Why You Should Imagine The Worst

A big part of fear is the unknown. We are afraid of public speaking because we don’t know what others will think of our presentation. We are too scared to ask someone out on a date because we don’t know if they will say yes or no. We fear colossal squid because, well, because they can rip us to pieces. I guess that third one doesn’t quite fit, but it is still scary.

I am all for positive thinking, but when it comes to combating fear it may be beneficial to ask “what’s the worst that can happen?”

Oddly enough, there is some freedom in figuring out what really could go wrong.  Neuroscience research suggests that considering the worst possible scenario can make us feel more in control. When we are nervous, the unknown is actually scarier than something negative. By painting an image of the worst case, we lessen the unknown and begin to feel in charge. This allows us to turn worries and doubts into positive emotions.

So, the next time we are afraid of something we should ask ourselves, “what is the worst that can happen?” By giving it a face, we will likely find that even the worst possible outcome isn’t as spooky as we thought.


How To Get Over Self-Doubt

When we are young, we accept the fact that we need to learn stuff. We don’t know what an adjective is, so we learn. We don’t know who killed Abraham Lincoln, so we learn. We don’t know what trigonometry is…okay so maybe we never quite figure that one out.

My point is, throughout a good chunk of our lives, we don’t question our ability to learn. We need to know something, so we cram, hit the books and pull an all-nighter.

But at some point we start to doubt our ability to learn something new. We may not recognize it as such, but it happens. Maybe we think we already know everything or maybe (and more likely), we are too timid to admit that after all these years, we still need to learn stuff.

That’s the darn thing about learning, our need for it never stops.

A big part of doing something new is starting from square one. We rarely jump into a new hobby or profession without beginning at, well, the beginning. Not having all the answers can cause self-doubt.

How do we get over this self-doubt?

Billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman has a suggestion. He says we need to gain confidence in ourselves as a learner. Hoffman says we need to realize that everyone is capable of learning (we’ve been doing it our whole lives, after all). And once we have the confidence in ability to learn, we should just always be learning.

There is nothing wrong with spotting self-doubt at square one. If it was your first day working for the circus, you wouldn’t expect to be able to teach a tiger how to juggle (do they have that at the circus? It has been awhile since I have gone). No, you would probably start by sweeping up elephant poop while you worked on your skills as a feline juggling coach. Where self-doubt becomes crippling is when we think we will never have what it takes to teach the tiger to juggle.

If we are doing something we believe in, Hoffman says we need to tell ourselves, I am genuinely committed to do it and I am going to learn as I am doing it.

That wasn’t a problem when we were young, and with a little confidence in our ability to learn, it shouldn’t be a problem now.

Fear Disguised As Your Brain

To an eight year old, a horse can be either fantastic or frightening.

To Dillon, a horse was The Shining type of frightening.

The other five kids in my group at camp couldn’t wait to ride a horse, but not Dillon.

As we walked up to the stable, Dillon took one look at the horses and hid behind my legs.

Recognizing that he was scared, but not wanting him to miss out on his only chance to ride a horse at camp, I encouraged him to give it a try and asked him if he was sure he did not want to ride.

His exact words were, “I am not getting on that thing.”

To Dillon, that’s exactly what a horse was…a thing. A thing he wanted no part of.

To help him see that the horses weren’t so scary, I started petting one of them. I asked Dillon if he wanted to join me and he reluctantly agreed.

“These things are soft,” he said after stroking one of the horses.

“Now that you see how soft they are, do you want to try and ride one?” I asked.

Dillon took a minute to answer. He squinted up his face with a painfully, confused expression and said something I will never forget.

“I want to try but why is my brain telling me no?”

I was taken aback by his comment and didn’t know how to respond.

What a mature and introspective thing for a terrified eight year old to say.

I can’t remember exactly what I said next. I think it was something along the lines of, “come on, you can do it” as if I was a little league coach talking to a player with two strikes.

My response in no way matched the magnitude of his question.

Looking back, this poor kid really believed that his brain was telling him not to do something he wanted to do. I can see why he was so confused. After all, his brain was supposed to be on his team, not against him.

Given another chance to answer his question, I would tell him that it wasn’t his brain telling him no. It was fear disguising itself as his brain.

I should have explained that his brain was telling him yes, ride the horse, but fear was the one telling him no.

I’ve read a lot about fear, but it wasn’t until this experience with Dillon and the horse that I realized this type of power fear has.

Fear can be so powerful that we think it is really our brain telling us not to do something we want to do.

For an eight year old (or a 28 year old or a 58 year old) it can be difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference.

What is the thing that you want to do, but are afraid to try? Are you convinced that your brain is telling you not to?

Despite my little league caliber answer, Dillon somehow mustered up the courage to ride the horse.

He was still scared to death, but he wasn’t going to let his brain, or fear (or whatever it was), prevent him from his only chance for a horseback ride.

I know it may sound too made-for-TV, but not only did Dillon get on the horse, but at the end of the ride he immediately wanted to do it again.

To an eight year old, a horse can be either fantastic or frightening.

To Dillon, it became fantastic all because he shut up his fear and started listening to his brain.

Fear Week – Fear Quotes

As fear week comes to a close, I hope that you not only enjoyed the content, but also learned something that can help you overcome your fear.

Just in case you didn’t, I thought it would be appropriate to share some great quotes about fear from people throughout history.

There are some brilliant people out there who can say more about fear in one sentence than I can in an entire week’s worth of blog posts.

Here are 10 awesome quotes that can be used to squash fear!

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

“I failed my way to success.” – Thomas Edison

“The baby bat
Screamed out in fright,
‘Turn on the dark,
I’m afraid of the light.”
― Shel Silverstein

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”  – Plato

“Where ever fear shadows…. that always means there is a light shining somewhere.” – Jonathan Santos

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” – Meg Cabot

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.”Virgil Thomson

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

Fear Week – Biggest Fear

What is your biggest fear?

As part of fear week I started to wonder…what is the one thing that most people are afraid of?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any comprehensive list that ranked the top fears in the world, but I was able to find a few articles on what are some of the most common fears that people have.

Here are some of the fears that showed up on every list.

  • Fear of Public Speaking
  • Fear of Flying
  • Fear of Spiders
  • Fear of Heights
  • Fear of Tight Spaces (Claustrophobia)

Are you afraid of any of those? If so, you are not alone.

Compared to the others I listed, public speaking is by far the least dangerous. But it is the one fear I’ve always had.

Spiders, flying, heights and tight spaces may actually be able to harm me, but I would gladly take any of those instead of speaking in front of a large group.

Just typing that sounds funny, but it is true for many people.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a great line on this topic. He says, “According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. ‘Death’ is number two! Now, this means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Speaking to people is something we do everyday. So why are people more afraid of public speaking than death?

One answer might be found in a great book by Susan Cain titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In her book, Cain discusses one theory based on the writings of the sociobiologist E.O. Wilson that says, “when our ancestors lived on the savannah, being watched intently meant only one thing: a wild animal was stalking us.”

In other words, Cain says, “hundreds of thousands of years of evolution urge us to get the hell off the stage, where we can mistake the gaze of the spectators for the glint in a predator’s eye.”

I have never thought of it like this before, but I think Cain and E.O Wilson make a great point.

I guess, subconsciously I’ve always felt that it is better to be off the stage than on it because out of the limelight is where I feel safe.

Being watched intently is not a common thing for most people. We are no longer being watched intently by wild animals, but that doesn’t we like being watched.

Fear Week – Fear Itself

The other day I was watching TV and I saw back to back commercials that made reference to FDR’s speech that says the only thing to fear is fear itself. (One commercials was for the Google phone and one was for the movie Gravity.)

That made me realize that I know very little about that speech. Sure I know the famous line about fear, but that is all I could tell you about what FDR said.

So I decided to look it up. And I am very glad that I did.

The quote comes from FDR’s first Inaugural Address when he became president in 1932. In addition to the one about fear, this speech contained many other great lines that I found very motivational. Here is a top 10 list I created with lines from that speech.

Top 10 Quotes From FDR’s First Inaugural Address:

10. “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”

In any time of fear and struggle it is important to remember that you have endured, you will endured and things will get better. The time of FDR’s speech was a rough period for America. But FDR knew he needed to install confidence in people by reminding them that America has endured in the past. Similarly, when faced with adversity, we need to remember that we’ve handled adversity in the past and we can do it again.

9. “There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it.”

Following up on #10, we can’t just sit back and wait for things to get better just because they were better in the past. It does no good merely to sit back and talk about the good ol’ days.

8. “Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.”

Now that #9 taught us that talk is cheap, what do we do next? We act! FDR tells the people that we need action and we need it now. Fear can become crippling when we do nothing about it. But when we act against it, fear begins to shrink.  Don’t sit back and let fear grow. Take action and fear becomes less intimidating.

7. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Often we fear of not having enough money. But we need to remember that happiness isn’t dictated by how much money we have. I love the lines of “joy of achievement” and “thrill of creative effort.” I don’t know about you, but reading those makes me want to go out and create something and achieve something.

6. “In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things.”

If your biggest fear is money, FDR says you should be thankful it is only something material. Of all the difficult things people are faced with everyday, money isn’t all that bad. Money is nothing compared to violence, abuse, and disease.

5. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.”

Fear can cause you to lie to yourself. Fear will make you convinced something is true when it is not. In times of fear you must speak the truth frankly and boldly. If you are starting a new business fear will say you are not qualified. Speak boldly and tell yourself that you are qualified.

4. “Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for.”

I think FDR would be a fan of Thankful Thursdays. He knew the importance of being thankful. I am sure FDR was thankful for George Washington and everything he did for his country. Someone ahead of us has already conquered the fear we are presently faced with. For example, if you are afraid of heights, know that there are hundreds of stories of people who have overcome that same fear. Those people survived and so can we. Fear is not undefeated. We should be thankful for all the people that have gained victories over fear.

3. “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

It’s hard to accept, but fear and failure are not all bad. When we learn and grow from the experience, we turn fear and failure into a positive. It would be great to learn all lessons without having a rough patch. But that is never going to happen. Life is not always sunny. There are rainy days. But like FDR says, the dark days are worth all they cost when they teach us our true destiny. And what a great destiny it is to minister to ourselves and our fellow men (and women).

2. “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

I love this quote because it doesn’t say there is no unsolvable problem…the end. It says, there is no unsolvable problem IF we face it wisely and courageously. To be courageous and wise in the face of fear can be difficult, but it is essential. Fear is stronger than the dumb and timid, but it can’t handle the wise and courageous!

1. “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Of course this was going to be number one. Is it the headliner of the speech for a reason. Fear of fear itself can be difficult to understand. But what I think FDR means is that we make fear stronger when we dwell on it. The more we think about fear, the more it grows and grows. Eventually it becomes paralyzing if we let it. FDR says we need to advance instead of retreat. If you take the lessons from 10-2 on this list, you have some pretty good ways to advance and some great reasons not to dwell on fear.

If you would like to hear and read FDR’s speech, you can find it here.