The Science of Fear (and How to Overcome Inaction)

The Science of Fear (and How to Overcome Inaction)

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
-Dale Carnegie

Blessed is the man living today. He inherits a world overflowing with opportunity. It’s up to him to take it.

Information is free. Communication is instant. Risk is minimal. Change is achievable. There is one thing, however, which remains…FEAR.

Break Loose – Become Lucky

Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.
-Norman Vincent Peale

Fear, that old ancient emotion of ours, is constantly lurking in the background, waiting for an opportunity to discourage us from taking action.

Thousands of years ago, fear was necessary. A long life was rare, and dangers were abundant. Our ancestors needed to be fearful and alert all the time to stay alive. True risk, “a situation involving exposure to danger,” is mostly dead and gone in today’s society. Every American has their basic needs met. Very few needs remain, so we have conditioned ourselves to seek wants for satisfaction. Society has moved from survival mode into consumption mode – a socially induced competition to acquire large amounts of unnecessary goods – to fill our otherwise mundane lives.

Since we have very little to actually fear, what we see as a risk is merely our fear of the unknown. We cling desperately to our routines. Why? Because we are afraid. We crave them because they make us feel safe and secure. Many of us will live our entire lives without risking much of anything. We exert caution at any attempts of change and are timid in our decision-making. You could say we loath productivity. This is the great mistake of our time, fueled by distractions, time wasting, and laziness.

Inaction is costly. Time is non-renewable. Once used up, it never returns. We’ve been taught inaction is safe, that by sticking to what we know best everything will “fall in place” and that luck will “find us” as long as we keep our routine intact. But this is way off base. The underachiever mistakes his lack of success with being unlucky:

I can never win. I’m so unlucky, when will my break come?” Sound familiar?

Alas, there is no reward for the man who waits on luck to guide his way. Fortune does favor the bold. The man who never has the guts to take a risk suffers the horrors of regret. The world is filled with such me, eventually lost to history, quickly forgotten.

Inaction gives us a false sense of security. It speaks to us in tongues, telling us to “keep doing what we are doing, we’ll get there eventually.” We think how things are today will be how they are in the future. If we even begin to contemplate a big life change – think moving to a new city or leaving a long time job – inaction and fear silence the chatter. Because our brains are incapable of differentiating between true danger and calculated risks attempting to improve life, we stay stuck in place. Most of us will never go after anything worthwhile because of this indecision. Dreams and hopes never manifest. Eventually, the spark fades to black thanks to comfort and old age. As time rages on, the excuses we tell ourselves become easier. “I’m too old now!” – An easy retort for the man consumed by fear.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
– John F. Kennedy

Massive Disruption = Massive Gain

Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
 -Will Rogers

Let’s begin by quantifying list – what does it mean in the modern sense of the word? We’ll start by asking ourselves some basic questions:

  • Why do I feel fearful when I think about change? 
  • What kind of thoughts make me afraid?
  • Do I make excuses when confronted with a request and/or suggestion to leave my comfort zone?
  • Is there really anything to fear with change? What is the worst case scenario?
  • If everything that could go wrong actually happens – where does that leave me?

These questions will help us clarify what is actually “risky” and what is nothing more than a challenge to our current routine and belief system. Mental mantras are also crucial when it comes to re-wiring our brains. Through positive talk and repetition, we come to understand that our fears are unfounded.

To achieve massive success, we need to bring massive disruption to our life. Massive disruption = massive gain. If life isn’t “going our way,” we need to break rank immediately. We want to practice calculated disruption:

Calculated Disruption = The deliberate action of forcing uncomfortable change into our lives.

Want to move to another part of the country? Do it!

Unhappy with your dead-end job and desperate for a career change? Quit!

Stuck in a miserable, sexless relationship? Leave it!

Jamie Foxx had a great response during an appearance on a Tim Ferris podcast. Here is a summary:

He reminds his children of his advice with a simple question and answer, he said: “What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.”

To help illustrate his point, Foxx said he could interrupt the interview by either yelling wildly or curling up in a ball and his life would continue. “Meaning either you do or you don’t, but there’s no penalty,” he said. “There’s no reward. It’s just be yourself… People are nervous for no reason, because no one’s going to come out and slap you or beat you up.”

“So it’s like, when people say, ‘I’m so nervous’ — what are you nervous about?” Foxx told Ferriss. “Because all of it is in our heads. When we talk about fear or lack of being aggressive, it’s in your head.”

Inaction is a mindset, a bad one at that. We are what we think, and if change scares us, we will never leave our comfort zone. The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. We are capable of extraordinary achievements, but so many talents lie dormant and go extinct because we are afraid to change, of engaging in calculated disruption. We can’t know the future and what it holds for us. We can’t quantify the unknown. But we can begin creating something great today, and that starts with calculated disruption in our lives.

If we aren’t happy, then we need to change our circumstances.

I’m sure you have heard that failure and setbacks are life’s greatest teachers. Change is right there with them. Changing our circumstances is a powerful action with far-ranging consequences.

When we break free of inaction, something crazy happens. We feel a sense of calm. We feel balanced, like a weight is lifted off our shoulders. We’ll only ever experience it if we stop making excuses and actually face our fears. This means turning our backs on our comfort zone and boring routines once and for all. No more complaining about being unlucky. No more self-loathing and excuse making. It needs to come from within; nobody will be able to tell us to do something (at least successfully). If we can overcome our fears and embrace the unknown, we will unlock the potential of massive success.

Final Thoughts

Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.
-Andre Malraux

We live in a great time of limitless opportunity. But we can’t unleash our talents until we conqueror our false sense of security. We feel safe in our lives, because we are comfortable. Stirring the pot feels scary. Our brain is risk adverse.

The first step is to understand that we suffer from emotions that kept our ancestors alive, primarily fear. This was a real fear, and became a necessary mechanism for survival. However, this type of fear is altogether useless in today’s world. Instead, we have very little to lose from calculate risk-taking, also known as calculated disruption. Rational thought needs to be our greatest asset, but we must first let go of inaction. Jamie Foxx said “nothing” is on the other side of fear. But what about inaction? What is on the other side of that? An ordinary, forgettable life filled with regrets.

Choose action.

Thoughtless risks are destructive, of course, but perhaps even more wasteful is thoughtless caution which prompts inaction and promotes failure to seize opportunity.
-Gary Ryan Blair

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