Fear & How to Beat ItThe amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. ~Steven Pressfield
For the last two months, I’ve been working on a mini book project I’m tentatively calling Life on Purpose [Update: It's called Discover You Now. Read about it here.]—my first of hopefully many more to come. It’s been such an interesting process of self-reflection and discipline, exploring the multifaceted manifestations of fear.
The hardest thing isn’t to come up with great ideas or create time to work on it. The hardest thing is the constant battle with this invisible, but powerful force that seems to work against me. You know, that same force that whispers in our ears with convincing arguments on why we should delay action and (forever) procrastinate.
I’m sure you’re familiar with its luring voice, convincing you to do something else, anything, except the projects that you need to be doing—usually the projects that mean the most to you and will result in profound positive change.
This, of course, isn’t limited to just writing projects. The same resistance we experience shows up where it matters. For example, this shows up when we want to: lose weight, gain muscle, wake up early, nurture a relationship, spend quality time with ourselves, education of any kind, get our taxes done, pursuit creative projects, and take action in any entrepreneurial venture.
If we allowed it and believed in the voices in our head, we would put these projects off… forever. We may muster the inspiration to start it, or start researching it, but we’ll never get it done. We’d never get it done, because we would have found enough convincing justification to stop working on it—distraction, procrastination, self doubt, judgment, anxiety, fear, self sabotage and reasonable excuses like hunger, going to see a doctor, cleaning up your house.
Now that I’m near the end of the project (I’m in the editing phase. Yay!), I am feeling more than ever, the power and resistance that fear has created. Everyday, my mind comes up with a dozen reasons why I should abandon the project. As such, I am finding myself working extra hard to overcome this strain that the mind’s resistance has created.
Some days have been harder than others. Days like today, where I spent most of the work-day browsing different websites, feverishly checking to see if I got any new email, checking web stats, and Facebook updates. I think I’m addicted to email, or perhaps it’s just my fearful mind oozing its magic potion to distract me from actually completing the project.
Here are some things it says to me:
- You should check email right now, and while you’re at it, check all the latest Blog posts, and Facebook updates too.
- The book is too short, who’ll want to buy it?
- You’re gonna fail.
- Okay, let’s save the embarrassment from public humiliation. Don’t finish it.
- It’ll be a failure.
- You suck!
- Check it out over here. Here’s 20 other yummy and lucrative projects you can work on instead.
- 4 Modules? Okay, most books have like 10, 20 chapters. 4 sounds really lame.
- You should clean every room, every surface, and every closet in the house. You’re a pig.
- You’ve been working hard. It’s time to take a vacation. Let’s go somewhere far away for a long, long time.
- Let’s watch all 80 episodes of (the TV Show) Prison Break in one sitting!
- You haven’t written in your blog for a while, maybe spend this week working on blog posts. Yes, you’ll need the whole week.
- You suck! You suck! You suck!
- You’re a loser.
What’s worse is that each time I sit down to write, I experience the same set of voices, and I have to consciously keep going. Every step of the way feels a bit like climbing a really steep set of stairs, which becomes steeper the higher it goes.
Now that I’ve described a typical day for me, let’s look at some solutions for fear… and how we can actually complete a creative project or entrepreneurial venture or personal goal in the face of resistance.
Resources on Fear
While completing my “Life on Purpose” project, I found Steven Pressfield’s books to be comforting, acting as “dear friend”, motivating me to keep going, helping me to understand fear and teaching me to overcome doubt.
I highly recommend both books to anyone working on any type of creative or entrepreneurial or personal improvement projects. They simply kick ass! Get ‘em! Trust me, you’ll love them—energizing, motivational, and empowering.
- Do the Work – Currently available for free download on the Kindle or kindle app. Go get it! And if you dig it, get the hardcover too—I did and use it as a physical reminder on my desk to “get back to work!”
- The War of Art
And while you’re at it, watch this video, and get the two related books on the subject. I highly recommend both in addition to the above books:
- Poke the Box – A brilliant little book that motivates you to complete projects. Similar writing style to above.
- Linchpin – Where the lizard brain is discussed (aka resistance, responsible for fear).
What To Do About Fear?
Doubt and fear are probably the number one reason that has stopped people from the pursuit of countless great ideas. How many times have you been excited or inspired about an idea, but dropped it before you could complete it?
I’ve been there before, more times than I can count. I have notebooks filled with great ideas, but talk myself out of doing each one before I even start. Or if I do start on one, I would get stuck in the research phase, and then I would allow the obsession of figuring out every detail to overwhelm me—thus, convincing me once again to drop the project.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, know that you are not alone. It happens to us all. It happens to every one of us humans. At the end of the day, fear is wired in us. It is wired in our DNA to ensure our survival.
I was talking to a family friend a few days ago, telling him about what I’m working on. When he asked for tips on how he can do the same, I excitedly shared a list of useful tips to get him motivated. And then he remarked, “Yeah, but you’re different. You have the drive and discipline and focus to pursue these projects. You’re the entrepreneurial type.”
Is this true? I don’t know. What I do know is that I, and the thousands of others who are working on creative or entrepreneurial projects feel fear and resistance and doubt just as much as everyone else. It’s scary up here! The thought of putting yourself and your most heart-felt creative expression out there is really freakin’ scary!
The solution? Do it anyway, despite fear.
There are no shortcuts.
Here are some tips I’ve found helpful to work with this resisting nature of our fear-based mind–to overcome procrastination, and to actually get stuff done.
1. Accept that Fear Will Be There
“Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance,
even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn’t go away.
The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity,
which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”
~Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
One of the most comforting things I’ve found is in recognizing that fear greets everyone and every project—whether it is Lady Gaga or Steve Jobs or Seth Godin—no one is totally immune to it. We all feel it. It will always be there.
But what sets the group of “action takers” apart from everyone else who have stopped working at the face of fear is that the latter group understands that fear is just in our minds. They understand that fear isn’t real. It will always be there–trying to convince you to avoid potential pain, trying to get you to stay the same, trying to lure you away from personal growth.
In practice, use this concept in two folds:
- Recognize that the voices in our heads are not us. It is our survival brain (aka. our Amygdala) talking. Its job is to keep us safe and to keep us away from danger. Again, this is not us.
- Accept that fear will be there when we are working on anything that would result is us changing—learning something new, creating something unique, losing weight, writing a book, gaining weight, marketing ourselves, improving a relationship, meeting a new person. Anticipate that our minds will be there trying to stir up resistance. Accept, anticipate and prepare for it.
I’ve made this into a game. Whenever I start to feel resistance and fear show up as I sit down to work, or as I attempt to wake up early, I’ll playfully say to myself:
“Ah, there you are, Mr Resistance! Hello. You’re so hardworking, always showing up on time. Thank you for making sure that I am safe.” I’d then smile and start doing whatever it is that I had wanted to do—to further me along on the project at hand.
Sometimes, I don’t act fast enough, and Mr Resistance will beat me. But I’m conscious of it, and I become smarter at working with him and remembering which tricks of his actually worked on distracting me.
Accept that fear will be there.
Do it anyway.
2. Action. Momentum. Keep Doing Even If You Suck.
Let’s face it, we all suck, at least we all have minds that tell us this. But if you keep pushing, keep doing and keep trying, eventually brilliance will rise and we will witness our personal power.
When working on any project—professional, creative, personal, entrepreneurial—remember your goal isn’t to be brilliant or perfect, your goal is to get the damn thing done! If you can get it done, you can work on it iteratively to redo, to refine, to re-craft, to re-write, to tweak the details later. Now is not the time to be a perfectionist.
This is what I do when I write. I just start writing, even if it sucks. I keep writing without judgment. I know—from experience—that if I just keep writing, eventually the voice that tells me that I suck will quiet down and that I will be able to hear the beautiful song underneath the noise. Once I am in the space of silence, I just ride the wave of its expression, and it all comes out quickly and perfectly.
The act of writing something great takes little time. The majority of the time when I am writing is spent trying to get myself into that creative space by forcing myself to write (about any topic), and then rewriting in iterative refinements.
I think the most important habit you want to form is to get yourself to “show up” and to “get down and dirty” with actually doing the work. It doesn’t have to be good work. Just that you showed up today. The repetitive action will create a habitual pattern in your mind, you’ll develop muscle memory, and it will become easier over repetition.
Once you’ve created momentum in this newfound habitual pattern, do all that you can to ensure that the pattern doesn’t break. Don’t skip out, no matter how convincing and luring your excuses are.
Take consistent action. Create momentum. Keep doing even if you suck. Keep trying.
Do it anyway.
3. The Trick of ‘One At A Time’
So you are either thinking about what you want to do, or you are doing it. You are either complaining, or you are using the same block of time honing your focus on a meaningful project. You are either scared, or you are doing the thing that scares you. You cannot do both. You cannot be at two places, mental spaces, and emotional states at the same time.
Remember this trick the next time you catch yourself feeling worried or doubtful or anxious from fear. In those moments, convince yourself to focus on something and take action—it can be anything—and I promise you the moment you absorb yourself in the doing of something, fear will subside.
What is the secret to exceptional public speakers? How come they can flow so effortlessly without getting nervous? Well, it’s because they are not focused on themselves. They are not thinking about, “I sound stupid.” They are focused on the audience and the goal of delivering a message from their heart. You simply cannot worry about how you sound and deliver a message from the heart at the same time.
When you have fearful thoughts; Do it anyway.
4. Surround Yourself With Inspiration
There is nothing more disempowering than surrounding yourself with negative, complaining, victim-identified people who are doing everything they can to avoid personal growth.
Do your best to surround yourself with motivated, proactive, and inspiring people who are making a difference, taking action for something they care about, and doing things despite fear.
People who are busy doing meaningful work don’t have time to complain and sulk. If you talk to them, their passion will energize you and uplift your spirits.
I use my social circle—many of whom I’ve never met in person—to get myself inspired.
Leigh is working on a book, and every week she’ll send me a little update on her latest progress. I love that. I love that she is overcoming resistance week after week. And each time I see such an email from her, it’s like a little reminder telling me to “stop browsing and get back to work.” I love that she is so consistent and disciplined. She inspires me.
My husband Jeremy is into bodybuilding. Despite how physically painful and mentally challenging it is to drag your body to the gym everyday to be faced with a hard beating, he is committed to going 5 times a week. And I watch, as he consistently, day after day, brings himself to the gym after Ryan has gone to bed. I know how hard it is and it’s so inspiring to see.
John is currently going through a traumatic period dealing with the devastating illness of a close family member. Instead of falling back to a victim role, or sitting passively in helpless mode, he created a beautiful and heartfelt picture book. I love that he is not using this event as an excuse to shutout his creative expression, and continues to create inspiring work, even amid difficult times.
Surround yourself with inspiring people, uplifting messages and positive ideas. Plant these positive influences into the fertile soil of your mind, so that they will bloom into a beautiful garden.
There are no easy ways out.
There are no shortcuts to beating fear.
The secret? Do it anyway.
In the end, you’ll be glad you did.