How to Overcome Your Fears: 2 Methods to Gain Courage

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Built Through Courage" by Dave Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are your fears holding you back in life? What’s the best way to overcome your fears?

Whether it’s a fear of heights, spiders, or failures, your fears are getting in the way. This is especially true for people making big changes in their lives and imagining the worst possible scenarios coming true.

Learn how to overcome your fears so you won’t be afraid to move forward.

Moving Past Fears

Fear is the biggest barrier to changing your circumstances, Dave Hollis says in Built Through Courage. Fear paralyzes you, preventing you from fulfilling your purpose. This happens because humans have a natural tendency to imagine and fixate on the worst possible future scenarios, which traps you in your fear. For instance, Hollis experienced this when going through his divorce. He was so afraid of losing his family and his sense of identity as a husband that he struggled to prepare himself for single life. The only way to get past these obstacles is to learn how to overcome your fears.

(Shortform note: You become increasingly trapped by a fear when you actively try to avoid it, some psychologists suggest. When you avoid a fear, you reinforce the idea that it’s a threat that must be avoided and give yourself a psychological reward for that avoidance (the reward being a feeling of relief at not having to deal with your fear). This encourages you to keep avoiding it. However, ignoring a problem doesn’t fix it. Often, the problem worsens, increasing your fear and making it harder to achieve your purpose. For Hollis, avoiding his fears didn’t stop the divorce; it only made him feel blindsided whenever he was forced to acknowledge it—for example, when he had to make child custody arrangements. Hollis could only begin healing after overcoming his fears.)

Hollis recommends the following methods for overcoming fear:

Method #1: Write Down Your Fears

Writing down your fears is a valuable tool for overcoming them. It’s difficult to address fears because they often reside in the subconscious, Hollis says. Writing these fears down forces them into the conscious mind and makes them easier to analyze and overcome. Once these fears are in the conscious mind, you may realize that many of them are less frightening than you thought and that some aren’t frightening at all.

How to Write Down Your Fears

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, agrees that writing down your fears helps you analyze and overcome them, but he recommends a more detailed and structured writing process than Hollis. While Hollis suggests just writing a list of your fears, Ferriss recommends answering the following questions:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • How could you prevent those fears from coming true?
  • How could you fix things if your fears do come true?
  • What would be the benefits of facing your fears?
  • What would be the cost of not facing your fears?

Being more detailed when writing about your fears may help you understand them better, as you force more information about said fears into your conscious mind for analysis. In addition, considering the cost of inaction can increase your motivation to face your fears, as it shows you when the risk of not facing your fears is greater than the risk of facing them.

Method #2: Make Plans

Hollis also recommends making plans to overcome fear. You can use your fear to plan for the future by imagining how you’d deal with the worst-case scenario. This exercise increases your confidence in your ability to handle the worst-case scenario and thus decreases your fear. For example, if you’re afraid of losing your job, you can brush up on your resume and start looking into companies you might like to work for if that happens.

(Shortform note: Making plans can help you overcome fear because it’s a form of proactive coping, a psychological study suggests. By making a plan, you reassure yourself that you can survive even if your fear comes true. This increases your feelings of safety, reducing fear. In addition, imagining a perceived threat can register as an unfinished task to your brain. Because your brain automatically reminds you of unfinished tasks to give you the chance to complete them, you’ll constantly remember your fear. Making a plan can trick your brain into thinking the task has been completed, thereby reducing how often you think about your fear.)

How to Overcome Your Fears: 2 Methods to Gain Courage

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Here's what you'll find in our full Built Through Courage summary:

  • Why the key to a fulfilled life is achieving your unique purpose
  • How to identify and achieve the role you're meant to fill
  • How to overcome the two barriers to reaching your potential

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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