Most of us understand that fear is something that often prevents us from doing things that we want to do and achieving things we would like to achieve. The problem is that many of us take the wrong approach to conquering our fears because we don’t understand the difference between what I will call real fears and irrational fears – or more accurately, the different ways they need to be handled.
Real fear is something that is justified because there is potentially a real consequence. For example, I would be afraid to jump in a tank unprotected with a dozen starving sharks. That’s because there is a very real possibility of me being dinner.
Irrational fears on the other hand, are fears where the consequences we imagine in our own mind are far worse than what is likely to be the case in reality. When you look at them logically there is no real justification for the fear.
Public speaking is a classic example of an irrational fear that many people have.
They imagine they will be humiliated and embarrassed if they mess it up. In reality, I can say that having made, listened to and witnessed thousands of speeches by everyone from professionals to complete novices, I’ve never seen a speaker openly taunted or humiliated by an audience. The exception is the odd stand comedian, but that’s part of their territory. Elsewhere, such as in the business world, it just doesn’t happen.
When people set out to conquer some of these irrational fears and build up their self-esteem, they often make the mistake of trying to use real fears as a substitute. They believe that if they overcome a real fear by going swimming with sharks or jumping out of a plane, then they will be able to do anything and conquer anything from that time on.
Activities such as sky-diving and bungee jumping are great fun, and they do provide a temporary feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any evidence that shows they are beneficial in fixing fears that have their origins in low self-esteem, self-doubt and other vulnerabilities of the mind.
Overcoming irrational fears requires substantially more time and effort.
Things you might try include:
- Trying to work out the original source of your fear and asking yourself if it is still relevant in your life.
- Finding a supportive friend or group to help you put your fear into perspective.
- Like Nike says ‘just do it’ then keep doing that thing you fear until you’re no longer afraid.
- In severe cases, where self-esteem issues stem from past trauma, you need to consider seeing a psychologist or counsellor.
So if you want to go sky-diving, by all means, go sky-diving, but do it for the experience that it is, not because you think it will be a three-minute fix for all of your irrational fears.