How to Do Things That Scare You

By Mikey Rox on 20 February 2013 (Updated 22 February 2013) 2 comments
Photo: Maxwell GS

There are lots of famous quotes on the topic of facing your fears.

Here's a good one. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it... You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Nice sentiment, for sure, but that's almost always easier said than done.

So, then, how does one muster the courage to step out of their comfort zone to do the things that scare them?

Instead of spitting out my sage advice (which you may not want to follow anyway because I'm deathly afraid of a lot of things), I've asked a few experts what they suggest when it comes to conquering fears. Here's what they had to say. (See also: Why You Should Do Things You're Bad At)

Enlist Support

It always helps to have a friend to lean on when you're faced with something frightening. When I do something scary — like fly on an airplane — I prefer to have a companion traveler. They provide a hand to squeeze when the plane hits a rough patch of air, and it makes me feel better that if the jet goes down, at least I won't die alone.

Although much less selfish than that personal assessment of my particular fear, Pheng Taing, author of "The Book You Shouldn't Have Read," agrees that having support when facing a fear is definitely helpful.

"The best advice on how to do things that scares you is to do it with someone who has already done it," she says. "This way you can get your feet wet, see that it's not scary and know that you have someone there for support. Once you start and keep doing it, you won't be afraid of it anymore."

Personally, while my travel buddy doesn't ease my anxiety about plummeting to the ground and crashing in a ball of fire, it certainly does feel better to have someone with me than when I fly alone. Lucky them.

Assess the Risk

Social and dating coach Nick Sparks says that one key to overcoming a fear is to assess the potential danger. Will facing this fear cause you harm? Is it illegal? Answering those initial questions (and deciding that the answers are no, hopefully!) can help ease your tension.

"If you look at others who have done this same activity," Sparks says, "you can get an idea of how much real risk you're taking versus how much perceived risk you've imagined. This lets you start to distinguish between legitimate fears and illegitimate fears, respectively."

Start Small

Another one of Sparks' tips is to ease into facing your fear by leading up to it with less daunting tasks.

For example, he says,

I work with a lot of individuals who are terrified of starting conversations with strangers. One exercise I use as a warm-up exercise is for them to speak loudly enough to passersby on the street in order to get acknowledgement, and then keep on walking without looking to follow up with conversation. This warm-up then usually makes it easier for them to initiate full conversations with strangers.

Licensed psychologist Dr. Audrey Cleary thinks Sparks is spot-on with his advice. For those with a fear of heights, for instance, she suggests learning to tolerate being at gradually higher elevations. She mentions, however, "people vary in terms of what scares them, so 'building up gradually' will look different to different people."

In other words, how you work toward facing your fear should be on your terms, no one else's.

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Avoid Regret

How many times have you been too scared to do something that in hindsight you regret not doing it? I know I have.

Fear has a funny way of making you feel inferior, and that's precisely why entrepreneur coach Jeff Hellenbrand lives to face his fears head on, like joining a swim team despite a fear of water and learning how to drive a motorcycle.

What separates me from the people I know who play it safe is this: I am more afraid that I will look back on my life and think, 'well, that was disappointing.' To me, it's not about doing stupid things for the thrill, it's about getting over my fears to live the life I really want.

I can fully respect that, although, like Eleanor Roosevelt's advice, Hellenbrand's is often easier said than done — but encouraging nonetheless.

Reward Yourself

If there was ever a time to reward yourself for a job well done, it's when you've faced and overcome a fear, says lifestyle expert Maryann Reid, who — similar to Hellenbrand — was afraid of swimming in deep water but registered to become a certified scuba instructor to overcome her fear.

This is a particularly great tip because it creates an incentive for you to keep going when anxiety is at its highest (and when you're in the thick of it, it will be), and that reward may be just what you need to keep you from giving up.

Try Hypnosis

This method of fear conquering isn't for everyone, but plenty of people swear by it. I like to live by the motto, "don't knock it until you've tried it," so I certainly don't have a negative opinion about hypnosis. I'm a skeptic, for sure, but I wouldn't count it out as a last-ditch effort.

Have you conquered a major fear? How did you do it? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Starting small is a classic way of getting over a fear or getting into the swing of just about anything. It allows you to test out and activity, knowing you can back out at anytime and building your courage to move further. It's kinda like running, you have to start slow and build up your endurance but overtime you will be running miles (or doing whatever your afraid of.)

Guest's picture

Great article. One more idea is to simply hang out with people who take smart risks. If facing your fears is a priority, find people who feel the same. The more you see your friends facing their fears, the easier it is for you to face yours.

I don't think everything scary is worth doing. I usually ask myself "why do I really want to do this?" That helps me decide whether it's truly worth the risk. If it is, do it. Good luck out there, you brave souls.