How to Stop Being Afraid

Most of us spend our lives afraid to take risks. We're scared to go out of our comfort zone and try new things. Doing something new scares us. Not necessarily because it is dangerous, but because of reasons I will go on to explain.
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Pre-Face: I wrote this article for the people who dare to take risks. Entrepreneurs, dreamers, innovators... Steve Jobs taught us that the people crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Most of us spend our lives afraid to take risks. We're scared to go out of our comfort zone and try new things. Doing something new scares us. Not necessarily because it is dangerous, but because of reasons I will go on to explain.

I am writing this article because I used to be scared. It wasn't too long ago that I was gutless. I was unsure of myself, unable to be creative because I was so scared of uncertainty.

In short, I made myself a comfortable little bubble. I know you probably do it too (you're only human).

Staying Out Of Harms Way

As humans, we have built up complex defense mechanisms to protect us from harm... whether physical or psychological. Uncertainty is a red flag for our subconscious; driving us to err on the side of caution.

When making decisions, our mind calculates the potential risks. When we do not have a base of comparison, our mind has nothing to draw from. It will either decide that you should stay away because it is foreign, or we will base our decision on something we heard.

It is here where you fall into the trap of "believing everything you hear."

We trust our family and friends. We look to them for advice, logic and reason. When we have a problem or question, we go to those closest to us for help. But what happens when those closest to us are wrong?

It's common for the socially accepted opinion to become the truth. And sometimes inexperienced people give their opinions. If the person receiving the advice holds merit to their opinion, they'll pass it onto the next person they encounter with the same problem.

Thus begins the chain of misinformation.

Not only do we have our subconscious primal mind working against us... We have to be careful of the people we trust too!? That's right. It's unfortunate, but the people closest to you have enormous influence over your view of the world. Sometimes, they're wrong.

In order to stop perpetuating a life of risk aversion, you have to do three things:

  1. Recognize that fear is a defense mechanism you can circumvent
  2. Analyze the opinions of others before accepting them as truth
  3. Calculate your risks

Fear as a Defense Mechanism

Our parents and society instill it in us. We avoid it at all costs.

It's true, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. But we only have to be afraid of fear if we assume that it is a prerequisite to new and "potentially dangerous" things. If we take a risk, we're probably not going to die... But how do you circumvent an evolutionary predisposition?

By reprogramming your brain.

It's not an easy task by any means. Reprogramming your brain requires discipline and a solid, fundamental trust that fear isn't real.

Fear is simply a chemical reaction developed through evolution. This reaction triggers when a situation or decision is perceived to be strange or dangerous. If you train your mind to be more lenient with what is perceived as strange or dangerous, the body will no longer activate fear or it will at least feel less extreme.

Rather than blindly accepting risk and denying danger, however, we should try to create a more solid structure of reason. The logic behind our decision is that prior to passing any judgement, we analyze the information and calculate the realistic risks involved with the action we aim to take.

This is why it is so important to analyze the opinions of others prior to making a decision.

Analyzing Information

Does the person you are receiving information from have first-hand experience in the matter? If so, could they be biased in any way? If not, is there any reputable information to back up their opinion? Prevent yourself from taking invalidated information to heart. One less negative connotation is less fuel for fear to develop.

Instead, take the information you have regarding the possible risks and rewards of your decision, and take intelligent action.

Creating a Risk/Reward Profile

In poker, they use a formula called EV, which stands for Expected Value. At it's simplest, you identify the assumed worst and best case scenarios. Then, you decide. Is the best case scenario more valuable than the pain that would come with the worst case? In other words, is the net return higher than 0.

If the net return on the best case scenario is higher than 0, what is the realistic probability of it actually happening? This is where you take your validated information and research to come to your final conclusion.

If it still seems "worth it" to do, take action.

In Conclusion

Fear doesn't really exist. It's something we create for ourselves.

You can override fear by "tricking" your brain into becoming more comfortable with tough decisions. This can be achieved by doing your research and understanding the potential best and worst case scenario of making that decision.

Evolution has given us a gift and a curse. On one hand, we have a powerful mechanism for self-preservation. On the other hand, it can sabotage us through indecision and hesitation.

Perceived danger does not always equal danger. So, expose yourself to new things all the time. It will dull your fear sensors when you need to make an important decision that you are unsure about.

Our minds create complex and extravagant worst case scenarios that trigger our fear mechanism. This leads us to indecision. Remember that it's usually not as bad as you think. (We tend to over exaggerate as humans... It's a downfall.)

Finally ask yourself:

Would you rather learn from and fix a mistake or live with regret?