You may believe that brave and courageous people have no fear. Wrong.
Courageous people are as afraid as anyone else. It is actually their fear that makes them courageous, not the lack of it. But they manage their fear differently.
It’s not a stretch to say that people who truly have no fear are either sociopaths or have severe brain damage. For the rest of us, being "fearless" means knowing how to leverage fear.
How do fearless people do that? How do they become fearless without being thoughtless?
1. They respect fear.
Fearless people are not afraid to be afraid. They are comfortable acknowledging their fear. They know fear is hardwired into our nervous system and therefore impossible to shut down. They understand that the role of fear is to warn and protect, not to scare and prevent. For them fear is not an enemy. It is an ally that guides them through high-stakes situations and ensures goal achievement.
2. They understand the mechanics of fear.
Fearless people recognize that fear is a complex experience made up of interactive physical, emotional, and mental components. They know that fear goes beyond feelings of worry and dread, and that their own thoughts can exacerbate their fears by making things seem scarier than they really are. They understand that their own actions can determine the degree of impact fear will have on their lives.
3. They explore the origin of their fear.
When fear arises, fearless people don’t let it linger. They want to know what is causing it. Fearless people realize that fear is not so much about what scares you but about why it scares you. And there are three main reasons why something scares you:
- Biology: You are designed to be scared of it. There are a number of things that we are genetically predisposed to be afraid of—snakes, for example.
- Past experience: It (or something very similar) scared you a lot in the past. Fear can be learned and conditioned. If you have been in a bad car accident, you may become afraid of driving.
- Forecasting: You worry about the future. Fear emerges when you expect that your predicament or your actions could have serious and harmful consequences for your life, your health, your freedom, your relationships, or your self-esteem.
4. They focus on building confidence.
There is no better antidote to fear than self-confidence. The more confident you are about your ability to handle what scares you, the more secure you will feel.
Building confidence is a result of acquiring knowledge, mastering a skill, and gaining experience. Getting the facts lessens the intensity of fear by making things seem less scary and more preventable. Mastering a skill, whether public speaking or job interviewing, shifts your focus from fear of failing to active coping. Finally, the more experience, direct or vicarious, you gain, the less of a barrier to success fear becomes.
5. They overprepare without overreacting.
Fearless people don’t spend time worrying about the worst-case scenario—they prepare for it. They make a plan, and they have a backup plan. They overprepare without overreacting, obsessing, or ruminating.
In Chapman University survey, more than 50 percent of respondents stated that they were very afraid they would experience a natural or manmade disaster in their lifetime, and 86 percent believed that preparing ahead of time (e.g., putting together an emergency kit) would increase their odds of survival significantly. Yet, only one in four had actually made any efforts to prepare for such an event. Imagine how much more scared those three out of four people will be when the Weather Channel outlines the path of a powerful hurricane.
6. They take action despite their fear, not because of it.
Ultimately, what determines the outcomes you achieve in life are the actions you do or do not take. And fear will interfere. Fear-engineered actions range from tackling what scares you head on to working through it despite your fear. Fearless people strategize. They plan and evaluate their actions. They know when to push forward and when to pull back. They know what risks are worth taking and which ones they should avoid. And when things get out of hand...
7. They are not afraid to ask for help.
Despite its incredible evolutionary value, fear is not a fun feeling. It is an inherently unpleasant experience that causes physical discomfort, emotional distress, and mental turmoil.
When a person doesn't deal with fear properly, it can become pathological. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one out of five adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder in a given year. The psychiatric literature reports over 100 phobias, disorders which manifest in a persistent and irrational fear of objects or situations.
Fearless people know when to seek help. When a worry becomes excessive and anxiety interferes with daily life, it is time to consult a professional.