Fear is perhaps the greatest stumbling block many investors face when it comes to starting or moving on to that next level. Indeed, this could go for just about anyone with regard to just about anything noteworthy. But while fear can serve an important function (namely, letting us know of dangers or our own limitations), it also keeps people, myself included, mired in mediocrity and stagnation.
What follows are the best methods I have found for beating back fear when it comes to whatever new challenge I’m embarking on. Hopefully they will be helpful to you as well.
4 Steps to Use a Fear of Failure to Empower Action
1. Accept & Embrace It
Fear is something we all have. So the first important thing to realize is that everyone deals with this problem on a whole range of issues. Even those who appear fearless face it. And those who pretend not to be afraid definitely feel it. Indeed, it would seem that every time a successful person opens up about their past, they inevitably discuss the many fears they had along the way.
In addition to recognizing that fear is universal to humanity, it is also helpful to try to identify what particular problem is causing the fear. Most seem to boil down to either a fear of the unknown or a fear of criticism. Isolating the causes of fear can by itself help dispel them because many, once stated out loud, become blatantly absurd.
For example, one time I was extremely worried about whether or not we would land a large deal. But once I thought about it, I realized that if we didn’t get it, we would be no worse off than we were. We could either gain or break even. Is that really something to waste away my life worrying about?
Of course it isn’t. But I would argue we should go even further and embrace fear. Susan Jeffers makes the great point that “…fear will never go away as long as [you]continue to grow” (pg. 22) in her great book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways. This is because one of the biggest fears is that of the unknown. Therefore, whenever you’re doing something new or reaching out to a new level, it will be scary.
So far from being a bad thing, fear is very often a good thing. It’s a sign that you are growing or taking on something new.
2. Keep the Context in Mind
I once heard that 99 percent of the things you worry about don’t come to pass. Of course 70 percent of statistics are just made up, so who knows exactly how true that is. But even for those fears that do come true, they are usually not nearly as bad as they originally seem. From my experience, it’s often the unexpected things that blindside us that cause most of life’s problems, not the endless, dire possibilities we are incessantly worrying about.
For me and many others, it is too easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of everyday life and forget the bigger picture. We become attached to and mentally exhausted by all of this baggage. In Brian Tracey’s excellent book Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, he mentions that “The great spiritual teachers, such as Buddha and Jesus, have emphasized the importance of separating yourself emotionally from the situation (disidentification), in order to regain your calmness and composure” (pg. 24).
Separating ourselves from these situations and even the potential outcomes can help a lot. In the end, compared to the size and history of the universe, we are pretty insignificant. That may not sound very encouraging, but it also means our problems and fears are rather insignificant as well. Ask yourself, “Will this problem be something that matters next year?” Maybe. But for most issues, in all likelihood, it probably won’t even matter next week.
3. Lean Just Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Susan Jeffers again: “The only sure way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it” (Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways, 23). From my experience, she is absolutely right. We can all think of things that were terrifying when we first did them but now don’t bother us in the slightest. I was scared to death of the high dive when I was in elementary school. If it wasn’t for the fear of looking pathetic (oh, the ironies of fear), I probably wouldn’t have faced my fear of roller coasters back when I was a kid. Now I absolutely love them.
The first time I made an offer on a house, I was very nervous. Now I almost find it boring. This new thing (buying houses) and all of the unknowns that came with it have become routine. And that’s the typical cycle—from fear to boredom.
However, taking on what can seem like the whole world all at once is an overwhelming task, sure to crush even the bravest person’s courage. The key to defeating fear and building courage is simply to take one step at a time. You know, baby steps.
So for example, if you have a fear of public speaking, I would highly discourage you from trying to give a presentation in front of packed house at Madison Square Garden. The fear will almost certainly paralyze you and defeat the whole project right from the get-go. Instead, perhaps join Toastmasters or try to give a brief talk at your local real estate club. Then once you have become comfortable with that, you can take the next step.
A famous saying goes that “comfort makes cowards of us all.” So don’t let yourself get comfortable! Try to constantly stay just outside of your comfort zone. Live in that state. Embrace that state. That way, you are pushing yourself further without the risk of becoming overwhelmed.
4. Follow a Few Simple Rules
Thinking and making decisions can be physically tiring. Sometimes you just need to give yourself simple rules to follow in certain situations. For example, one of the best such personal rules I’ve heard and started to implement was from Brian Tracey’s book that I mentioned above:
“There is a rule that I have learned from experience: Never do or refrain from doing something because you are concerned about what people might think about you. The fact is that nobody is even thinking about you at all” (Change Your Thinking; Change Your Life, 26).
Rules like this should be automatic and can vanquish fears before they even creep into your mind. Of course, practice makes perfect. These rules will take a while to become automatic, and mistakes are guaranteed. But like fear, mistakes are also often signs that we are growing and trying new things. As Thomas Watson the former CEO of IBM said, “If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure.”
And if you want to take on some real fear-defeating challenges, check out the ones Tim Ferris gives in his book The 4-Hour Workweek. Or make up some challenges for yourself, such as starting a conversation with a stranger or traveling abroad.
Regardless, the key to remember is that fear doesn’t go away—and nor should we want it to. Indeed, if you haven’t felt fear recently, you are probably doing something wrong.
What fears have you overcome on your journey as an investor?
Let us know your experiences in the comments section below!