my own marketing. I was in a place where I had to tell, recommend, and ask people to buy my app and I was afraid of what they would think. What if they thought the idea was bad, or if they didn’t like how I was recommending them something? In this case the amount of effort I had put in, examples of friends around me doing the same thing, and the dreams of hitting it big forced me to put my fear aside and get the word out. I started posting messages about it in some of the biggest skier forums around and to my surprise everyone loved the app. “Stoked on this!” is what one person said and others agreed.
I’ve found the more I create opportunities to prove to myself that what I fear isn’t real the less fear I actually have. With every blog post, project I create, and person I meet I continue to take the power away from this fear. As I’ve gone through this process and have learned more from my experiences I’ve found the following practices are also helpful:
Find Someone Who Inspires You
Finding someone you admire and who is attempting to do similar things as you is a good way to break the cycle of fear. If the path you want to follow has already been trodden it reduces some of the unknowns. You can use the examples or previous work as something to help you initially while finding your unique contribution
Live in the Present Moment
So much fear is related to things which you anticipate in the future but which are really unlikely to happen. The more I practice focusing on the present moment the less I have thoughts or worries about the future.
Listen to but Don’t Participate in Your Inner Dialog
Thoughts (fears or otherwise) are always going to arise in your mind. That is ok and is not something you can control directly. What you can control is whether you have an inner-dialog with those thoughts, do you respond to the fears and play out the scenarios in your head or do you just hear the thought and let it go. The more you let it go the less power those thoughts have.
Acknowledge your Lizard Brain
Fear as a survival role has its roots in recognizing external dangers and invoking your fight or flight response. This response gets overloaded in to modern social contexts where it may not play as powerful a role as if you were getting run down by a lion. Realizing this helps acknowledge the role but puts it in a context where you can say that the fear is not being helpful.
I showed up at the Seattle Running Club event slightly early. While we waited for everyone else including Anton Krupicka to arrive. While I waited I introduced myself to a couple of other folks there who also looked like they were new. When Anton arrived I watched him out of the corner of my eye (my fear thoughts were kicking in) but as we started out on the run I gradually was able to let those go. The pace was fast but not something I hadn’t trained for so was able to keep up. As the miles ticked by I eventually made my way up to the lead pack and Anton asked me a question about where we were. I explained where we had run and a bit about the local geography of Seattle. We chatted a bit more about where he grew up and Colorado where he current lives and made some jokes. Eventually we arrived back at our cars where I shook his hand, asked for a photo with him and went on my way. I had checked off one more fear which wasn’t real.