How to Overcome Your Fear

The Circle Line
Oct 20 · 5 min read

How do you experience and deal with fear?

How do you experience and deal with fear? Do you tiptoe to the edge before dropping over it, sacrificially, like a lemming over a cliff? Do you march up to the edge only to rapidly run away three times first? Do you take three strides and a flying leap into the unknown?

This film, Ten Meter Tower, is hilarious. And moving, fascinating, and inspiring.

Fear is pretty much always lurking. It’s elemental. It protects us and helps us survive. We can’t do without it. But we also can’t let it control us. It’s there stopping us speaking up (for fear of what others might think, for fear of embarrassing ourselves, for fear of being told ‘no’). It’s there making us put things off, procrastinate, obsess. It’s there when we simply don’t know.

Fear usually centres around 3 things:

  • Fear of who we are

(Weak at times, annoying at times, selfish, sexual, mean, etc)

  • Fear of who we aren’t

(Good enough, clever enough, funny enough, etc)

  • Fear of the unknown

(Will I lose my job? Will she leave me? Will I ever be in love? Will my family get sick? Will I be OK? etc etc)

Our fears often involve a hidden negative — a ‘don’t’ or a ‘can’t’. Sometimes, and this is the counterintuitive bit, they involve a “don’t” + something positive — “don’t succeed”, “don’t be important”. Often we’ve copied this from our parents, or we‘ve been subtly taught this warning as kids and it’s seeped in, which can be hard to uncover and shake off.

Sometimes our fears involve doing. When we yell, dominate, interrupt, bully. These can be misinterpreted as signs of strength. But they’re not. They’re signs that we are overcompensating for some fear we have — perhaps someone has intimidated us, perhaps we’re scared we are inadequate (therefore we try too hard to prove we’re not), or we fear that we are weak or can’t cope (therefore we overcompensate by being arrogant, or playing “superhero”, or by bullying others to assert our power).

Some of our most powerful fears are the deep hidden ones, the ones we don’t even know are lurking. Fear of being alone. Fear of relying on people. Fear we’re not good enough. Fear of men. Fear of women. Fear of being trapped. Fear that there’s something wrong with us. Some of our fears get complicated. Like when we’re afraid to commit, because we’re ultimately afraid of being rejected, or being trapped, or finding — and therefore potentially losing — someone we actually, truly, love. You can be sure that whenever we are acting “weirdly” or when we’re “stuck”, it’s fear that’s at play, pulling invisible strings in the background of our brains and hearts.

And this is of course totally normal. It’s a stage we all have to go through at some point. But if we don’t acknowledge and begin to do something to defy our fears eventually they can escalate through the downward spiral ultimately to depression and victimhood:

But here’s what’s great about the Ten Meter Tower film: in all its real, human, empathic jubilance it proves to us — visually, viscerally, simply — that fear can be conquered. Once we’ve seen the drop, when we realise it’s there — then we have a choice in how to deal with it. To creep to the edge. Perhaps to peer over, again and again to normalise things first, get used to the idea. Or to run and leap.

Whatever the method, this film shows how time and time again in all their different ways big and small, humans conquer their fears. And like in this film, conquering always involves some kind of step. Whether it’s a 10 metre jump or the final tiny inch of a long and painful path, this step forms a leap of spirit, of bravery, that proves to ourselves that we can do it — we just have to acknowledge first why we don’t. That’s half the battle won.

Here are our 6 steps to the leap:

  1. Get honest with yourself: What is it that you’re afraid of really? Really? And underneath that fear…? What’s the worst that you can imagine happening? Is that really so bad? Bad enough to never do the thing you’re afraid of?
  2. List all the reasons ‘why’ you’re not doing something. Why are you scared? Has the thing you are afraid of happened before? To you? Or to someone in your family? Does that mean it will happen now?
  3. Action plan: What would you do in your worst case scenario? List all the ways you’d handle it.
  4. Stop avoiding: recognise when you are running away — and therefore letting fear control you. So we are clear, these things constitute avoiding: silence; putting something off; standing people up; not turning up; walking away; ignoring someone or something; reading an email then hitting ‘unread’ and leaving it there; making a joke (yes, often a good avoidance tactic); making excuses (“not now”, “too busy” etc).
  5. Start small: take one tiny action in the opposite direction to normal. If you usually walk away from the argument, stand there instead. If you hate the tube, take one stop on the District Line, above ground. If you’re scared of swimming, paddle knee-deep in the shallows. If you usually stay silent, speak up and say one sentence. Send your CV; call your dad; have that argument with your wife. Or for now — just update your CV; email your dad; write a letter to your wife. Start small.
  6. Have conviction: this one is the hardest. How do you “have conviction”? We can’t give you the answer here. Learning to trust yourself is your own journey and it make take some time. But when you truly believe in yourself, you live that cliche of ‘having the courage of your convictions’; you feel in your entire self what is right for you — then you defeat your fear. You do it anyway. Because there is no other choice.

The Circle Line

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Exploring things of the human soul.

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