Facing Your Fears the Right Way

Facing your fears is one of those ideas in the realm of personal development which is getting so wide spread I think it’s becoming dangerous. Why? Because I believe facing fears can be done in many ways, and some of the more popular ones have more negative consequences than positive ones.

The basic premise of this advice is that by facing your fears and doing what you know is right, not only that you get the desired results, but you also make the fear go away as you get used to the thing you’re afraid of. Sometimes, this truly happens, which is why in principle, getting out of your comfort zone and facing your fears is solid advice.

However, sometimes (more often than a lot of people would like to admit), facing your fears does nothing to lower your anxiety and actually reinforces them. Let’s dig into some human psychology and cognition, to find out why.

Imagine a person who is afraid of public speaking. So she decides as part of improving her people skills, to face this fear head on. So she forces herself to speak in front of 500 top managers, at an important business conference. She thinks this way she’ll get read of her fear once and for all.

She is up on stage, looking at the people and feeling scared like she’s in front of an execution squad. She feels the fear, she sees the audience, she’s thinking to herself: “Damn, I’m scared! This was a bad idea”. What happens in this situation is that mentally, the intense fear and the public speaking situation get linked one with the other, and the fear of public speaking only gets reinforced.

In my coaching activity, I have met a lot of people who go around facing their fears every day like this. And most of the time, they are still afraid of those same things they’re facing for a long time. They’re running around scared half the time. I don’t know about you, but I call this self-torture.

There are better ways to do it. Methods like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which I often use in my coaching practice, provide some solid, well documented ways for facing your fears effectively. Here are two essential traits they have:

1. Gradual exposure. You don’t face a stimulus which triggers fear at its highest intensity. You start with a low intensity one, and as you get used to it and your fear decreases significantly, you move on to one of a higher intensity. If for example, you are afraid of public speaking, you start by speaking in front of 10 people who seem friendly.

2. Combining the behavioral with the cognitive. As you face your fears, you also focus on addressing your automatic thinking and your limiting beliefs which fundament these fears. Your combine using the right external tools with using the right internal tools.

If you do it this way, over time, the fears you’re facing will actually drop and eventually disappear. It will take time and practice, but you will see it happen. This means you can start to enjoy the things you dreaded, that you experience more freedom. It’s what I like the most about personal development.

Comments

  1. Good points, I have a find in my public speaking class who is taking the class just to confront her fear of public speaking. I think here way is a good approach rather then divining at the deep end as in your example she is training her self to speak in an environment that is safe and reassuring.
    .-= Quinn´s last blog ..Being the stone =-.

  2. Hi Eduard, nice article man. I like the gradual exposure tip. I think that’s how fear is meant to be face – well at least, it’s one effective way. Instead of just diving in all at once, but taking it a little bit at a time, we will be able to slowly accept fear and realize that’s not as big of a deal as to what we might have thought of beforehand.

  3. Learning to release fear is essential in our awakening. I haven’t tried CBT, but full allowing and watching and releasing, similar to the Sedona Method, works very well for me. This is possibly very much like your gradual exposure approach. Also, many people resonate with EFT.

    Great article–a very important subject. Thanks!

    k
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Why we don’t do the things that are good for us? =-.

  4. CBT is sounds great as it helps eliminate those negative thougths and beliefs .

    Great info Thanks for sharing
    .-= Fatibony{self help wellness}´s last blog ..62 More Personal Development Blogs – Watch List 2010 =-.

  5. Hi Eduard,

    Interesting points. I believe there are certain situations that you can dive head into. Like the very first time I did comedy. I didn’t do well and it forced me to re-evaluate my ideas on what comedy is. If it wasn’t for that experience though I think I would’ve been in a very different place right now.

    I can see exactly where you’re coming from though because to talk in front of 500 people and not be prepared, emotionally, means you’ll leave an impression on them that will last a long time and that’s not something you want to do.

    A better method for that person in question is like what quinn was talking about, practise in front of friends, smaller audiences first, before taking the dive into a huge event.

    A
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Don’t Let The Attitude Of Gratitude Turn You Into A Pushover =-.

  6. I like that! I can relate to public speaking example. I am not terrified of it, but not fully comfortable just yet.

    I think I did just what you recommend. I joined Toastmasters. The organization provides a warm and welcoming environment for practicing. You are given roles and speeches to say. You do it all at your own pace and gradually, over time you become more comfortable with it. All along your are getting positive support and friendly advice on how to get better:)

    Great advice of not overdoing it and becoming even more terrified of the fear.

    BTW, here is my take on fear: fear is just resistance to uncertainty.

    Hehe 🙂

    Good luck! Great post!

    Best,
    Tomas
    .-= Tomas Stonkus´s last blog ..Does Your Life Get In The Way? =-.

  7. I totally agree on the point that we would need to have constant exposure to conquer our fear. The fear may be the most intense when we are doing it the first time but gradual and constant exposure will make the fear so diminutive that we will not be afraid of it anymore.

    Cheers,
    Vincent
    .-= Vincent´s last blog ..5 Personal Finance Lessons I Had Picked Up From Warren Buffett That Can Help You Grow Your Wealth and Be Rich =-.

  8. I actually think gradual exposure is a general human tendency, or at least it for some people in some situations: like when you go into a really cold pool of water step-by-step. But then again – some people like to just jump right in, and that can be quicker and more effective. I guess it just depends on certain things.

    I personally can’t imagine someone planning to go in front of 500 people as a way to eliminate his/her fear. I certainly would never make that decision. I would first want to just practice one-on-one interviews, then go to group meeting, then to maybe a small 20-25 person public speech, and maybe THEN the 500 person one. But that is just me and I would consider myself fairly introverted.

    Either way, I think your post brings up some very, very good points about human development. We all face our fears to some extent, but some are more conscious and directed about it than others.
    .-= Steven | The Emotion Machine´s last blog ..How To Combat Work Overload =-.

  9. @Quinn – I’m doing of public speaking class right now with some people like that. I appreciate them facing their public speaking fears and doing it the right way.

    @Hulbert – glad to provide a useful tip.

    @Kaushik – I resonate best with CBT, which does encourage gradual exposure. Modesty aside, I helped people create some impressive results with it in eliminating their fears.

    @Fatibony – told you 😉

  10. @Amit – there is also a technique to get over fears by facing them head on, at a very high intensity. It’s called flooding. If done the right way, in the right context, it can also work. But the right way, in the right context, which not many people do. Also, implosion is generally recommended to be used under the guidance of a professional (therapist, coach, etc).

    @Tomas – I’m gonna write you to ask about Toastmasters. Me and a friend want to create a club here in Bucharest this year.

    @Vincent – yup, that’s how gradually facing your fears works. In this case, the easy way is also the best way.

    @Steven – I have seen some people doing what we might call brutal exposure. Not a pretty sight. But I also know people who naturally tend to do it gradually. And I also know a lot of people who don’t practice facing fears in either way.

  11. I started reading this article with skeptism, and then as I read, realized that this is exactly what I do in my coaching practice using the principles I learned through the Fearless Living Institute coach training program. Rhonda Britten is a master of living fearlessly and it was good to read confirmation of the solid practices we were taught in her program and that I use very successfully in my coaching practice. Thank you!

  12. Oh, I love facing fears head on, I wish I did more often:)
    Great tips with gradual exposure and combining the behavioral with the cognitive, I’ll definitely use them. Thanks, Eduard!

  13. Such a perennial topic. There are a lot of different types of fear and I would categorize public speaking and how to deal with it as something very different (but very fixable) than having a fear of heights or flying on a plane for example, and by extension how to deal with them. In the speaking example one really good technique is for the speaker to teach a process versus just giving a speech. By teaching a process or going through an example of how to do something in front of an audience it forces the speaker to get their mind off of the audience and focus on what they know. We are typically more comfortable concentrating on what we know. Being able to focus yourself on explaining something in this way automatically reduces the fear of being in front of audience.

  14. Very true.
    You start at 1 and move yourself to 10.
    But it is taking the leap that matters the most.
    .-= aDeeb´s last blog ..Apple iPad? No thanks. =-.

  15. @Lana – you are very welcome 😉

    @Marc – thanks for your insights. I think in general, social anxieties require the king of approach I’m talking about: gradual and combined.

    @aDeeb – yeeees!

  16. As a social anxiety disorder sufferer, I can say that facing fear is something I have to do a lot of. Gradual exposure and using the right internal tools is the right thing to do, but I would also add that it is important to give it time. It is impossible to solve your fear of public speaking, or whatever it is, in a couple weeks. If you give it time, hard work, and work on changing your thinking, you can overcome any fear.

  17. Great and informative post!

    Indeed public speaking fears can be overcome.

  18. @Dan – thanks for pointing out the importance of giving it time. This is an important condition in all personal development.

    @Tim – glad you like it.

  19. i remember when i was still in high school, i always fear public speaking engagments.'”-

  20. Good point. “Shocking” your fear is not the way to go. I believe in doing things slowly but more for long term. Just like memorizing stuff, when you memorize quickly, you forget easily. I myself have a fear of speaking in public, I can’t imagine myself in a situation where you will get more afraid. I’d rather build my confidence slowly.

    • Hey Lynne,

      That word by itself says quite enough: shocking. I can’t think of anything that truly works like that, accepting restarting a heart sometimes 🙂

  21. i think that everyone have a fear of public speaking in one way or another `-`

  22. This is spot on. For 18 years, I had severe social anxiety. I could not walk down a sidewalk, enter a shop, talk to people, get a job (or even hand in a resume), use telephones. I failed my classes because I was too afraid to show up. I often couldn’t leave my room, let alone the house for fear of cars driving past seeing me through the windows (even though that was impossible). I couldn’t go into my backyard for fear of neighbours seeing me, despite the high fences. I couldn’t even imagine ever feeling any different.

    For years I struggled with this, getting nowhere. My well meaning family kept forcing me into situations which terrified me, causing panic attacks and reinforcing that fear. And then, at the very basic level, I started doing what you talk about in this article. I pushed continually but gently at my comfort zone. Faced things that caused a smaller amount of anxiety until I became desensitized and was able to push out a little more. Small increments until I was miles from where I started.

    Meanwhile, I formed new beliefs. I realised several things about my fears and worked on those ideas until my mind took hold of them and started thinking in a different way.

    I started doing this, improved in leaps and bounds and in two years, the social anxiety disorder was GONE. It’s been six years since then and it’s still gone. So, great article, I completely agree.

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