Fear is a green light to go

“As a salesperson, my morning begins by looking at the phone and starting to sweat. It’s not pleasant.

My heart races, hands start shaking and I feel nauseous. Maybe this isn’t right for me – I tell myself – I’ll email the client instead. That’s easier. At least now I won’t have to make a phone call to someone who probably won’t pick up anyway.”

If this story hits home, as it still does with me, this article might just help you out.

I won’t be annoying and just tell you to ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’” The sweat glands in our palms and our heart chambers couldn’t care less what the worst-case scenario is. Our hearts, hands, and whole bodies are still petrified by the possibility, no matter how unlikely, that we’ll make an utter fool of ourselves. And not just in that moment, but through a disaster so god-awful that our very existence is at risk of irredeemable ruin.

Most of us view fear in the wrong way. We look for solutions to cure fear. But being afraid is a sensation so central to human nature that we – as a species – wouldn’t be here without it. 200,000 years ago, when Homo Sapiens first evolved, we needed fear so we wouldn’t wander off without a worry in the world and end up eaten by a lion. Curing fear is therefore as hopeless a feat as curing being thirsty or hungry.

Feeling fear, however, isn’t as essential in today’s society as it was for our cave-living ancestors. But it’s important to realise that our bodies have evolved to always be on high alert to anything new or uncomfortable.

So what’s the solution? Rather than looking for ways to combat fear, we should instead see fear for what it is, a signal that we’re in a situation we’re not familiar with. Our body is giving us a heads up that this is a new experience, that it might be worth making sure we’re happy to progress.

Viewing fear as merely a signal will be one step towards making you more comfortable with the uncomfortable. But without the worry of being eaten by a lion in our day-to-day life, we can go one step further: using fear as an indicator that we’re on the right path.

James B. Stockdale was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who was held as a prisoner of war for seven-and-a-half years. He was severely beaten, tortured for information (which he didn’t divulge) and even purposefully disfigured himself with a razor so he couldn’t be used as propaganda. During his captivity his leg was broken twice, for which he was denied medical attention, and he was kept in a windowless, concrete cell – 90cm by 270cm – with a lightbulb kept on around the clock.

Stockdale has since written multiple books on how his philosophy of the world helped get him through. And – as you might expect – he developed strong opinions on how fear can be exploited for one’s own benefit.

“Once one learns to accommodate the shocks of a stressful existence, his adrenalin, will power, and imagination are going to start churning to provide the maximum performance of the human mind.”

The best way to improve – whether that’s in sales, playing the piano, learning a new language or coding – is to put yourself in situations you’re not comfortable with. To steal the words from Stockdale: “To me the greatest educational fallacy is that you can get it without stress.”

Fear is a sign that you’re doing what’s necessary to develop yourself. If you’re not feeling fear, then you’re comfortable. And if you’re comfortable, you’re not moving towards your goals in life. In Grant Cardone’s book ‘The 10X Rule’ he says that we should “use [fear] as a reason to move forward rather than as an excuse to stop or retreat. Use this frequently avoided feeling as a green light to signal you to what you should do!”

This is a powerful way of looking at those scary tasks we’re putting off. Instead of shying away and making excuses, we should be jumping at the chance to put ourselves through some pain. Hunt that feeling of fear in your day-to-day life. Scared of making that call? Know that afterwards, no matter how well or awful it goes, you’ll be one step closer to where you want to be.

So go and get those palms sweating.