I’m going to do the exact opposite of what most self-improvement writers do. Instead of trying to alleviate your concerns about the future and tell you that everything will be okay if you just “believe in yourself ™! I’m going to tell you, you know, the truth. Instead of telling you that fear is “false evidence appearing real,” I’ll tell you that fear is palpable and powerful enough that it is essentially real.
You’re afraid that if you try to achieve a certain goal it’s going to cause you some level of psychological pain. It definitely will. You’re afraid that stepping outside of your comfort zone will make you feel lost, uneasy, and uncertain. It will. You’re afraid that putting yourself out there will cause you to face rejection and embarrassment. It damn sure will.
You have every reason to feel afraid and anxious about trying to build a better future for yourself. It’s gonna suck at times. That resistance you feel when you’re in pursuit of something meaningful is strong, formless, and relentless. I’m not trying to convince you that it’s the right path for you.
Instead, I’ll tell you the reason why I try to face my fears and pursue my dreams. I see this process as a true spiritual journey. I see fear as a natural and justified feeling that’s worth facing and the results you get from facing it are more than worth the cost of admission. You have to start living in a different way. You have to do the things you’re afraid of and realize the fear of doing those things isn’t going away. Let’s take a look at some of the actions you might take if you started to live a more courageous life.
Many people use cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with their phobias. It teaches you to deal with your fears through gradual exposure. Say you’re afraid of snakes. At first, your therapist might show you a picture of a snake. Next, they might have you sit in a room while someone is holding a snake in the doorway. Then, they’d bring the snake into the room. Next, they might have you pet the snake with one finger. Eventually, they’d have you hold the snake.
The lesson is simple: exposure to the things you’re afraid of works better than wishing your fears would go away.
You can create this effect in your own life by gradually exposing yourself to the things you’re afraid of. The process makes sense, but why do people avoid it? They avoid it because the process involves some jarring moments along the way. It’s difficult to embrace the long-term results of your actions while you feel deeply afraid in the moment. And there is no magic answer to solve this problem other than to understand the long-term pay-offs and embrace that the process will work.
I’m working on an idea for my fourth book. So far, the premise is about how to live an unapologetic life. Being unapologetic means you go after the things you desire instead of pretending you don’t want them. It means you expose your real personality to other people instead of hiding it just to get along. It means you stop living your life with stifled and repressed energy.
You feel stifled when you have this urge to break out of your box and just live freely and fully. You can picture what it would feel like to live this way and it feels good. Often, you’ll get inspired and feel this huge motivational wave, like you’re actually going to start doing it. But then, you fall back into your old ways.
It creates this tension and passive-aggressive energy that slowly drains you of your power. So how do you start to live freely? Short answer, you start doing the things you would do if you didn’t care about approval from other people. You do the things you’d do if you didn’t judge your desires as selfish. You’d act on those ideas that pop into your head right away. Now, you’re not just going to suddenly start living this way, but that’s where the exposure process kicks in again. Start trying to be a little less apologetic and a little bit more bold every day.
Some recommendations are:
Like I said earlier, you can’t just make your fears go away. So what can you do? You can change your relationship with fear and what it means to you. What if you could start to look at your fear as useful?
Sometimes fear means you should run away or avoid the thing that causes fear, e.g., if someone has a gun and they’re trying to kill you, you should try to escape. But sometimes fear is a signal that you need to step into it, e.g., if you’re afraid to sell, it’s a sign you need to put yourself out there so you can build a business.
When you switch fear to a signal to act, facing your fears can start to be fun. Sure, you’ll experience some gut-wrenching emotions at times, but you’ll also get a thrill from it. Will Smith gave a talk once where he used the metaphor of skydiving. You’re terrified when you’re standing at the edge of the plane, but once you jump you feel euphoric.
Imagine what your life would look like in a year if you stepped into your fear every single time you felt it. For one, you’d probably be a hell of a lot less afraid. Two, you’d give yourself the gift of fully understanding that it’s okay to be afraid. You’d realize there’s nothing wrong with you for being afraid. That’s the key. People beat themselves up because they’re afraid when it’s totally normal. Instead, they should switch the signal.
At the end of the day, all of these strategies lead up to one singular goal. Find a long-term objective, aim at it, and don’t waver. Start a business, go from socially awkward to savvy, get in amazing shape, step off the sidelines and become a leader, find a purpose for your life — live the life you know you’re meant to live deep down. Take the risk of dedicating years of your life to a meaningful goal.
If we lived in a society where everyone focused on aiming, a lot of our societal ills would disappear. I have many people reach out to me and tell me they feel lost. I always give them the same piece of advice, find something to aim at, and go for it. It doesn’t even matter what you aim at, per se. There’s no such thing as a singular life path, passion, or purpose. As you aim, and pursue, and grow, new chapters of your life will reveal themselves to you.
Six years ago, when my life was in disarray, I aimed at a better life. I started making general improvements. Then, I stumbled into writing. And for the next half-decade, I dedicated my life to a craft, a mission, a vocation, and a lifestyle I knew I was meant for. Did I turn into Tony Robbins, perpetually happy and blissful? No. But I get to look back and what I’ve done for the rest of my life and have a feeling that no one can take away from me — the overwhelming pride of a job well-done and effort well-spent. I had to face many fears along the way, mainly the fear that I was a fraud who was unworthy of sharing with the world.
But here I am, still sharing. And now I just keep looking for places to aim to keep myself on a straight path in a chaotic world. You don’t have to live this perfect life of self-actualized bliss. Just aim. I have no fluffy words of encouragement that will sustain you for this journey. Nope, most of the process involves you vs. you. But, I do know that you can do it.
The question is, will you?