Managing Fear: Techniques to Help You Succeed

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel like fear is holding you back from pursuing your dreams? What fears surface when you think about taking action towards your goals?

Fear can prevent you from achieving your goals. Everyone has fears, but successful people feel afraid and take action anyway. They also recognize that reaching their goals isn’t just going to happen—they have to be willing to do the necessary work, which often requires sacrifice. 

In this article, we’ll offer some tips for managing fear and encouraging yourself to do the work in spite of it.

Why Do We Have Fear?

As humans, we’ve evolved to be fearful in order to survive. Fear helped us realize when we faced danger and released the energy to help us escape. Most situations we face today aren’t a matter of life and death, but we may still feel as though they are. 

Often, we’re fearful not because we face immediate danger but because we imagine a negative outcome. To counter this, think of fear as an acronym meaning:





Instead of imagining the worst outcomes, train yourself to set your fear aside by reframing it, and focusing on positive imagery and feelings. Here are some techniques for managing fear:

Technique #1: Reframe Your Fear

Follow these steps to reframe your fears:

  1. Write out your fears. Focus on things that you’re afraid of doing rather than things you’re afraid of. For example, you might write “I’m afraid of speaking up during work meetings,” rather than “I’m afraid of work meetings.”
  2. Reframe your fears by completing the following sentence: “I want to (BLANK), but I scare myself by imagining (BLANK).” This sentence emphasizes how you let fear stop you rather than the fear itself stopping you. Using the previous example, you might say, “I want to speak up during work meetings, but I scare myself by imagining that people will dislike my ideas.”

Technique #2: Replace Negative Imagery With Positive Imagery

Just as visualizations can help you achieve your goals, visualizing positive imagery can calm your fears. If you worry about bad things happening, practice substituting positive imagery for negative imagery. Replacing negative imagery with positive imagery can help calm you down and work through what scares you. 

Example: On a plane about to depart for Orlando, Florida, Canfield noticed that the woman next to him was gripping her armrests tightly. He introduced himself, explained he was a coach, and asked if she was feeling afraid. When she said yes, he invited her to try an exercise with him. He asked her to close her eyes and tell him what imagery she was seeing that made her afraid. She said she kept picturing the plane crashing. Canfield asked her why she was traveling to Orlando, and she replied that she planned to take her grandchildren to Disney World. Canfield asked what her grandchildren’s favorite ride was. It’s a Small World, she replied. He asked her to visualize enjoying the ride with her grandchildren. Then, Canfield began singing the ride’s signature song, “It’s a Small World.” The woman began smiling and relaxed her grip.

Technique #3: Focus on Positive Feelings

Sometimes, fear is a physical feeling. Follow these steps to lessen it:

  1. Identify how fear feels in your body. Common manifestations of fear include shortness of breath, sweating, or tenseness in the pit of your stomach. 
  2. Decide what you’d like to be feeling instead. Alternatives include bravery, calm, happiness, and self-confidence.
  3. Shift between both emotional states. For 15 seconds, feel your fear. Then, focus on feeling a positive emotion you’d prefer to feel for 15 seconds. After about two minutes of going back and forth, you’ll likely end up feeling more positive, or at least more neutral and grounded than you did before.

Additional Techniques for Managing Fear

Try these additional techniques to manage fear:

  • Think of a time you faced a fear and triumphed. Storing up a mental resume of the times you’ve overcome your fears reminds you that you’re capable of doing so again. For example, if you’re learning to ski and you feel afraid you’re going to fall, think about a time you overcame your fear of another physical feat, like learning how to ride a bike.
  • Gradually scale up. Taking on a big challenge can feel overwhelming and risky. Try something less risky first, then build up to the scariest challenge. For example, if you’re a salesperson, it might be intimidating to make your pitch to notoriously tough clients. Instead, try selling first to clients who are more likely to buy, then approach the tougher ones.
  • Cultivate an attitude of “high intention, low attachment.” Fear can be consuming because we think that nothing except the outcome we’ve envisioned will bring us happiness. But it’s possible that different outcomes will bring us even more happiness and success than our initial vision. Instead of fearing not getting the outcome you want, make a plan to pursue the effort diligently without being attached to the outcome. That way, if things turn out differently or you fail, you’ll adapt and move on.
  • If you have a phobia, use the “Five-Minute Phobia Cure.” Developed by a doctor, the cure, also called “Tapping Therapy,” involves imagining your phobia as you tap different parts of your body in a specific sequence. (For a description of the process, read Principle 29: Resolve Past Hurts.) Canfield used the technique on a seminar participant who was afraid of walking up stairs. She was a real estate agent, but had never gone upstairs in any of the homes she sold—she pretended she’d been upstairs, describing details from the listing, then let the clients explore on their own. After receiving the five-minute phobia cure, Canfield took all of the participants to a stairwell, and the woman was able to walk up the stairs without fear, just like the other participants.

Two Tips for Doing the Work

Once you’ve addressed your fears, use these tips to do the work and achieve your goal:

1. Evaluate your plan. Break Your Goals Into Steps, making a plan for how you’ll achieve your goal is critical to succeeding. It’s also a chance to assess whether you’re willing to put in the work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it, like less quality time with family or less life balance. For example, if starting your own restaurant means working 60 hours a week for at least the next 10 years and you have small children, you may not be willing to sacrifice that time. First, identify what it will take to succeed and decide if it’s worth it to you.

2. Embrace practice. Children usually don’t expect to succeed the first time they try something. But as adults, we often expect to be good at what we do immediately. Though many people have skills and talents, the most successful are the ones who practice regularly to hone their skills over time, working on specific mini-goals. 

Remind yourself to be patient with your performance in the beginning. You often have to stumble and make mistakes before gaining proficiency. This is called “deliberate practice.” For example, a clarinetist might practice a tough bar of music until it feels second nature to play. 

Being Willing to Feel the Fear: Peter Douglas’s Story

Peter Douglas ran a successful ranching business until an uncomplicated shoulder surgery changed his career prospects: The anesthesiologist made a mistake, nearly paralyzing his arms and hands. Even with therapy, he can still barely move them. 

At first, he felt afraid to go anywhere without his wife in case he needed help. Eventually decided he needed to face his fears and travel on his own. Douglas learned he had to ask for help many steps of the way. For example, he was worried he wouldn’t be able to swipe his credit card when checking in for his flight at a kiosk, but he asked an attendant to help him. He also worried about being able to dress himself. He had his wife pre-button most of his shirts so he could just pull them over his head, but some shirts still had two buttons that needed buttoning. He learned to ask for help from the hotel staff—at first, they’d be surprised, but if he stayed at the same hotel for a few days, they’d learn to spot him and assist him without him having to ask. On the whole, Douglas learned there were kind people willing to help him everywhere, creating solutions to his problems.

Taking Gradual Steps: Wyland’s Story

Despite discouragement from his mother, Wyland was determined to become a painter. He spent time painting in his basement studio, and he created enough art for a portfolio, which landed him a full-ride scholarship to a Detroit art school. Eventually, he realized he wanted to move to a community known for its art: Laguna Beach, California. He continued to paint and participated in art festivals. Some art dealers from Hawaii asked to sell his work, but then they refused to pay him for it, citing high overhead costs. At this point, Wyland realized he needed to cut out the middle man—he’d open his own galleries where he could control all aspects of selling his art. He now makes up to 1,000 paintings a year, some of which sell for $200,000, and he has collaborated with Disney.

Managing Fear: Techniques to Help You Succeed

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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