Maybe a month or so ago my salt water-loving friend Srini recommended that I read a book called The Fear Project by Jaimal Yogis. He mentioned that we had a similar outlook on life, philosophy, and personality traits. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of the book and finally got around to adding it to my 52 books in 52 weeks quest.
The subject of Fear, why we are afraid, and why it keeps you from doing things you truly want to do most has been studied for years. In his book, Jaimal does a fantastic job relating the science of fear and how it works in that three-pound lump between your ears, with the significant role it plays in your daily life.
Fear within sport, personal challenges, mental hurdles, physical health, love and commitment are all addressed in this book. However, one of the more important messages I took from it was this.
“Overcoming fear feels good.”
You and I both know that this is true. Look back at any experience in which you overcame some sort of personal fear. Maybe the fear of tying the knot, skydiving, learning how to swim, giving a big speech or for me leaving my job to pursue writing and coaching full-time. Think back to how difficult and uncomfortable it was for you to get the ball rolling towards tackling that fear.
Sleepless nights, body aches, butterflies in the gut, sweating, trouble breathing, moodiness, essentially anxiety and stress coming out of your ying-yang.
But you know as well as I do when a fear is conquered there is no other feeling like it. Complete and utter euphoria. For that moment in time you are invincible, a hero, a king among kings. So if it feels so good why is it so damn difficult for us to tackle some of our greatest fears? Jaimal dives not only into the salt water and personal experiences to explain this but also into research and the science that can help you to overcome personal limitations and fears that might be holding you back from accomplishing great things.
Fear is an experience
One of the major concepts I took from the read is that fear is an experience. Just like having your first child is an experience, taking a new job, or learning to ride a bike when you were a kid. as with any experience there is the good and the bad – both should not be anticipated. However, you have a say in which experience you will participate in. You have the ability to shift the tide in your favor and to have a positive experience from embracing your fears (more on this later).
I’ve talked about it on this site before Jaimal touches on it in his book much more in-depth. It is a primitive emotion for you as a human being to want to be safe. It is naturally ingrained in you to avoid danger. From the earliest days on earth it was required to out run predators, fight with peers for food and survival, or even to find a mate to carry on your gene pool. Fear is what kept you alive during these times.
Now those things are not so difficult to come about. My dog is not much of a predator, food is plentiful, and there are mates as far as the eye can see (if you’re picky that’s on you ). However, those natural instincts have not left you. They still stay close by to keep you from harms way in those instances you may need it. From dodging a car on the highway to staying in a job you may hate simply for the security of the paycheck.
Fear makes you forget what you already know
As much as fear is a natural instinct for you so to is the ability to deal with it. Jaimal reminds that fear paralyzes you and keeps you from turning to the natural instincts that can best help you to deal with fear.
One way to deal with this is to look back to past experiences. How were you able to overcome fear in the past? Look back to specific times in your life, big, small, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter – they all offer up a reminder that you are capable of overcoming fear and difficulty.
How were you able to overcome the fear off riding down that first big hill on your bike as a kid, trying a back flip on the trampoline, giving a speech in front of the class, or asking out that cute girl or guy you were seriously crushing on?
Actually, don’t just think about it. Write it out. Write how you overcome those fears. The written word is a very powerful thing.
You’re afraid of the wrong things
One of my favorite parts of the book was when Jamail was discussing the movie Jaws, shark attacks, and the general fear of sharks. I love stats… a serious numbers nerd so this one stuck with me.
There is roughly about one shark attack each year that leads to death versus 600,000 deaths caused by heart disease. Yet society as a whole fears Shark attacks much more than they do heart disease. WTF!
I’m not sure if Jaimal would agree with me or not here but I believe it is due to a concept in which he touches on in his book regarding learned versus genetic fears. Essentially there are certain things you learn to fear. Jaimal gives the example of a gun.
Point a gun in a baby or monkeys face and you get nothing. Point a gun in your face and you get a waterfall down your leg and quite possibly a baby ruth in your shorts.
Fear is not always well established in you. It can also be learned through negative experiences under certain circumstances. One way to combat this is through positive experiences with the same stimulus.
This is where you will have to be smart and work at your own pace. One of my favorite websites, gettingstronger.org recently posted an article about dealing with fears. One particular way is through exposure therapy. The example given is the fear of snakes. You would list all possible exposure experiences that you could have with snakes for the hardest for you to deal with to the easiest and assign a difficulty scale to each experience. Again, you can do this with anything. Commitment, skydiving, whatever your fear.
Example from getting stronger: Below is the experience with your fear and the fear level associated with the experience (100 being scared shitless and 0 being no fear at all)
Letting a python crawl on me 100
Approaching an open snake cage 90
Approaching a closed snake cage 75
Watching movies about snakes 50
Looking at pictures of snakes 40
Saying the word “snake” 25
In this example you would start by just saying the word snake and doing so until your level of fear falls from 25. Then you would start looking at pictures of snakes and keep doing so until the level falls from 40.
Ladies, you can do this with your fellas by having them say the word “marriage” and then subsequently having them look at pictures of married couples Seriously, the idea is to create more positive experiences with negative ones and to build upon that.
One of the bigger concepts The Fear Project takes us through is that fear lies to you. Jamial ties this in to his love of surfing, difficulties with commitment, and other interesting personal stories that are easy to relate to. It tricks you into believing you are not strong enough, not capable, the worst will happen, or that it is to big of a risk and you are not safe.
A great buddhist quote is given in the book, something that really resonated with me and had to do with an experience Jamail had at a Chinese Buddhist Monastery.
If you run from the pain it will follow you
The only way to ever get rid of a fear is to welcome it and take on the challenge it presents. The best way to do this is through two examples Jamail gives us in his book.
Preparation and Focusing on the fears you can control
Listing all your apprehensions about a specific fear and focusing on the things that are within your control will alleviate most of your stress. The things you have not control over should not concern you as you have no say over how those things will play out.
For this things you can control… prepare, practice, and repeat.
A baby boy, a powerful message, and closing thoughts
From the words of Jamail himself in a message he delivered to his son Kaifas.
“Look at this magnificent world… do you realize you can do anything.”
What are your biggest fears? Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine