A Former Navy SEAL on Mastering Fear
In 2018, the media continues to paint entrepreneurship with broad strokes. It’s easy to scan the covers of Fast Company, inc. magazine, or Forbes and see all of those entrepreneurs who are “killing it” with their companies.
Having said this, the general perception of entrepreneurship is often inaccurate.
As you know, starting and running a company is brutally difficult.
Whether you are trying to convince that star developer to work for you or are handling the strict demands of several customers, you are constantly trying to put out fires.
However, while there are the practical challenges of entrepreneurship, the psychological challenges may be just as difficult (or even more difficult) to handle.
Here, I’m specifically talking about fear.
Fear can make you back down from acting, even after carefully evaluating the risks and rewards.
Fear can make you choose a “safe” path over a “dangerous” path, even though you recognize that the “dangerous” path will make you grow—both personally and professionally.
Fear can make you think “Why me?” instead of “Why not me?”
So as entrepreneurs, how can we think about fear as we go about building our businesses?
You can find my full conversation with Brandon on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or Stitcher.
Throughout his career, Brandon has stretched his physical and mental limits.
He made it through the gauntlet of Navy SEAL training—which is arguably the toughest military training in the world.
He survived many dangerous encounters, including one moment when he was surrounded by enemy fighters in Afghanistan.
He bounced back from his first business failure to start a second business—which is thriving.
It’s safe to say that he has confronted many fears—both large and small—in his life. While most of us will never encounter the sheer terror of staring down the barrel of a gun, we can take a good number of insights from his experiences and use them when confronting our own fears.
For a complete discussion of Brandon’s career and framework for approaching fear, I would recommend listening to the entire episode or picking up Brandon’s book.
Having said that, here are some of my top takeaways from my discussion with Brandon.
Fear is Everywhere
Brandon’s resume could come out of a movie.
As a teenager, Brandon was kicked out of the house by his parents.
The only problem was that his house was a sailboat.
Leaving his parents in Tahiti, Brandon, who was “scared to death,” joined up with a crew heading back to the United States. He eventually arrived in California and learned how to be a teenager on his own.
Several years later, Brandon joined the Navy and entered Navy SEAL training. In a class of 220 candidates, he was one of 23 that graduated seven months later.
He joined SEAL Team 3 and had several combat deployments to the Middle East. After that, he was one of the main architects of a redesigned Naval Special Warfare sniper program, which significantly lowered the overall dropout rate.
And after he left the military, Brandon started a business which failed. He found a secure, well-paying job that he enjoyed. And yet, he quit that job to co-found Sofrep.com, which became part of the Hurricane Group.
It may be easy to think that Brandon has inoculated himself to fear, having faced extremely intense situations throughout his career. Yet Brandon admitted that he still faces daily fears—even intense ones—in his entrepreneurial career today.
Fear affects even those that are the absolute masters in their field.
If you asked me to name someone who I thought would be fearless, I would say Mike Tyson. In his prime, Mike would intimidate opponents before they even entered the ring.
But if you were looking at Mike’s internal dialogue, you would sense a different story.
In the 2008 documentary Tyson, Mike explained his thought process when he walked out of the locker room to face his opponent.
“When I come out, I have supreme confidence, but I’m scared to death. I’m totally afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing, I’m afraid of being humiliated …”
As Mike got closer to the ring, however, his confidence continued to grow. Even though the fear didn’t necessarily go away, confidence in himself and his abilities won out and—more often than not—he would win the fight.
Ultimately, Brandon says that people who claim they are fearless are either lying or are insane.
Assuming that you aren’t either of the above, you are going to experience fear. Fear can hit you on a daily—even hourly—basis and can prevent you from reaching your goals.
While your fear may become less intense, it isn’t entirely going away.
And when you really think about it, you don’t want to totally eliminate fear.
Fear keeps us alive. Fear forced Brandon to check his equipment one more time before completing freefall training in the military. Fear can keep you from acting recklessly or making a catastrophic mistake, either in your career or your personal life.
That said, when fear is blocking you from pursuing a non-life threatening or non-catastrophic opportunity, that is when you need to make a decision. You’ll need to answer the following question:
Will you treat fear as a friend or a foe?
Answering that question will go a long way in determining whether you can proceed past any mental barriers that are blocking you from your goals. While you will likely have the same fears as others in your situation or others who are pursuing similar goals, the way you respond to that fear will separate you from others.
Lean Into Fear
You may be thinking:
“That all sounds great. But how can I use fear to my advantage? How can I see fear as a friend rather than a foe?”
As we just discussed, fear is inevitable. There are going to be moments where you need to complete some task to achieve your goal and a big, fat fear monster is standing in your way.
In these situations, the fear monster triggers our sense of fight or flight. From there, it’s extremely easy to back down and stay in our comfort zones.
Brandon says that mastering fear isn’t about becoming stronger, tougher, or more stoic. It is about learning how to identify and change the conversation that is occurring in your head.
We think of fear as an enemy. Our goal is to remove or eliminate that enemy as quickly as possible, regardless of the consequences.
Because of this, it’s important to change our perception of fear. We need to use fear to propel us in the direction that we want, rather than having fear become a limiting factor in our lives.
You can think of every fear as an arrow that is pointing you toward your goal. It’s a signpost leading to the prize.
As Brandon’s friend Kamal Ravikant says: “If something scares me, it means that there is magic on the other side.”
Your fears lead you to whatever it is that you want. That electric charge that you feel when facing your fears? Think of it as the buzz of excitement that is pointing you to toward your goal.
Welcome that buzz. When looking back at your life and your accomplishments, you will remember those moments where you accepted that buzz and used it to your advantage.
Confronting some fear provides an immense amount of satisfaction. And even better, you can then use that feeling of satisfaction as an anchor when you face new fears on your journey.
It’s almost like a compounding investment.
So while it is extremely uncomfortable, you will be more satisfied if you lean into and embrace fear, rather than avoid it.
Treat it more like an asset than a liability.
Know What Matters
Even though we know that fear leads us to our goals, fear is still difficult to handle.
By studying his and his friends’ experiences, Brandon developed a five-leg framework that we can use when we encounter some fear in our lives. The five components of his framework are decision, rehearsal, letting go, jumping off, and knowing what matters.
All of these steps are important. Yet Brandon argues that knowing what matters is an extremely critical—arguably the most important—part of the process.
Why is this?
Knowing what matters in your life helps put things into perspective. It helps to reframe your thinking.
By knowing what matters to you in your life, you can then identify what stands in the way between you and achieving the life that you want. If that obstacle is a fear (which it likely will be), understanding what your true values are and striving to live in accordance with those values will be your bedrock that will make your fear seem less scary.
For example, most of us have encountered that dreaded fear of the unknown. It’s one of the most difficult fears to take on because of its abstract nature.
Our minds can go to some crazy places.
If, say, your goal is to leave your secure job to start a business, your fear of the unknown can be terrifying. You may even recognize that this fear of the unknown isn’t as bad as it seems, yet the fear still seems real and may prevent you from taking action.
Along with this, your fear of the unknown may be the overarching umbrella over some other fears, like fear of failure or fear of success.
When facing all of these fears, knowing what matters can be the spark that leads you to take action. For instance, what matters to you may be:
- Living a life of adventure.
- Being a creator and releasing the tangible result of your vision out into the world.
- Helping make the world a better place.
- Working with people that inspire and motivate you.
- Building a life that avoids work-life balance and strives for work-life integration.
These are just some examples. Your list of values may significantly differ. That said, going through the exercise of identifying what truly matters to you and then constantly reminding yourself of your list—especially when your fear monster is showing its claws—will help you muster the courage to confront it.
You’ll eventually need to let go and take the leap. But understating what matters in your life will make the leap easier.
Visualization is Your Secret Weapon
There may come a time where you know what matters, you’ve decided that you want to take some risk, yet you freeze when push comes to shove.
You flinch when some opportunity is calling your name.
You may fear the unknown—even if you know that your fears are unlikely to actually happen.
While it’s easier said than done, you simply have to jump—even if you are afraid.
In his book, Brandon shares one story involving James Altucher, the well-known entrepreneur and host of The James Altucher Show. James was deathly afraid of public speaking. Yet instead of simply avoiding his fear and embracing his shyness, he decided to jump and encounter his fear head-on.
While you may assume that James attended Toastmasters meetings to confront his fear, he went one step further.
He performed stand-up at a comedy club.
He made the decision and took action.
The best thing about doing something like this is that you will build up a tolerance for confronting your fears and taking action. Sure, the first few times confronting your fear may be terrifying. But the more you do it, the less scary it will become.
But still, it can be terrifying to take that leap over the edge.
To make it less scary, Brandon recommends that we leverage visualization.
Brandon isn’t alone in his appreciation for visualization. For example, Daron Roberts, a Harvard Law grad and former NFL coach, consistently espoused its power when making his transition from the legal field to football.
When Brandon took over the Naval Special Warfare sniper program, his goal was to reduce the program’s high dropout rate. To help him with this task, he spoke with Lanny Bassham, a sports shooter who won the gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Lanny taught Brandon and his fellow Navy SEALs how positive psychology visualization and removing negative self-talk could help improve performance and fight fear.
Visualization helps shift the narrative. You start thinking of yourself as prevailing over your fears and accomplishing your goals.
You start eliminating that negative self-talk of “I can’t do this” or “I can’t do that” and focus on how you are actually going to get beyond your fear to achieve your goal. You envision the steps you need to take and the success that will arrive at the end of the road.
While there are various forms of visualization, Brandon argues that it is a proven method of getting yourself comfortable with something.
It’s like practicing. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between practice and the real thing. Visualization helps you get comfortable with a given situation without the real stakes involved.
It’s not the be-all and end-all for mastering your fears. But visualization can make it easier to take that final step off the ledge to confront your fears.
It helps you eliminate that negative self-talk and cause you to think “Alright, I’ve got this. I’ve already done it before.”
The Road to Mastering Fear
Most of the fears that we encounter are purely psychological. It’s not every day when we encounter a fear of impending physical harm.
While we as humans developed our sense of fight or flight to deal with physical fears, that same evolutionary process occurs when we face non-physical fears, whether they are in our careers or personal lives. We are not in physical danger, yet the fear we face may feel eerily similar.
We need to have a game plan for confronting our fears. Whether it’s Brandon’s five-step framework or something else, fear can be an unexpected ally—should you leverage it correctly.
By changing your relationship with fear and developing a systematic way of working with it, you will be a significant step closer to your career dreams.
Thanks for reading! Once again, you can access Brandon’s interview on The Power Of Bold by visiting our page on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you’d like to read a full transcript of the episode, you can access the episode’s show notes here.