We think there’s some magical method they can use to stop feeling fear altogether before we act.
How many times have you been in a situation where you hesitated out of fear? You thought about doing whatever it is you were trying to do. And as you start to think about it more, the fear increased.
You start anticipating what will go wrong — rejection, embarrassment, catastrophic public failure. You get to the ledge, but you don’t jump. This reinforces the fear and puts you in your head even more to than you were, to begin with. This creates a loop. A loop is a negative self-fulfilling prophecy that continues to get worse as you try to solve it by more thinking.
So, how do you get out of the loop, especially when it comes to situations where you’re worried about what other people think? You take action. Action is the only antidote. Once you start to do it enough, the fear doesn’t go away, but it does decrease. And you also learn valuable lessons along the way. Let’s take a look at what action in spite of fear looks like and talk about the lessons you’ll learn along the way if you do it.
Many people have a deep fear of public speaking. When you’re on stage in front of a bunch of people, all the focus is on you. You know, for a fact, that everyone is thinking about you. If you let the potential opinions of the crowd overwhelm you, it will paralyze you with fear.
This is what happened to a speaker at a TEDx event in my city a year before I went on stage to give my own talk. In the middle of the talk, he lost track of his train of thought. When you’re taught public speaking, they tell you to just keep going even if you don’t exactly remember where you’re at in the speech because the audience doesn’t know that.
Instead, he froze. He went for 10 straight minutes without saying a single word. It got so bad that the audience members had to start cheering him on to get him to finish the talk. There’s an important lesson there. The audience wasn’t rooting for his failure. They didn’t pile on him. They wanted him to succeed.
Most people won’t tear you down and will root for you because putting yourself out there is rare and admirable. So when you put yourself in those situations especially publicly, it’s an automatic win just because you did it.
The speaker at the event last year should’ve come to a realization about a minute or so into being stuck. You’re winning simply because you’re doing it, keep going. Had he collected himself and just started to talk again, the speech would’ve come off like a brilliant comeback story.
In a world where people are afraid to put themselves out there, the simple act of doing it separates you from the pack. Always remember that. No matter how much you stumble during these situations, ask yourself “Who else would have the guts to do this?”
I stared at her every weekend for what seems like months on end. This beautiful girl in my college town always seemed to be directly in front of me whenever I was at the bar.
I wanted to go over and say hi, but I always talked myself out of it.
“She’s out of my league.”
“Why would she want a guy like me.”
“She’s probably already seeing someone.”
I’d read the expression on her face to see if there was some neon green sign that said “come talk to me.” That sign never came. Eventually, I met her in a more casual setting—a house party with a handful of people there. In those settings, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up talking to everybody. We talked. And…we hit it off.
We started dating. She became my girlfriend. And then, she became my wife. I wasted a ton of time not going up to say hello in the first place because I created this imaginary story about a person I never met.
All the while, she was a normal human being: not some unattainable object of my affection. In our time together I learned a lot of things about her, including that she had her own insecurities just like me. It now seems laughable that I was too afraid to say something.
The lesson here: you’d be surprised at how people respond to you if you just put yourself in front of them — asking someone on a date, asking for the sale, putting your art out for the world to see, introducing yourself to a bunch of people at a conference, making new friends, starting a business, sharing your real thoughts with others.
Many people want what you have to offer, but you’ll never know unless you offer it.
Some people will respond to you negatively. Some people don’t want what you have to offer and might be actively against it. You’re not everyone’s cup of tea and you just might fail to click with people for no apparent or obvious reason.
Not only is this okay, but you should want to reveal these negative responses as soon as possible. A mentor of mine has a saying “sharp ends forward.” It means that you should amplify the edges of your personality. Why? Because instead of trying to get everyone’s approval, you’re seeking filtering people out who aren’t a good fit as soon as possible.
Think about it. Why would you want someone to like you who doesn’t like you? Think about how needy it is to hide your real personality so you can get the approval of people who wouldn’t like you if you were the real you.
You’re never going to stop worrying about what people think about you, but you can work on not worrying about what the wrong people think about you. If you went through the world in an authentic way, engaging with as many people as possible, you’d quickly filter out the ones who weren’t a good fit and still would be left with a bunch of people who do value you.
Honor your own value. Even if you doubt yourself, deep down you know there are a lot of cool and interesting things about you. What other people think shouldn’t affect the way you feel about yourself. Stop thinking about ‘rejection’ as something that speaks to your character and just realize that there’s just some sort of mismatch there — different values, bad timing, or simply a situation that doesn’t click and doesn’t require an explanation.
You do get that nobody actually cares, right?
There’s that saying:
“When you’re 20 you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”
Think about how preoccupied you are with yourself. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you saw someone else get embarrassed or rejected. How long does it take you to forget about it? A day, max?
How many times have you turned down a date, said no to a sales pitch, read an article you didn’t like, or ran into someone who just wasn’t your cup of tea? Do you ever actually think about those situations again? Nope.
Even with the guy who bombed on stage at the TEDx talk. Sure, people talked about it around town, but it wasn’t like the guy had some scarlet letter and was destined to never have a positive experience. He could give a speech again to the same crowd. If he did well, that memory would stick with them—the comeback kid.
Any rejection you’ll ever experience is a tiny moment that passes in the wind, rarely to ever be thought about again.
I read a really good quote one time. It’s one I think about whenever I’m worried about what other people think.
“Your entire life is designed around avoiding EMBARRASSMENT You don’t want to LOOK like the little guy But you’d rather BE the little guy as long as you don’t have to feel the sting of rejection.”
How much of your life is designed around avoiding embarrassment? How many opportunities are you missing out on just because you don’t want to experience a fleeting physiological emotion of your heart sinking into your stomach for a bit?
That’s it? That’s what’s blocking you from a much better life? That’s what’s going to cause you to go to the grave with a bunch of unfulfilled dreams?
He goes on to say:
“And most Sad of all, you’d rather be miserable every day of the rest of your life as long as nobody else knows. Because that would be embarrassing. And for you embarrassment is worse than death. So you’ll go down quietly until oblivion takes you out for good.”
Pretty messed up if you ask me. Seems like something we should all be working on.