The guide to counterintuitive living: How to move toward your fears and conquer them

So many of us run away from our dreams. Our problem isn’t that we aren’t bold, mindful or thoughtful enough, it’s that we give in to fear.

For all the things that we’re taught in school, the most important lesson we learn in life is one that is a product of the school of hard knocks: Fear is our lifelong adversary and friend. Fear is what moves us. Fear is what keeps us in our place. Fear is what pushes us backwards. Fear is what scares us. But boy does fear inspire us. Our quest is to learn how this lifelong adversary and friend can both spur us on, and tear us apart.

Think of what an education in life really means. Ask yourself — what does it mean to you?

Is it about getting good grades to get a good job? Is it about getting to know yourself in a truer, more intimate way? Is it about love? Hope? Faith? Knowledge? What are the things that you truly want to comprise your life — system be damned? And what are you willing to do to get them?

Every step of your journey, fear will be there by your side. So you better get used to it. And it’s helpful to realize that no matter your path, you will learn as much from fear as you will learn from anything else. It will shape you, but you are also empowered to use it to shape the world around you.

The education of life

We learn how to read, learn arithmetic, analyze compounds, elements and more, and yet the most important lessons of life: overcoming fear and adversity, rebounding from mistakes and failures and developing rock-solid personal and professional relationships come outside of our school system. We’re expected to glean these things from parents, friends, even enemies.

But what about when we don’t?

We’re left to our own faculties, which are often unable or inexperienced enough to help us with the things that really matter. A great education will take you far. There’s no doubt about it. But where you really go for the win is when you learn how to meld emotional intelligence into your thoughts and actions.

This piece from Harvard Business Review, by Matt Brubaker and Foster Mobley, takes into account four great ways to combat fear. It’s an excellent step-by-step process to incorporate emotional intelligence and break down four parts of fear and how this cycle manifests itself in our lives:

  • “Step 1: Acknowledge the Fear: In the acknowledge phase, we suggest that people take a close look at their history and examine the choices they’ve made and the reasons behind those choices.”
  • “Step 2: Interrogate the fear to better understand it: assess current reality and look at the costs of fear … spend time considering what it would mean if (you)failed at something.”
  • “Step 3: Choose a different course of action: This is about deciding what to do next and making commitments — understanding what truly matters to you.”
  • “Step 4: Act on that choice — in a way that aligns with your values: The last step is to deliver on your commitments.”

Attributes like acknowledging, confronting and choosing action and commitment are essential for dealing with fear. This brings out our self-awareness, empathy, self-care and the courage to combat fear. Absolutely essential for living life on our terms.

And yet, so many of us run away from our dreams. Our problem isn’t that we aren’t bold, mindful or thoughtful enough, it’s that we give in to fear.

Making your move

You can also try this simple exercise:

Think about the thing that you love most in life.

This may be your family or loved ones, but cast that to the side for a second and place that into a separate bucket. Think about the thing, hobby, activity or venture that you are most passionate about, that gets you excited, inspired, enthused and that truly lights the fire inside of you. What are the things that give color and meaning to your life?

The things that you dream about, that deep down your intuition, heart and mind are calling you to do?

Now — try this simple exercise: Look back at the past six months. How many times have you moved in the direction of this thing during that time period? In fact — if you were to attempt in hindsight to measure your progress toward that thing that you love, how far have you actually traveled?

What if I told you that all of the successful people that you admire started out from identical circumstances to you? I’m not talking about financial status or class, race or background. I’m talking about the mental and emotional states in life. The fight or flight response to tackling your biggest dreams and challenges.

We either move in the direction of what we want most, or by not advancing — or perhaps even retreating — we stay stuck. We never find out the answer to one of life’s most important questions: What if we actually become who were are destined to be?

It’s never a question of desire. To want or hope begins in our minds. Then, we have to believe that what we want is possible. That’s called faith. By backing faith with enthusiasm, we have formed a firm, rock-solid foundation of emotional and mental well-being. Without this, it’s doubtful you will ever be able to do something great.

The good news is — it’s very likely you already have this. You certainly have this in you, you need to believe and you need to get excited about it.

From this seminal moment — this epic life decision point — is the crossroads of whether you will live the life of your dreams or settle for mediocrity. I don’t mean to sound dour or pessimistic, in fact, far from it. I’m an external optimist. And I’m also here to tell you that this next step — this willingness and wherewithal to overcome fear — is what will make or break you.

Counterintuitive fight

If you’re willing to fight — you first must be willing to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to overcome that terrible enemy who threatens to thwart you before you even begin. You must overcome the voice inside your head telling you all of the following lies:

  • You’re not talented/good/skilled/able enough
  • You’re too old OR too young
  • You don’t have enough experience
  • You won’t know what to do with success
  • You won’t be able to grow your business
  • You’re better off trying something different; this is too tough

And the list goes on. If you’ve ever been there before, please, know that I’ve been and will continue to be right there with you. And so will the greatest success stories in every field and industry all throughout history. No one knows for sure if they’re ever going to make it. Our success and ideas are dependent on whether tens, hundreds, thousands and millions of other people will accept, need or want them!

And no matter how well researched or prepared we are in the market we aim to penetrate, we will never, ever know until we try. Whether our idea is original or unoriginal, we have to give things a shot.

This is why secondly, it all comes down to action. Are you willing to act? Are you willing to go for what you really want? Because if you are, you must turn back to your foundation of desire, faith and enthusiasm. You must not care what others think. You must fight on by using fear to your advantage. This is how to achieve the greatest hopes and dreams of your life.

Face your fears

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This article first appeared on Medium.