I was standing barefoot in a parking lot. In front of me was an eight-foot strip of burning hot coals around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. There were 8000 other people surrounding me who were also doing the firewalk from the “Unleash the Power Within” seminar with Tony Robbins. My heart was racing, and my stomach was hurting a little, from both nervousness and hunger. Despite the training and preparation we did for hours in the seminar, I started to doubt myself. “For God’s sake, it’s freaking burning coals!” Then I heard the trainer ask, “Ready?” It seemed too late to back out. I distinctly remember the moment I made the decision to go. It seemed like time stopped. “Screw it. Let’s do this!”
I walked. I walked fast using all the techniques taught to us to ensure safety. My eyes were focused on the other side. Yes, I could feel the hot coals, really hot. Then it was over. Someone splashed some water on my feet for safety. I thought to myself, “That’s it! I did it!” Instead of an urge to jump up and down and celebrate like most people did, I felt relieved and empowered. I thought to myself, “That was not as bad as I thought at all.” I guess people are right when they say “The only thing that keeps you from moving forward is fear.” We make up fear in our minds, sometimes we allow it to grow irrationally overwhelming to the point of making us feel powerless. However, the only person that can overcome your fear is you, and the best way to overcome fear is to do precisely what scares you the most. Afterwards, you will feel on top of the world.
“The only thing that is keeping anyone from starting a company is the fear of failure,” said Bill Carmody, a founder of an advertising agency and contributor to Inc. magazine. This is one of the highlights of the interview for me. Bill went on to explain, “Now is the best time to start a company. The barrier to entry is so low because of the great presence of the Internet and social media marketing. You can spend 30 minutes to create an ad and landing page. And spend five dollars on Facebook to test if real customers are willing to pay for what you offer. This kind of low barrier to entry never existed before.”
Fear is the number one factor that stops us from moving forward, but fear is natural. Fear is here to keep us safe, but it does not want us to change or grow. The first step in the dance with fear is to be aware of it. Start to be aware and curious. When you sense a resistance to doing something, ask yourself what the fear behind it is. For example, I spent days trying to distract myself from writing by watching TV, doing research, or other small tasks. I leaned on excuses such as: “I don’t feel like writing,” or “I need more research,” and “I need to interview more people.” But in the end, I realized that it was my fear of failure holding me back, the fear of failing to write the perfect chapter. This fear kept me from writing altogether. When you want to reach out to a potential client, a potential mentor, or anyone in a position of power, if you hesitate, the fear of rejection is probably at play. In the case of a startup, I can find millions of reasons for not starting a company: “we don’t have the right team,” or “the product is not good enough,” or “the economy is not good,” and the list goes on. The key is to be able to tell the difference between your fear of failure and actual concerns. Once you are aware of the fear you are experiencing, you have completed half the battle. By being aware of your fear, for most situations, you will start to see how irrational the fears are.
Remember, fear is just an emotional state, so are confidence, happiness, certainty. As as you learned in the “Lead Your Own Ship” chapter, you can change your state instantly.
Once you are in a positive state, proceed to “fear setting,” a technique developed by best-selling author and lifestyle entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. Tim believes that people typically don’t overcome their fears because the fears are nebulous and undefined.1 To get over them then, you need to drag your fears out into the open and confront them.
Begin by thinking of a goal that is important to you but that you’ve kept yourself from striving for. Then divide a piece of paper into three columns.
- In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.
- In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.
- In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined in the first column.
“You come away from that exercise realizing, ‘Wow, I was getting extremely anxious and all worked up over something that is completely preventable, reversible, or just not a very big deal,’” Tim says.
In addition, to help people deal with common fears such as fear of failure, rejection, or being judged, Tim has created many “Comfort Challenges.” This is the act of performing an uncomfortable task for the sole purpose of overcoming the fear associated with it. These challenges are one of the best ways to stretch your comfort zone and live life the way you’ve always dreamed of living it. Tim says, “They’ve shown me that the only person truly in charge of my life is myself. Use comfort challenges to free yourself from the constraints of your mind, and to prove to yourself that you can have anything you want in life, if you are willing to go after it.”2
Here’s a short list of exercises to help expand your comfort zone:
● Give a Compliment to a Stranger
This seems to be an easy thing to do, and it could be. But sometimes I still find myself hesitating to give a compliment due to irrational fear such as “it might look weird.”
● Maintain Eye Contact
The next time you are in public, pick a stranger and lock eyes with him or her. The initial response when your eyes meet will be to look away. Maintain eye contact until he or she breaks it first.
● Ask For a 10% Discount
The next time you pay for a coffee, ice cream, or tea, ask the cashier for a 10% discount off your purchase. Don’t give a reason, just ask.
● Tell a Corny Joke to a Stranger
Pick a stranger on the street, go up to him, and tell him a short, corny joke.
● Lay Down In Public
Once you get more comfortable with the easier challenges, give this one a try. Go to a crowded area, like a farmers market or Starbucks, and lay down on the floor for 10 seconds.
● Ask a Stranger for His or Her Number
This one takes a lot of guts, especially if the other person is opposite gender.
After working with millions of people across the globe, Tony Robbins says that our deepest fear is, “If I am not enough, I won’t be loved.” Tony believes if you keep digging on people’s fears, you will find this is the deepest fear we all share. Just as Oprah once shared the one question that every guest asked her after interviewing, “Did I do ok?” Oprah said that this question is the “common denominator” for all her guests no matter who they are. You can also reflect on your experiences and see if it’s true.
We all want to be enough and to be loved. Know that it’s normal to feel “not good enough.” Even the most successful and iconic people in the world share this fear. Be kind to yourself and others. Just don’t let the fear keep you from moving forward. Remember: courage is not a lack of fear; courage is being scared but taking the action anyways.