A very successful friend once brought this quote to my attention: “Fear is the mind killer.” He was talking about it in an entrepreneurial context, but of course it applies in practically all phases of life.
Typically when we talk about fear, it’s about big, meaningful decisions: Should I quit my job and start a business? Should I go back to school or stick with my job?
Even infrequently encountered phobias like fear of air travel can nonetheless make you extremely unhappy, at least for a short time.
In addition to these big fears practically all of us have what I like to call “micro fears.” These are fears that are so small we hardly notice them at all. Here are some examples:
- Looking away and mumbling “sorry” when a homeless person asks you for money
- Not speaking up when someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store
- Quickly looking away when you make eye contact with someone you’re attracted to
- Talking only to your friends at a networking event because you’re nervous about introducing yourself to others
- Standing on the sidelines of the dance floor even if you love to dance
- Overhearing an interesting conversation and wanting to join in, but not saying anything
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I first thought about this concept about a week ago. I’ve done all of these things at one time or another, and in retrospect they’re almost all pretty silly. Sure, there are times when it’s genuinely prudent to hold your tongue or look away, but my guess is that’s only a very small percentage of the time.
By way of contrast, think of how many interesting stories start with a serendipitous encounter: befriending someone on the subway, asking a follow-up question to something “I couldn’t help overhearing,” smiling at the cute girl/guy across the room…
When you put it in that context — the numbers game that is life — you might come to think that micro fears aren’t harmless at all. In fact, you may realize that these hidden fears work against you to make your life less happy or fulfilling.
To wit: if 90% of the time that you have these fears, you let them unconsciously make decisions for you, that means you are potentially missing out on nine times the number of adventures or “lucky breaks” that could have a meaningful impact on your life.
(I know, technically the number is smaller because there are opportunities we do act on without fear. But most days we are creatures of habit that don’t invite a lot of randomness into our lives. This is part of the reason the days are long but the years are short.)
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
Buy, borrow (but don’t steal) a baseball pitch counter, put it in your pocket, and click it every time you catch yourself avoiding something out of fear. For me, it was an unlucky 13 times in a single day. That’s 13 opportunities that might have radically changed the trajectory of my mundane life.
So, going back to the micro fear examples earlier. What would it look like to take that list above and turn them around, to make something, anything happen?
- Look the homeless guy in the eye, tell him you can’t give him money (or maybe you can – your choice), but ask him his name
- Tap the line cutter on the shoulder and smile while you say “sorry, you may not have noticed, but the line starts over there.”
- Maintain eye contact with the object of your desire and smile. If they smile back, say hello and introduce yourself. If not, smile to yourself for taking a risk and realizing how easy it was.
- At the networking event, walk up to a group and say “I am determined to make new friends tonight and I bet you are just the kind of people who make good friends.”
- Wander into the middle of the dance floor, close your eyes and focus on what you feel in your body, not what others think. Dance.
- Overhearing an interesting conversation, saying “I couldn’t help overhearing, but are you talking about blah blah?”
I’ve done all these things, especially in the last 9 months or so.
Article written by D