I’ve written in the past about the nasty effects of fear — how it can lead to procrastination, creative blocks, and unremarkable content.
It’s our sense of fear that derails success more often than actual failed attempts at success.
Looking deeper into the topic, however, I’ve discovered that often it’s not actual fear we’re dealing with. It’s something much more ridiculous.
It’s not fear that holds you back.
Fear is a good thing
Fear is an emotional response to an actual threat, and it’s a fundamental survival mechanism that’s served us well throughout human history. When you’re in immediate danger, fear tells you to get yourself to someplace safer.
Once our ancestors saw a few friends and relatives devoured by lions, fearing lions became a smart move. Nowadays we react in a similarly legitimate fashion when faced with an AR-15, a car veering toward us, or a new track from Justin Bieber.
Fear is also a true emotional response when we’re about to lose someone or something that’s important to us. So it’s not just about our personal safety — we can fear the loss of a loved one to illness, or our home to foreclosure due to unemployment.
Here’s the problem. The sensation people experience in the face of taking action to achieve their dreams – business, personal, spiritual, whatever — is usually not true fear.
What is F.E.A.R?
F.E.A.R. is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. There’s no true threat of immediate physical danger, no threat of a loss of someone or something dear to us, actually nothing there at all.
F.E.A.R. is an illusion. Something we fabricate in our own minds and pretend is real. It’s a fairy tale we tell ourselves that keeps us from doing what we really want.
False evidence appearing real.
The common label for F.E.A.R is anxiety, a less fundamental emotion that arises purely from our own thoughts, not external reality.
And 50 years of cognitive psychology research demonstrates that while we can’t always control how we feel, we do have the power to choose how we think and act.
How to conquer F.E.A.R.
“Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.” – Seth Godin
Are past failures real evidence that justifies fear of future failure? Nope, because unless you keep doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting different results (one definition of insanity), you have no real evidence that your next approach will fail.
Past failures generate false evidence appearing real. To the contrary, it’s likely you learned things from your past failures that instead provide evidence that your odds are now better than ever.
The worst-case scenario, of course, involves those who’ve never failed, because they’ve never tried. These people have zero real evidence of anything, and are living in the purest imaginary prison of the mind.
Guess what? Healthy, well-adjusted people take reasonable risks, without all this deep dread over specific outcomes.
The journey is what you’ll relish, and it just might take you somewhere better than you initially hoped. No matter what, each journey teaches you what you need to know to take the next one.
So, the formula for conquering F.E.A.R. is simple:
Try + Learn + Adapt + Try = Success
Or who knows … it might just be:
Try = Success
One thing’s for certain, though … you won’t have any real evidence of anything until you do that try thing.
Reader Comments (66)
Kiesha @ We Blog Better says
Sometimes trying to succeed as a blogger is scary. You want to make your blog stand out for the rest, but sometimes the things you have to do in order to do that invoke FEAR. It begins with questions: What if nobody reads it? What if nobody cares? What if EVERYBODY HATES IT?!
But I’ve learned that sometimes, you’ve just got to hold your nose and just…dive…in.
Josh Garcia says
That formula must be taught every where. The best cure ACTION! Amazing how taking massive action takes care of fear.
Have a great weekend!
Jean Sarauer says
Fear has such a grip over most of us and can seem so real that it affects us on a physical level. I’ve often had to say, “The only place this is happening right now is in your mind,” to settle down and keep moving forward out of my comfort zone.
Normally, taking action works to get rid of fear, although sometimes I have to look at fear as sort of a traveling companion. As the saying goes, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Jason Eichacker says
Well said, Brian! What holds many of us back is crossing bridges when there are no rivers, you know?
I do have a point of contention, though. I believe the formula is “Do + Learn + Adapt + Do = Success”. Perhaps I’ve listened too closely to the Tao of Yoda, but I think “try” is unsure and “do” is confident. I feel the former expects failure to a greater extent than success and the latter, well, will get a result then worry about how much it matches up to the vision.
Simple semantic difference, just something that sticks out in my mind.
Shane Arthur says
Best bleepin’ Copyblogger graphic ever!
(and a nice write, too) 🙂
Sonia Simone says
I talk about this quite a bit with my coach. We’re so reluctant to get into our stuff, and then when we do, it’s really not nearly as bad as we were making it out to be.
There’s something to be said for being too busy to worry. (And also for having enough projects going that if one completely bombs, it’s not so tragic.)
Brian Clark says
Jason, I agree with you about “do” versus “try.” In reality, there is no “try,” only action. But this post was hard-nosed enough, and I think the word “try” is a lot less (dare I say it) scary.
Agreement with Josh Garcia. Try a little ACTION next time. And even if you fail… Well, I mean at least you can go knowing you tried. Reminds me of this quote by James Cameron at TED: “Failure IS an option; but fear is not.” Well said. Hey, worked for Ripley vs. the Alien.
Wow. How timely for me. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and I’ve determined that most of my procrastination when it comes to writing (fiction–I can ramble on my blog for DAYS) is due to simply being afraid to do so. I sit down, tell myself I’m going to write something today, get maybe a sentence out, and I’m off and running into the electronic impulses of the Internet. 🙂
I’m looking forward to the next in this series.
Mark Dykeman says
Fear prevents me from leaving a longer reply but yes, sometimes. Darn, that was hard. 🙂
Ricardo Patrocínio says
Excelent Post Brian!
As Anthony Robbins says:
“You never fail, you always succeed getting a result”.
He also says:
“The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing you can’t accomplish if: (1) You clearly decide what it is that you’re absolutely committed to achieving, (2) You’re willing to take massive action, (3) You notice what’s working or not, and (4) You continue to change your approach until you achieve what you want, using whatever life gives you along the way.”
Beki @ The Good Girl says
I’m not sure it’s fear, so much as the pain in the butt of all the trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and oh– oh– maybe this time! — nope, failing again.
For me, though, it’s things like coding and apps and trying to learn how to do all the nitty little things that I WANT on my blog but don’t know how to get there. And my incredible thrift that keeps me from paying someone who could take ten minutes to slap it together the way I want it.
You know, as much as that didn’t make sense, maybe it IS fear somehow.
fear is capable of holding one back. the best way of tackling is to be aware of the worst case scenario
Charlene Nevill says
Talk about synchronicity . . . The subject of my latest blog post is the shadow self (thanks to my recent discovery of The Red Book by Carl Jung), so I’ve recently spent a lot of time researching the concept of demons. FEAR has been a huge one for me, and yesterday I performed a little ritual designed to banish my fear which involved burying a stone I’d selected as a talisman by the light of the full moon. Your post is such a good reminder that fear is most often just our ego telling us not to move forward. Thank you! I can’t wait for part two.
Ken Donaldson says
FEAR a la Ken Donaldson: Face Everything And Rejoice !
Christine Casey says
I have found that pushing past my F.E.A.R. that become empowered because I took action ~ especially if it was a task that I imagined to be impossible to do. From past experience, I have learned that F.E.A.R. is probably the worst dream stealer! This was a great blog topic…thanks for sharing 😉
I’m with Shane – you had me with your decompsing lead-in. Was nice that the read was also spot-on, and that Seth quote is a great…but Brian, you look like you could use some sun. And maybe eat a few less brains.
Nancy Camden says
Timely for me, too. As I was reviewing my Internet business yesterday I realized that I had been focusing on my fear of failure instead of the action steps needed for success. Today I’ve created a very specific action plan including a daily checklist. Your blog post (& graphic!) strengthened my resolve to take measurable action every day!
Sonia Simone says
@Martypants It’s all that brain-eating that’s made Brian so intelligent. Business is all about the trade-offs.
@Beki, interesting stuff there, and yes, I suspect your answers are there in your own response. 🙂
Since Fear and Anxiety typically deal with events in the future, they rob you from living in the moment. When you are in the moment and truly present you perform at your very best.
Also, lay off Jessica Simpson!
Mars Dorian says
Fear is my best friend nowadays – whenever I feel nervous hitting the publish button – I know I’m onto something right.
Derek Alvarez says
I love this post, Brian!
I think we tend to make things seem like a bigger deal than they actually are.
That’s happened to me plenty of times in my life! But now I just force myself to take action everyday… in spite of my fear.
Then I usually come to find out that there wasn’t anything worth fussing over. (LOL)
Tara Dillard says
I ask myself, “What would I do tomorrow if I were not afraid.”
Lots of choices appear.
Each, better than the ‘fear’ choices.
Garden & Be Well, XO Tara Dillard
Larry Darkman Clark says
No, F.E.A.R. means
Fuck Everything and Run!
Natalie Hill says
Man, that F.E.A.R thing. It’s a brick wall keeping us from letting our inner light shine.
I’m in the process of writing an ebook I’m currently calling 30 Days to Personal Peace. And guess what’s filling the room, like smoke?
Like Seth says,
What a waste!
The problem with F.E.A.R is that often the idea of failure is enough to prevent us from moving – when you’re gripped by this even the smallest of baby steps can seem like taking a leap off a cliff. Looking at the worst case scenario is a great first step because it should start putting your mind at ease (at least it does for me).
The worst thing is when the F.E.A.R. wasn’t even yours to start with.
Eva Love says
A great quote that supports your article is “Most of my life has been one tragedy after another, most of which hasn’t happened.” Voltare
Great article! Thanks.
Stanford Smith says
Although I still get sick to my stomach everytime I post – I realize that this FEAR is signaling that I’m doing something right. If it doesn’t make me think twice, it probably isn’t remarkable. By the way, listening to the Rocky soundtrack plus Massive Action works too! 🙂
Yoda once said, “Do or do not–there is no try.” I would reengineer the equation to:
Do + Learn + Adapt + Do = Success
Do = Success
Usually when people try to do things, they believe they can’t, and can’t usually means they won’t.
Toronto Dentist :) says
Great post! My world is all about dealing with fear and Brian, you were spot-on in describing both fear and anxiety.
Matt, you mentioned fear and anxiety were focused on the future. Anxiety for sure. That’s like having your worry button stuck in the ON position. Your mind replays disaster movies in an endless loop.
Real fear (not F.E.A.R.) lives in the present. It’s having your alert system in overdrive. Fear can make mortal threats out of practically nothing. Like my wife having a conniption over a little spider.
Justin Popovic says
Great article Brian.
I have overcome many fears in my life and I am still working on others. It is a fascinating topic because everyone experiences fear but the way in which people respond varies drastically.
I have taken massive action in my life for the past 3 years and the things that were fearful to me then, are laughable now. Being a full time entrepreneur has helped me face my fears more quickly as well. When my business revenue depends on me taking actions that are sometimes scary, I have no choice but to face them (well, I guess the other choice is to fail my business but I have no intentions of doing so).
Thanks for the insight
Jeff Faldalen says
That is one of ways I have heard fear explained.
I have also heard it said “Future events appearing real”
Either way, it is a way for someone trying to control the outcome by thinking of every possible angle, so they don’t get caught off guard.
Like your lion illustration. A great book to help people with this is “Psyco cybernetics”
This is one of my favorite topics I love to train on
Thank you for the pearls of wisdom
Wishing you all the best,
The Prospecting Funnel Guy
Sandra Lee says
This is a terrific article and I love the quote from Seth Godin. However, I can’t agree with this statement: “And 50 years of cognitive psychology research demonstrates that while we can’t always control how we feel, we do have the power to choose how we think and act.”
Of course we can change how we feel! It’s a question of training and dedication, but of course we can change how we feel. Neuroscience has demonstrated this by looking at the brains of people who have meditated on a long term basis. We don’t have to be a victim of turbulent emotions by any means.
Sonia Simone says
To be fair, Sandra, it was “can’t always,” not “can’t ever.” 🙂
fear is capable of holding one back. the best way of tackling is to be aware of the worst case scenario
Brian – I love your writings – you and I are on the same page but you have a special way of expressing it that I relate to! I’ve followed your last few posts through the emails you sent and have felt uplifted through each one. Thank you for your encouragement!
Ilka Flood says
Great article and very scary image! Yikes!
F.E.A.R can appear very real and can hold us back from what we want to accomplish. It’s realizing that it is all ‘in our head’ that helps us to move forward. (By the way, I’ve been there plenty of times.)
Awesome and very simple formula! Gotta remember that one.
Have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend!
Peter J says
First, encounter, assault recon, lol. Good game.
Just kidding, thanks for the great post, i’m always affraid of trying new things on my blog cuz i have a feeling that it will fail.
Steve Errey - The Confidence Guy says
Nicely put Brian.
The driver to be safe is mightily strong, and leads us to all kinds of automatic behaviour that the majority of people never question.
The key is to wake up and make deliberate choices based on what matters to you. You might be shaking in your boots as you take that first step forwards, but it’s okay. You know you can deal with whatever happens, and damn it, something amazing might just happen.
There’s a misconception that confidence is never experiencing fear, but that’s complete BS. Confidence is allowing yourself to experience fear and still trusting yourself to make a decision.
Leisa Watkins | Wealth Wisdom and Success says
I love the Seth Godin quote. “Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.” ~Seth Godin
I know some people who run through all the possible negative outcomes over and over again. And yes, I am sure, I have plenty of times. While it is often times smart to look at those areas so one can anticipate areas where they may have problems it often isn’t necessary – especially when one tends to linger and dwell there.
Much of that fear can be overcome if one does the opposite and look at the positive outcomes. One could say “Success is repeatedly re-experiencing success in advance.”
City Sylvester - Personal Branding says
F.E.A.R can take over your life, if left unchecked.
My Tae-Kwon-Doe sensei once asked me a simple question, when he saw how hesitant I was to spar with one of the bigger students.
He asked, “Do your emotions control you, or do you control your emotions?” It’s obvious what the answer should’ve been, but it was the way the question was asked, that caused it to be so effective.
The best proven method for stomping F.E.A.R ,is asking yourself the right questions. Like, what are you really afraid of?
Corey Heller says
Great article! I’m at that spot where I tried something, gave it enough time to percolate, everyone loved the content (Multilingual Living Magazine), I didn’t use social media well and so the word didn’t get out far enough, I burnt out (well, and mom died of cancer… that always changes the world). Now as I continue again with a new direction (after 1.5 year burn-out break) I’m noticing how hesitant I am. Feeling that nagging feeling that even if I do everything “right” (good content, using social media marketing, connecting, quality products in the works) it won’t ultimately work out. But yes, this is F.E.A.R (and fear). This isn’t the first time my head has got me into trouble!
Toronto Dentist :) says
This post inspired a couple of posts on my own site because the topic was so relevant to what I do. Thanks Brian!
(I added a link back to recognize Brian’s good work)
Just love the Jessica Simpson comment.
I think Seth got it right. Lets face it, if you’re expecting failure… you’ll find it. That really is a waste.
Great post. I love the acronym and quote.
I’d add another definition of anxiety is “perception of threat”. And, it typically stars with “what if…”. Some anxiety we are aware of and some is unrecognized. Once, you are aware of it, you have a choice. To get on top of it, or let it drive the wheel!
Louie Bennett says
This post on fear is one of the biggest reasons why people stay in their comfort zones, some times (Stuck), feeling restricted , feeling incapable, fear of rejection, fear of failure, and many more, one of the approaches is to fully understand our comfort zones, identifying where we would like to go ,and then a task driven action plane to gradually expand out of your existing comfort zone to the new improved you. We then recycle the approach again, as we never stop learning, because when we stop learning we stop growing, when we stop growing we are dying.
Nathan Hangen - Digital Emperor says
That’s one of the most awesome photos I’ve seen for a blog post. Fits the writing perfectly.
Great article. One thing I would add there is no try only do!
Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t you’re right.
The one thing that has made a profound difference in my life is “There is no such thing as problems only opportunities”
Use this and see how much of a difference it makes in your life also.
Best regards Steve
Wow! Thanks so much for this article! It’s something that was very much needed by myself. I’m someone who has struggled with fear all my life and I’m always trying to find ways to overcome it.
Tito Philips, Jnr. says
Very early in life, I read a book by Norman Vincent Pearl titled – “the plus factor” that taught me an important lesson about fear; that there’s only ONE way to kill fear, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain!”
So the next time you sense a False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R), the least you could do is to simply confront it and walk through it!
Nice article Brian, thanks.
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