How to Conquer Your Fears and Regain Control of Your Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Everything Is Figureoutable" by Marie Forleo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your fear holding you back? How do you conquer your fears?

Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo advises you to believe that all issues are solvable, but being afraid can get in the way of that. Forleo gives guidelines for tackling fear in general as well as four common fears: fear of pursuing your dreams, not being ready, not being good enough, and being an imposter.

Here’s how to conquer your fears so you live your life at ease.

Understanding Fear and How to Beat It 

Before getting into how to conquer your fears, Forleo argues that while fear can be a warning sign that you’re about to make a mistake, it can also be a good thing: If you’re afraid to do something, it’s often a sign that you care deeply about it—and so should do it

To determine what exactly your fear is telling you, try this exercise: First, relax your body by taking several deep breaths. Then, ask yourself whether doing the thing that scares you makes you feel open or closed off—and pay attention to how your body reacts. If you feel enthusiastic and like a weight has been lifted, that’s a good sign. If your muscles tense and you feel nauseated, consider holding off.

(Shortform note: Other experts agree that fear shows up in your body: Tension is a sign to stop and listen to the fear while openness is a sign to act anyway. Another metaphor they use to describe whether to listen to your fear is to see whether it’s “pushing” or “pulling” you. If you feel as though your fear is pushing you away from something, like derision, then you should consider listening to it. But if you feel as though you’re being pulled toward something, then you should act on your goal, even if fear pushes you away.)  

Assuming that your fear is a good sign, how can you push past it? Forleo recommends against waiting for your fear to dissipate because it will only fester. Instead, you must act despite your fear—which is the only way to beat it. In other words, you must do the thing that scares you despite being afraid. This is the only way to become braver—and the braver you become, the more willing you’ll be to tackle new challenges.  

One area in which the power of acting despite your fear is particularly evident is when you learn a new skill. Forleo explains that the skills you’re confident in are in your “comfort zone,” or zone of safety, and the skills you don’t yet have are in your “growth zone,” or zone of improvement. Initially, you’ll struggle to tackle skills in your zone of improvement—but as you get better at doing them, your zone of safety will expand to include these skills. The more you expand this zone of safety by learning new skills, the more confidence you’ll gain and the more willing you’ll be to tackle new challenges in your zone of improvement.

How to Conquer a Fear of Pursuing Your Goals

Now that you know that acting is the key to beating your fear, what specific actions should you take to conquer your fears? If you’re too intimidated to pursue your dreams, Forleo recommends that you follow a three-step process.  

First, name your fear: The less clear you are on what you’re afraid of, the more intimidated you’ll feel. To name your fear, imagine the worst possible outcome of pursuing your goals, and decide how likely this outcome is. Then, brainstorm how you’d respond if this outcome came true. Second, imagine what would happen if you succeeded: List all the possible positive outcomes of pursuing your dreams. Third, review your action steps and either proceed as is or change them so that you’re more comfortable pursuing your dream.

For example, if your dream is to move to Los Angeles to be an actor, your worst-possible outcome might be that you discover you’re terrible at acting and end up homeless. If so, you could adjust your plan and focus on building an emergency fund before moving to LA. And if you ended up homeless, you could search for shelters or find a way to contact loved ones who could help you.

How to Conquer a Fear of Not Being Good Enough

According to Forleo, another common fear that prevents people from pursuing their goals is a fear of not being good enough. Many people never act on their dreams because they’re terrified that they’re not capable of achieving them. This fear manifests itself in two ways. First, you might worry that you’re not ready and try to prepare for rather than pursue your goals. Second, you might not pursue your goals because you want to ensure that everything is perfect.

To combat a fear of not being ready, Forleo suggests two strategies. First, if you’re paralyzed by self-doubt, ask yourself: Will I be upset in 10 years if I don’t go for this now? Imagining your potential future sorrow can motivate you to act today. Second, put something you value at risk—like your finances or your reputation. Humans experience “loss aversion,” which means we’re affected more strongly by loss than by gain, and thus we prioritize not losing things over gaining things. So, for example, telling someone you’ll give them $100 if you don’t work on your goal is more motivating than learning that someone will give you $100 if you do work on it.

To combat your perfectionism, Forleo suggests that you change your mindset and prioritize improving at your skills rather than doing them perfectly. In other words, you must be willing to fail and to recognize that sometimes, things that feel like failures might actually have a positive impact. This is particularly important if you’re starting out in a creative field, as you’ll likely have an excellent vision that you’re not able to bring to life because you’re not yet skilled enough. However, the only way you’ll improve these skills is by repeatedly practicing them—which necessitates that you continue to create things, even though they don’t meet your high standards. 

To illustrate the power of pursuing your goals and being willing to fail, Forleo describes the trajectory of her dance career. Initially, Forleo thought that to be a serious dancer, she had to try to go on tour with famous artists, so she auditioned for a music video. Forleo failed this audition.

However, Forleo now views this seeming failure as a blessing in disguise because it forced her to rethink what she really wanted to do with her dance career. Despite her lack of experience, she pivoted to teaching dance classes—a journey that ultimately led her to audition for MTV despite her fears that she wasn’t prepared. Forleo passed this audition, and her MTV career gave her the broadcast experience she would eventually parlay into her successful YouTube show, MarieTV

How to Conquer a Fear of Being an Impostor

According to Forleo, you may still face fears as you start to succeed. This phenomenon is known as “impostor syndrome,” a feeling that you’re faking and will be “found out.” It’s particularly common among marginalized groups, who may feel less confident in their abilities—especially when they have few colleagues they can relate to.

Forleo shares two strategies for combating impostor syndrome. First, collect any praise you receive (like good reviews), and revisit this collection whenever you feel unworthy. Second, call some trusted friends, tell them you’re feeling negative about yourself, and ask them for support. Both tactics remind you of your accomplishments and capabilities.

How to Conquer Your Fears and Regain Control of Your Life

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  • How to apply the "everything is figureoutable" philosophy to your life
  • How you can achieve your dreams and overcome all obstacles
  • How to respond when you encounter criticism

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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