“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The best defense is a good offense.”
It takes courage to think and act boldly when you are afraid.
This article is Part 3 of a series of articles detailing how to use the “counterbalance strategy” to increase happiness and achieve self-mastery. Part 2 of the series discussed how to use this strategy to amputate anger from your life. Click here to review Part 2.
Damaging Emotion: Fear (Intimidation, Insecurity, Distress, Worry)
After I sent Bryan and his friend to bed that night at camp, I started feeling insecure. The truth is that I never did win a State championship in high school, even though it was my biggest goal and purpose of living at the time. I placed at State my junior and senior year, and enjoyed every minute of competing, but I never won a title. This failure stuck with me throughout my last semester of high school. For months, I felt an underlying sense of embarrassment anytime I interacted with other wrestlers. Earlier that year, I had signed a contract to wrestle in college for an NCAA Division 1 team. But after coming up short at the State tournament, I started to question myself: “Maybe I should wrestle for a Division 3 team instead.” I was afraid. I was afraid of putting my heart and soul into another dream and failing again.
A few weeks later, one of my coaches sat me down and asked me how I was feeling. I told him that I had started to question myself and I was worried that I wasn’t a Division 1 caliber athlete. I think my exact words were, “I’m afraid I’m going to get my head ripped off.” Without hesitating, my coach looked me square in the eyes and said, “Isaiah, you should spend a little less time worrying about your head being ripped off and a little more time worrying about all the heads you’re going to rip off. You’re a monster. They’re going to have to put a stake through your heart to stop you.” I laughed. I knew he was being ridiculous but I immediately started to generate confidence and increase happiness. The more outrageous his comments, the more my internal influences shifted away from fear and towards action. Finally, he said, “Being intimidated just means you’ve chosen to pursue a worthy goal. It’s better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low.”
Counterattack: Boldness (Audacity, Action, Purpose, Resolve, Tenacity)
Audacity erases fear. You are going to fail in life, and those failures are going to haunt you. From time to time, these failures will bubble up inside of you and trigger feelings of insecurity and timidity. When this happens, realize that you are merely under the influence of fear. Fear is poison. It is a parasite that will feed on you and itself, growing stronger and stronger the longer you wait to take action. David Joseph Schwartz, author and professor at Georgia State University said it best: “To fight fear – act. To increase fear – wait, put off, postpone.” The best way to counteract fear is with activity and audacity. In other words, start thinking and acting boldly. You can quickly increase happiness and improve self-confidence by mentally shifting gears.
Be outrageous. The bigger and bolder your thoughts, the quicker you’ll break your mental pattern. For example, if a promotion opens up at work and you really want it, but you start feeling unprepared or unqualified, tell yourself “I was born to do this, I’m already an expert, I’m the smartest person in the world, my brain crushes Albert Einstein’s brain.” Then, take immediate action to prepare yourself for that position. If you start feeling weak and run down, worrying that you might get sick, say to yourself, “Sickness can’t stay in my body, I’m a rock, I have more energy than a bolt of lightning, I have the body of Greek god (or goddess)”. Then, take action to boost vitality by getting a good night’s sleep, going for a run, or researching new ways to eat healthy. If you’re about to bungee jump off of a bridge and you’re paralyzed with fear, force yourself to turn to your instructor and say, “Why are you making me jump off of this toddler bridge, isn’t there something taller we can tie this cord to?” You can change your emotions simply by changing the way you see the situation.
The key to offsetting fear with audacity is understanding the end point. Picture yourself standing between a pit of insecurity and paralysis on your left and a ramp of confidence and action on your right. Fear is pulling you towards the pit. As a result, you are unbalanced and off center. In order to change your momentum away from the pit and towards the ramp, you need to force yourself to improve self-confidence by thinking bold thoughts. This will center you and prompt you to take action. Feeling strong and centered is the end point. The only way to achieve this state is to be open and honest with yourself and others about your fears. Too many people make the mistake of becoming defensive and closed off when they’re afraid. These same people try to counter their fears with belligerence and bullheadedness. All this does is push others away while pulling you closer to the pit.
Approach Your Obstacles As Adventures
Perspective is the cornerstone of the counterbalance strategy. By acting ridiculously confident in yourself when you’re afraid, you shift your focus outward towards the challenge. This prevents you from continuing the worry cycle where you stay absorbed in your own mind imagining all of the things that can go wrong and all of the reasons why you will fail. Keep your focus outward by seeing your obstacles as adventures. This will attach a story to the obstacle and make the problem less intimidating. This will also help you see yourself as an adventurer rather than a victim. Most people picture themselves as some version of Rocky Balboa, a lone fighter doomed to struggle uphill against numerous obstacles, only to get punched in the face a thousand times and lose at the end of the movie. Instead, try seeing yourself as some version of Indiana Jones or Laura Croft, an explorer in the midst of a romantic adventure, taking on exciting challenges in exotic locations, and having fun the entire time. It’s much easier to counteract fear and initiate productive action when you face your problems as a series of adventures.
Seek Out Intimidation
After my coach talked with me, I doubled down on my dream to wrestle for a Division 1 team and I started offsetting all of my fears with massive amounts of action. I petitioned my way into the National High School Wrestling Championship tournament, joined two summer wrestling clubs, and trained more intensely than I ever had before. The following year, I wrestled Division 1 and started on the varsity team. By the end of my first year, I was elected team captain. I never reached my goal of qualifying for the NCAA tournament and becoming a Division 1 All-American, but I learned an important lesson: Feeling intimidated is your body’s way of telling you that you absolutely must do something in order to grow. Really, overcoming my fear of wrestling at the Division 1 level led to more failures, but it also led to more experiences, more successes, and more growth. In other words, it led to more life. The discomfort zone is not your enemy, it’s a signal that you’re headed in the right direction. Run towards it.
It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep. Courage is the secret to overcoming your feelings of fear, insecurity, and intimidation. Courage is what it takes to think bold thoughts when you’re afraid. Courage is what allows you to feel your fear and act anyway. Make courage a habit by offsetting your fears with audacity. Overcoming one fear and achieving your goal will snowball into overcoming many fears and achieving many goals. Once you feel confident and start gaining traction in the right direction, ease off of the audacity. After a series of successes, treat your feelings of invincibility as you would your feelings of anger by balancing them with stillness and foresight. In this way, you can stay emotionally centered while staying motivated to fulfill your purpose in life. Click here to continue to Part 4.