Fear has the capacity to hold us back from challenging ourselves in the office and well beyond. Here’s how to break through it so you can realize your true potential, according to three TED talks from experts .
Outline your fears on three pages
Tim Ferriss, a successful early-stage tech investor, best-selling author and podcaster who struggled with bipolar disorder and depression, talked about how he uses stoicism in a 2017 TED Talk called “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.”
The source of his wisdom was an intense personal low for him: He figured out how to how to work through his volatile feelings after planning his own suicide in college.
Ferriss’s revelation came through the study of stoicism. He says stoicism began around 300 BC in Athens, when Zeno of Citium taught on a “stoa” (“a painted porch”), which gave the philosophy its name
He adds, “in the Greco-Roman world, people used stoicism as a comprehensive system for doing many, many things. But for our purposes, chief among them was training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control, and then doing exercises to focus exclusively on the former. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.”
After working a grueling schedule earlier in his career while starting a business, he found a quote by Stoic writer Seneca the Younger, his letters.
The key: the practice “premeditatio malorum”— comprehensively thinking through how what you fear most could play out. In other words, indulge your most catastrophic fears and ask whether you could handle them. (You probably could.)
From this, Ferris came up with a three-page exercise he calls “fear-setting.”
On page one (titled “What if I…?”) you write in three columns: “Define” (you list 10-20 of your fears), “Prevent” (ways to avoid those things from happening) and “Repair” (what you could do if they happen or who you could consult).
On the second page, you spend 10-15 minutes writing down “the benefits of an attempt or a partial success.”
On the third and final page, you write about “The Cost of Inaction.”
That way, your fears don’t exist in the dark. You bring them out in the open, confront them, and by shining a light on them, show how small they truly are.
— Greg Meares (@GregMeares) July 25, 2017
Revel in your strengths
Australian singer/songwriter Megan Washington demonstrates this in a 2014 TEDxSydney talk (“an independent event”), where she admits that she has a stutter. The talk’s title, “Why I live in mortal dread of public speaking,” sharply highlights the fact that she’s taking on a huge fear of hers.
She said that she didn’t know if she was supposed to talk or sing when she committed to the talk, and that upon learning that the theme was “language,” she thought she should bring up her speech impediment.
The artist said that since she’s often on stage, listeners might think she was “comfortable here.” That’s not the case. Washington had “never really talked about it before so explicitly” because growing up, she hoped she’d outgrow it. She mentions treatment she’s used.
Washington then talks about the significance of singing in her life before singing a song at the piano in the latter half of the talk.
“It’s more than making nice sounds, and it’s more than making nice songs. It’s more than feeling known, or understood. It’s more than making you feel the things that I feel. It’s not about mythology, or mythologizing myself to you. Somehow, through some miraculous synaptic function of the human brain, it’s impossible to stutter when you sing. And when I was younger, that was a method of treatment that worked very well for me, singing, so I did it a lot. And that’s why I’m here today…” she says.
Own your fears and talk about them
Graphic designer and singer-songwriter Joe Kowan gave a talk about overcoming his stage fright in 2013. It was “a TED Institute event given in partnership with State Street.”
Kowan used to only play his songs for himself, but right before he performing at an early open mic earlier in his career, he got very anxious and the performance did not go smoothly.
He returned multiple times, but his nerves wouldn’t budge— until he decided to write a song about having stage fright to sing at the beginning of performances.
He talks about the revelation he had.
“All I had to do was write a song that exploits my nervousness. That only seems authentic when I have stage fright, and the more nervous I was, the better the song would be. Easy. So I started writing a song about having stage fright. First, fessing up to the problem, the physical manifestations, how I would feel, how the listener might feel. And then accounting for things like my shaky voice, and I knew I would be singing about a half-octave higher than normal, because I was nervous. By having a song that explained what was happening to me, while it was happening, that gave the audience permission to think about it. They didn’t have to feel bad for me because I was nervous, they could experience that with me, and we were all one big happy, nervous, uncomfortable family. By thinking about my audience, by embracing and exploiting my problem, I was able to take something that was blocking my progress, and turn it into something that was essential for my success.” Kowan said.
Playing the song at the beginning helped him go forward and he stopped having to perform it, “except for when I was really nervous, like now,” he said, before jumping into the song on stage.