Fear: What Are You So Afraid Of?


The great Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he-who-does-not-feel-afraid, but he-who-conquers-that-fear.” With the word fear, people think of spiders, or arachnophobia, but also the negative connotations that come with the word. What we fail to realize is that fear is a natural human emotion that all individuals experience. Although it may be unpleasant, fear does not have to be something that holds us back. We can use fear to step outside our comfort zone, we can use fear to motivate us, and we can use fear to gain life experiences. Will Smith once said, “God placed the best things in life are on the other side of terror.” He was talking about his experience skydiving – a great YouTube video by the way – where he talks about fear, which I was fortunate enough to experience myself several weeks ago: Skydiving. I was deathly scared of skydiving for as long as I could remember: What if the parachute did not open? What if something happened to the plane? What if I die? All these things went through my mind when I thought about skydiving. I did not sleep well the night before, and I also nervous waiting in the hangar for our plane to arrive. As the plane ascended toward 13,000 feet, my legs were shaking and the nerves really started to elevate. The moment of truth was sitting on the edge with my feet hanging outside the plane, and then, off we went. No more than two seconds into my free fall, my fear vanished. I went from worried about if I would make it to being amazed by the beauty of the landscape in front of me. After we landed, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. Had I let my fear take control, I would have missed out on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Types of Fear Fear can either hold you back from performing your best or it can push beyond your wildest dreams. There are two types of fear: fear of failure and appropriate fear. Fear of failure is just that: being afraid to fail for it may lead to criticism, lack of self-control, or exposing a lack of skills. When we expect to fail, this leads to an increase in hesitation and self-doubt, diminishes our perseverance, which then leads into unsuccessful experiences. This continues the vicious cycle of fear of failure. There is also what is called appropriate fear. At times, fear can be an integral motivator for accomplishing a task or performing up to our capabilities. During the 2014 NBA finals, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich spoke of having appropriate fear when his team looked to take a 2-0 series lead by stating “We believe in it. Appropriate fear, basically, equals respect for your opponent. Don’t take anything lightly. Nothing comes easy. A little bit of fear is motivating. It doesn’t mean you’re scared. It means you’re smart.” They went on to lose that game by two points, but having appropriate fear kept his team from entering a state of complacency. Fear does not have to negatively impact our feelings, thoughts, and behavior towards any task or performance. Fear, when utilized properly, can be used to our advantage in any scenario. Confronting Your Fears How do you confront your fears? Simple, just do it, right? Well, in reality, it is not that simple. There are several things you can do to help confront your fears. Building awareness and changing your perspective are two aspects to consider. You can start by asking yourself a couple of questions. First, “What are you exactly afraid of?” For me, I was worried that if the parachute did not open, then I was dead. This fact alone kept me from attempting to sky dive for a very long time. However, talk to enough people, and you understand that the instructors place a huge emphasis on safety, and you begin to understand how safe it actually is. Second, instead of asking yourself the worst-case scenario question, such as “What if I die?” or “What if I do not jump?” ask yourself “What if I live?” or “What if this is the greatest experience of my life?” Too often we consider worst-case scenarios and never look at the best-case scenarios. Building awareness and changing your perspective are a great start when attempting to confront your fears. You can utilize your breath to narrow your focus. Using my skydiving experience as an example, during the plane ride up to 13,000 feet, all I was focusing was on was taking full, deep breaths and counting each one. This took my mind away from the fact that I was 13,000 feet above ground, or that I was about to jump out of a plane. Focusing on something as simple as your breath can greatly decrease nervousness and can also take your mind away from the fear that you are about to confront. You can replace the breath with thinking of a particular image that makes you happy or makes you laugh, all of which hold the same purpose of placing your attention away from your fears. Finally, you can use positive or motivational self-talk to confront your fears, whichever suits your personality. Having the right form of self-talk can increase motivation, build confidence, and allow you to perform your best, no matter the situation. Saying things like “You can do this!” “It really is not that bad” or maybe “Suck it up!”… it all depends on your personality and what makes you go. Break the Cycle Being afraid or having fears are normal human emotions that we all experience, but not everyone attempts to confront those fears. In order to break the fear of failure cycle, we must understand our fears and make peace with them. We must use our failures as a learning tool, not as a description of our character. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Do not be afraid to confront your fears. Face them head on. Accept the challenge. In the end, much like I felt with my skydiving experience, you may be asking yourself “What was I so afraid of?”