How to Conquer One of Our Biggest Fears

You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley of Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with the sword and the shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.

– Malcolm Gladwell, David & Goliath


This week we sat in The Wilde Roast Café having a normal business conversation – until she described trying to work full time while her son went through chemotherapy.

I wondered how I’d hold up under those circumstances.

Psychologists say we are terrible “affective forecasters,” meaning we’re awful at making predictions about how we are going to feel in some future situation.

Which means we become afraid of being afraid. And this irrational fear crushes our strength and purpose.

If, as FDR said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” then perhaps the height of bravery is not being afraid of being afraid.

How do we do that?

1. Stop trying to forecast. We’re not good at it anyway! Dale Carnegie famously said, “Live in day-tight compartments.” In other words, maintain mental and emotional boundaries between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Being mindful of today helps us leverage our yesterdays, enjoy our todays and prepare for tomorrows.

2. Make “clarity” priority number one. What reduces your mental and emotional clarity? My top two culprits are hurry and fatigue. Show me a rushed and tired week, and I’ll show you my anxiety and depression. What increases your mental and emotional clarity? My top two enhancers are sufficient sleep and getting up early to be awake and quiet. How often are you fully awake and fully quiet?

3. Do scary things. As J.T. MacCurdy says, “We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to being afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration.” What scares you? How can you build the mindset to go after it anyway?

4. Shine light on the fear. My fear compounds when it hides. When it’s exposed in trusting relationships, with my wife, friends, colleagues and God, it fades quickly. Those we trust can help us see the irrationality of our preoccupation and the rationality of our support to take on any challenge.

Are you afraid of being afraid? How could you be intentionally building more courage?



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  • Pat Griffin
    April 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    As my colleague, Paul Calkins, says: “The fear of self-revelation is the number one barrier to effective communication.” This article really brings to light the damaging effect of not facing our fears. Thanks for the inspiration, Matt!

    • normanblogger
      April 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      What a great quote, Pat. Thank you.

  • Sherri Troyer
    April 16, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Great article, as usual, Matt! I’ve been considering zip lining with my husband, so #3 & 4 above register very well right now.

    • normanblogger
      April 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks Sherri! Awesome application of 3 & 4. Let me know how the zip lining goes!