This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David J. Schwartz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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How does fear manifest in your life? Do you believe you have what it takes to overcome your most deep-seated fears?
Fear in all its forms—worry, tension, embarrassment, anxiety, and panic—is crippling, paralyzing you from taking action and blocking your success. According to David J. Schwartz, the author of The Magic of Thinking Big, the secret to overcoming fear is developing confidence.
Here is how you can build confidence and destroy fear once and for all.
Confidence Is the Antidote to Fear
Fear is like an infection in your body. If left untreated, it spreads unabated, causing more physical harm and pain and damaging more and more areas of your body. Fear is an infection of the mind, and when it spreads it stops you from taking chances and jumping on opportunities. It blocks your chances at success. Fear stops you from speaking up when you have something to say, and its incarnations such as anxiety and stress can actually make you physically sick.
So how do we treat this mental infection of fear and stop its spread? Confidence is the antidote to fear, and the good news is that confidence is a skill you can develop. No one is born totally confident. Confident people acquire that confidence over time—and you can too.
There are five steps to take to build confidence and destroy fear:
- Isolate your fear and take action.
- Think positively.
- Gain a better understanding of other people.
- Make moral, right choices.
- Act confidently, even if you don’t feel like it.
1) Isolate Your Fear and Take Action
This step has two parts. First, isolate your fear. What exactly are you afraid of? Describe it in very specific terms.
Next, take action. There’s an action to counterattack any type of fear. Prompt, decisive action conquers fear. Postponing and procrastinating is like pouring fertilizer on fear, helping it grow.
Think of a sales executive terrified of losing her job amid plunging profits and a tenuous company atmosphere. She may think there’s nothing to do but hope for the best, but hope is not enough to change the situation or remove her fear. Instead, she could take action.
- She could investigate the reason for slipping sales and rally her team.
- She could seek the advice of other managers and formulate a plan of action to boost sales.
- She may also want to hedge her bets by polishing her resume and looking out for other opportunities.
In all cases, she is taking back control of her life and doing something about her situation. Fear conquered.
There is some kind of action for every fear.
- Worried about a big test? Use the worry time as study time.
- Terrified of interacting with people you don’t know? Remember that other people are human just like you; practice and get into the habit of speaking up.
- Afraid of making a big decision like buying a house? Analyze all factors thoroughly. Then make a decision, and trust your judgment.
Isolate your fear and take action.
2) Think Positively
Think of your brain as a bank, where you make thought deposits and thought withdrawals. Your inner bank teller is very responsive, ready to deliver whatever memory you call upon as thought evidence. Feeling inadequate in the face of a big decision? Your “teller” will swiftly supply you with past failures, remind you of the people who didn’t like you, and offer up a slew of your worst mistakes.
But what if you call upon your inner teller to bolster your confidence? She’ll eagerly remind you of the excellent choices you made in similar situations, how much confidence others have placed in you in the past, and what a great job you did last time you faced a crisis.
Deposit only positive thoughts in your memory bank, and withdraw only positive thoughts. While driving alone and before you go to sleep at night, make it a point to recall positive, successful experiences. Think about your victories of the day, big and small. This will help condition you to bring positive memories to the forefront.
When you keep thinking about a negative past experience — a jilted romance, a job failure, losing money on a bad investment — you are essentially “putting fertilizer” on the memory, allowing it to grow and become a huge negative force in your life. Even the most successful people have been in discouraging and embarrassing situations, but they don’t dwell on them.
While you can’t change a bad experience, you can try to see it in a different light. You can help unpleasant memories to shrivel, making it harder for your inner teller to access them.
3) Gain a Better Understanding of Other People
Fear of other people is debilitating for confidence. It’s hard to project confidence when you are self-conscious or shy, cowering on the sidelines. Overcoming this fear is vital, because it holds you back from opportunities, relationships, and new experiences.
How do you overcome a fear of other people?
- Recognize that everyone is essentially the same. Other people might seem to be towering figures, but they’re important human beings just like you. You’re no less important, and no more important, than the people you interact with.
- An executive interviewing job applicants found most applicants timid, but one walked in with confidence. He was respectful to others, but he also clearly respected himself. He saw himself as equally important, asking as many questions as he received. That applicant got the job.
- Become more understanding of other people. Someone being a real jerk to you is likely a good person under extraordinary stress. Don’t take their outbursts personally – they’re likely not angry at you or your abilities, but rather about something totally unrelated to you.
4) Make Moral, Right Choices
Conscience and confidence are tied together. A guilty conscience destroys self-confidence. When you know you’ve done something wrong, it’s hard to act normally and confidently – your brain doesn’t seem to believe you deserve it.
The author comments that many criminals are caught not because they left clues, but because they act guiltily and self-consciously after the crime. This aberrant behavior put them on the suspect list.
Acting immorally not only destroys your own self-confidence, it destroys the confidence that others have in you.
To be confident, act along your conscience. Don’t do anything your conscience tells you not to. If you behave only in ways that you know are right, you’ll feel confident and proud.
5) Act Confidently, Even if You Don’t Feel Like It
To think confidently, you must act confidently. Think of the old adage “fake it ‘til you make it.” For example, if you’re shy and timid when you meet new people, conquer that by acting as a confident person would: reach for the other person’s hand, clasp it firmly, make eye contact and say, “It’s nice to meet you.” Doing this often enough will banish your fear of meeting new people.
Five tips to act your way into feeling truly confident:
- Sit in the front seat. Literally take the seat up front at meetings, lectures, church or any kind of gathering.
- Many people slip in the back to remain unnoticed, which betrays a lack of confidence.
- Sitting up front builds confidence. It says you are present and ready for whatever challenge awaits.
- Make eye contact. When you don’t make eye contact, you are conveying weakness, inferiority and guilt. Looking at another person in the eye tells her you’re confident and honest. Just meeting someone’s eye also makes you feel more confident.
- Walk faster. The body language of a slow, sluggish walker with bad posture says you have a negative attitude about yourself. The book recommends walking 25 percent faster to convey to the world that you have someplace important to go and important things to do.
- Speak up. In meetings and social events, sometimes people with important things to say simply clam up. They might feel afraid of looking ignorant in the face of all the smart people around. But every time you fail to speak up, your confidence takes another hit – “I didn’t speak last time, so what makes me think I’m good enough this time?” Instead, resolve to speak up just once at every meeting you attend.
- Smile big. Smiling builds confidence. Try to feel down and smile big at the same time. It’s impossible! When you feel fear creeping up, force yourself to smile, and see how worry and fear melt away.
- The second benefit of smiling is putting others at ease and disarming them. The author was in a fender bender when the offending driver got out of his car. The author was ready to fight, but the driver wore a big sincere smile and apologized. Instantly, the author reversed hostility into friendliness.
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