Have you ever wondered if there was some method to get past your fears? Would you try it out if you knew it existed?
My guess is that you would.
And I’m talking specifically about the fears that are holding you back from doing something you really want to do.
It could be anything.
Maybe you want to visit the Eiffel Tower but you’re afraid of flying to France.
Maybe you want to travel more, but a bunch of “little things” are holding you back.
Maybe you want to learn bhangra dancing but you’re afraid of all that jumping and cardio (are we still talking about you??).
Imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t listen to that voice inside your head. The one that keeps telling you to hold back, be extra careful — and for what?
See, I know what it’s like when fear is in your way. It’s paralyzing. I had intense fear come up before every major decision of my life.
(And sometimes, before small decisions.)
It’s natural. But being ok with it isn’t the way to go.
I’ve been really into “fear hacking” lately. Fear hacking is using smart, simple steps to get over your fears. I found one cool hack that could help you (it’s helped me a ton).
If you’re still curious about what I came up with, then read on. I’ll give a little background first on the nature of fear and then jump right into the hack. I hope you can get have an eye-opening “Aha!” moment like I had.
Fear Stops Us From Taking Action
Fear has a funny tendency to paralyze us and keep us from working towards our goals.
The fear of traveling, for example, is a pretty common one that stops people from seeing different cultures, eating new foods, and meeting people that could change their lives. I discuss how the media encourages us to be scared of going places abroad in this post here.
If you asked people what they were afraid of with travel, they’d say they were afraid of flying on airplanes. Or traveling long-distance by car. Or losing their baggage.
My aunt, for example, is afraid of sitting in an airplane longer than 3 or 4 hours. Why? Because she can’t stand the idea she’s flying through the air for so long.
Since she doesn’t want to go anywhere that requires more than 3 or 4 hours of flying, she’s passing up opportunities to go anywhere but the continental United States, the Caribbean islands, and Canada.
(All of which are awesome, by the way 🙂 ).
She tells me she wants to see parts of Europe, but those areas feel out of reach for her.
Listening to the fear, in her case, is the same as empowering it.
I’m not saying you have to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
What I’m talking about are the things we do want to do but stop ourselves from doing because we’re afraid.
In this awesome post by Chris Guillebeau about a snake in the road, Chris says that even moving towards facing your fear weakens its hold on you.
While fear hacking requires you to inch out of your comfort zone — walking towards the snake in the road — you do so because you need to reach your destination. You want the end result, whatever that may be for you.
Most Fears Are Fear of the Unknown
Would you be surprised to know that most fears came down to the fear of the unknown?
It’s true. Some people see the fear as a positive thing, as a way to open up to people and build connections.
But not all of us have that kind of poise when it comes to unknowns (at least, not in the beginning).
Let’s see how the unknown plays out in fear. I’ll use my aunt again as an example.
She’s afraid of long flights, but what exactly is she afraid of?
Imaginary scenarios that have a slim chance of even happening.
She comes up with worst-case scenarios if she’s on the plane longer than her “comfort zone” hours.
And believes these scenarios — and the fear — more than her own logic (and she’s a pretty “logical” woman, too).
If you look at where her fear is rooted, she’s really just afraid of the unknown.
All these possibilities she imagines are placeholders for what might happen. “What might happen” is the unknown.
Now I’m going to tell you something that may or may not relax you, but it’s the truth:
There will always be unknowns in life.
We don’t know what’ll be the outcome of everything we do today. We don’t have the power to see that, yet we always want to be in control of the outcome.
Just imagine this: You’re ordering pizza through an app. You choose your toppings and the way you like your crust.
The pizza arrives at your door, you pay the delivery person, and open the box to realize they didn’t make your pizza right.
You can attempt to control the situation all you want, but the reality is that your pie didn’t come out how you wanted.
How the pie came out isn’t your fault, sure. But how you handle that “surprise” makes all the difference. You can freak out and throw a fit. Or, you can eat it, call the restaurant, or try to catch the delivery person.
Realize this: The slim chance your pizza wouldn’t come out right didn’t hold you back from ordering it. Try to avoid passing up opportunities just because you’re not sure what’ll happen. M.O. for life, anyone?
The lesson: We can get a whole lot better at conquering the fear of the unknown by relaxing into the fact we can’t control everything (while still accounting for the parts we can control).
Travel is a Whole lot of Unknown, Too (but that’s o.k.)
Look how all of these fears related to travel come back down to the fear of the unknown:
-Fear of flying (You’re not sure what will happen while in midair)
-Fear of getting lost (You’re not sure where you’ll end up, or if you’ll find your way back)
-Fear of getting sick (You’re not sure if you’ll get better while abroad)
–Fear for personal safety – (You’re not sure if you’ll lose something, get robbed, or get hurt)
Notice how all these fears are based on hypothetical situations we replay in our heads over and over again.
The big question inevitably comes up: What will happen to me?
Then, those two little words that are enough to send your mind into a negative cycle: What if?
What if this…?
What if that…?
Here’s a trick — if you’re asking “What will happen?” or “What if?” often, stop yourself. Take it from someone who knows.
I think it’s safe to say whatever answer we come up with to “What if?” isn’t going to help us, anyway.
What Does it Mean to “Face Your Fear?”
Most people out there tell you to face your fears without really telling you how.
I mean, I’m all about “facing your fears,” but I wouldn’t ever just tell you to do that. I’ll tell you why — using research, solid facts, formulas, or with a proven method that works.
I love all those corny Instagram posts telling you to “face” your fears. Do those posts really make us feel any better?
Instagram posts like those never left me with inspiration. They never told me how to face my fears. Which is why getting over my fears seemed more and more elusive to me.
But here’s the good news:
Fear is not such a tough nut to crack. The first step is realizing we’re all scared of something, and that fear is holding us back from achieving it.
Do you know what you want and why you’re scared?
You’re 50 percent there.
Because the last step is putting your knowledge into action.
Introducing The Baby Steps Method
I didn’t even notice I was doing this trick until I finally put a name to it.
It helped me, step-by-step, to get over the fears that were holding me back from traveling more.
I call it The Baby Steps Method.
The method consists of three simple steps:
3. Reflect & Repeat
Let’s go a little more in-depth into each step.
The Baby Steps Method works when you know you want to do something but fear is holding you back.
So fill in the blanks in this statement below:
I want to ___[do something]___ but I’m afraid of ___[your fear]___.
Why is this step important?
It brings awareness to the fact that fear is holding you back from achievement. That way, we don’t blame our surroundings. Like our family, friends, and cat.
To complete this step in the Baby Steps Method, you need to do that thing you want to do but on a smaller scale.
Here’s what I mean:
Take whatever it was that you wanted to achieve in the “Identify” step. Now brainstorm ways that you can do this in a smaller settings, scale, or way.
What’s the logic behind this?
Well, it’s two-fold.
1 – We Stop Seeing The Thing We Want As “Big”
Usually, whenever fear holds us back from doing something, we picture our end goal as a really big thing that’s hard to accomplish.
Let’s go back to my aunt’s fear of flying for long periods. She always worries about very long trips (7 to 8 hours).
But she doesn’t have to jump straight into flying somewhere for 8 hours. She can start with 4.5. Or 5.
By the time she is “ready” to fly 8+ hours, it won’t seem that big of a deal to her. “Oh, what’s one extra hour going to do to me?” will be the logic at that point.
2 – We Make the Unknown Known To Us
Since the fear of the unknown is usually disguised as other fears, the “Copy” step really helps us make those unknown parts familiar to us.
If my aunt wants to fly for long, 8-hour trips, she can see what it feels like to fly for 5-7 hours first. Since she would’ve experienced those “unknown” parts in between, the jump from 3 to 8 hours won’t really feel like a jump anymore. It’ll be a smooth transition.
There are four main ways to “Copy” what you want to achieve on smaller scales.
-Change where you do it
-Change who you do it with
-Change when you do it
-Change the time it takes to do it
Remember the “what” has to remain the same. After all, the “what” is the thing you want to do. So my aunt can’t just take an 8-hour car trip and all of a sudden conquer her fear of flying for 8 hours.
This is important!
Let’s use another example.
You want to go on a two-wheel mountain bike tour, but you’re afraid of the rough terrain.
Start with a tour that’s on level ground (most tour companies offer “beginner” and “advanced” options). In this case, you’re changing “where you do it.”
You can even request a shorter tour. Ask for a demo lesson. Ask for a qualified instructor to show you the ropes. This is changing the time it takes to do it, and who you’re doing it with.
So now, fill in the blanks:
The fear of ___[your fear]___ is holding me back from ___[doing this thing]___. I’ll start small and change ___[insert “Copy” factor]___.
Reflect & Repeat
During this step, you look back on your experience after copying what you wanted to achieve on a smaller scale.
The logic of this step is that you keep chipping away at your fears in small ways until they no longer have a hold on you. Reflection is important because you’ll see where you’re at.
This is where you decide whether you can handle repeating the same experience again, or if you’re ready for more.
Let’s use the mountain bike tour example from before.
You decided to have a quick coaching session with your instructor on a dirt road instead of a mountain. Looking back, you felt pretty good about the experience. You feel like you’re ready for more.
So you chose to go with the shorter daytime mountain biking tour.
After completing the tour, you’d decide how comfortable you felt, and how big a role fear still plays in your decision-making.
Ask yourself: was it so bad, after all? Am I ready to repeat this, or should I stay here? What’s my comfort level like? Can I push it a little? Did I conquer my fear altogether?
This is where my aunt would ask herself if she felt fine flying for 5 hours. She’d decide whether she’s ready to fly for 6 next time, or whether she should stay where is.
Remember, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself thinking you need to take a huge leap (especially since fear itself is overwhelming). Take it slow. Hence, the baby steps.
How The Baby Steps Method Helped Me In Travel
I unwittingly used this method to “prep” myself for longer trips.
When I was younger, I was afraid of staying out of New York longer than a week or so because I’d get homesick.
When I finally worked myself towards taking longer trips, I went out of the country for 4 weeks in 2015. And while I sat next to a rowdy passenger on the plane, I didn’t miss home like I used to when I got to Thailand.
I messaged family regularly, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed being away from home.
If you were to tell my younger self I’d one day take a 4-week trip out of the country, I would’ve called you crazy. But that’s because we can’t imagine that transition between feeling scared and feeling brave.
Try It Out Yourself!
I’m confident you’ve got a handle on The Baby Steps Method. Remember:
3. Reflect & Repeat
Think of one thing that fear is stopping you from doing. Brainstorm all the ways you can copy doing it on a smaller scale. And finally, reflect on your experience. Repeat if necessary.
With a few (small) steps, you’ll be fearless in no time.