How to Conquer Fear: Deconstruct It to Take Away Its Power

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Courage Is Calling" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does fear keep you from doing things you want to do or should do? How might you conquer fear so that you can move forward?

When you overcome fear and choose to do the right thing every day, you can effect positive change in the world. Ryan Holiday’s Courage Is Calling teaches you how to logically deconstruct your fears, leaving them powerless over you.

Continue reading to learn how to conquer fear by taking away its power.

How to Conquer Fear

Holiday suggests you take away power from your fears by logically deconstructing them. We tend to imagine the worst-case scenario related to our fears, but the truth is often a lot less frightening than we presume it is. Learning how to conquer fear is something anyone can do.

(Shortform note: Rather than facing and rationalizing our fears as Holiday advises, many of us choose to handle worry and anxiety through avoidance. This is counterproductive—the more we avoid our fears, the more we reinforce the idea that they’re dangerous even when they’re not. Avoidance also becomes addictive. Each time we avoid the thing we fear, we experience a sense of relief that our brains interpret as a reward, and we seek the feeling again by continuing the pattern of avoidance. The best way to conquer anxiety is to do what you’re afraid of. This teaches your brain that there’s nothing to fear. You’ll likely discover that the things you’re afraid of are small, manageable problems instead of the disasters you imagine they are.)

Holiday traces the practice of deconstructing fears and anxieties back to Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher, and, more recently, to entrepreneur Tim Ferriss’s “fear setting” exercise. To understand and pick apart your fears, first, consider how likely it is that they’ll come true. Picture the circumstances that would cause them to come true. Then, prepare yourself for these scenarios: This removes the fear of the unknown. Once you’ve thought through your fears and identified solutions to combat them, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence that you can address anything that comes your way.

Example: Fear of Public Speaking

To illustrate how to logically deconstruct something you’re afraid of, let’s look at a common fear: public speaking. For many people, the thought of speaking in any group setting creates feelings of intense anxiety. You may be afraid that you’ll forget the words you’re supposed to say or embarrass yourself in front of people whose opinions you value. 

Instead of dwelling on that fear, play out the scenario logically. In all likelihood, you’ll get through your public speaking moment with minimal issues. Your anxiety might cause you to stumble a little, or you might have a tough crowd, but even if the worst-case scenario happened—you trip on the stage, you forget the words, and so on—you’ll still be okay. You’ll move on with your life, the other people in the audience will forget, and you’ll have a funny story to tell. Giving into fear won’t prevent those things from happening, and it causes unnecessary suffering before the event occurs. 

You could prepare for potential public speaking challenges by writing your points on note cards so you have something to refer to if you forget what you’re supposed to say. Or, before you go on stage, you could do a breathing exercise that calms your heart rate and helps you think more clearly. 

The Origins of Tim Ferriss’s Fear-Setting Exercise

Like Holiday, Tim Ferriss also based his strategies for overcoming fear on Seneca’s ideas. When Ferriss created his fear-setting exercise, he expanded Seneca’s process for defining fear by creating a written version of it. As someone who experiences anxiety and depression, he found that just visualizing the worst-case scenarios of his fears wasn’t enough to take their power away. By putting his fears and potential solutions for them on paper, he was able to get them out of his head and work through them more concretely. 

Ferriss includes fear-setting in his entrepreneurial book The 4-Hour Workweek, which teaches you how to live the lifestyle of a wealthy retiree by building a successful business that requires little maintenance. Ferriss argues that the fear of failure is the main obstacle that stops people from living this kind of lifestyle. He applies fear-setting as a method you can use to overcome your hesitation and create the kind of life you want to live.
How to Conquer Fear: Deconstruct It to Take Away Its Power

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  • Ryan Holiday's advice for how to be courageous in any situation
  • How to break free from the fear of what other people think of you
  • How to take control of your actions and make difficult decisions

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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