The world can sometimes be a really fucking scary place.
How can we put on our courage like a suit of armor— and take on the world, without fear, trembling, or hesitation?
All this advice are my personal remedies
In this letter, I will try to compile everything I’ve learned about overcoming my personal fears, in hope that it can help you as well.
1. The worse-case scenario isn’t as bad as we imagine
“Some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.” – Seneca
As human beings, we are born risk-averse. It is in our DNA. For example, losing $100 is twice as painful as winning $100.
Similarly, we are engineered so that we prefer to avoid death, rather than adding gains.
For example, if you were a hunter-gatherer in the savanna, hearing a slight rustle in the bushes (might be a lion) might have saved your life.
Evolutionarily speaking, it is better to be over-paranoid, and over-anxious — so we wouldn’t be eaten by predators.
Therefore, we end up over-exaggerating the worst-case scenarios in life.
We are afraid of pissing off our friends, family, peers, boss, co-workers, because we are afraid of being kicked out of the social circle, and starving to death.
Therefore, we often over-exaggerate the worst-case scenario.
What I have done as a way to overcome this fear is this: imagine the worst-possible case scenario, and think about it vividly, and be rational about it.
For example, let’s say I want to quit my job and start my own business. The worst-case scenario is not earning any money, becoming homeless, and starving to death. Honestly, death is always the worst-possible case scenario we can imagine.
Yet— is that rational in today’s society? In most of the world today (even developing countries) — very few people die of starvation. Many people are malnourished, and die of disease and lack of sanitation. But most of us actually suffer from obesity and diabetes, than lack of food to survive.
Also think about the worst-case scenario possibly happening, and realize— it is probably not going to be as scary as you imagine it to be.
Once again, let’s say that you accidentally pissed off your boss. Your biggest fear is probably getting fired, never getting another job, becoming homeless, and dying. The worst (realistic) case-scenario is getting fired. But that might actually end up being a good thing — you can use that opportunity to start a new career, and you might be lucky enough to get a severance bonus.
2. How can you turn the worst-case scenario into a positive scenario?
Going from the prior point — there are a lot of shitty things that can happen in our lives, which can actually end up benefitting us in one way or another.
Our buddy Seneca tells us this is what we should do when preparing for the worst-case scenario:
“Well, what if it does happen? Let us see who wins! Perhaps it happens for my best interests.” – Seneca
You are stronger and tougher than you think. Most people are afraid of getting punched in the face. But in reality, getting punched in the face isn’t nearly as painful as you might think. I’ve been beaten up and knocked unconscious in the past when boxing with friends. You’re stronger than pain.
Let’s say you’re afraid of your partner breaking up with you. What if it does happen? It might be for your best interests — you might find someone more loving, understanding, and compassionate.
Let’s say you get exported from the country you’ve living in. Perhaps you will find a better country to live in, with fewer cares, stresses, and anxieties. I know a lot of people are afraid of exportation, but for thousands of years, many philosophers have been exiled from their native countries — and have actually turned those negative opportunities into positive experiences. Many exiled individuals became philosophers after they got exiled. Even Seneca wrote most of his best works after he got exiled.
Let’s say your loved one dies. That might help you find more appreciation for your own life, and those around you who are still living.
Let’s say you find out you have cancer. You know you only have 2 years left to live. Then you will make those 2 years the most noble years of your life. It is the quality of life, not the quantity of our life, which matters.
Let’s say you lose your sight. You can use this opportunity to better explore music. If you lose your hearing, perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to pursue photography.
It is fire which turns ore into stronger metals. The same way — treat negative events in your life as something that makes you stronger.
3. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
If you want to become a world-class boxer or fighter, you don’t want to be matched up with people who are weaker than you. Rather, you want to be matched with people who are strong as you (or perhaps, even stronger).
The same thing is in life. You couldn’t grow as a human being, if you didn’t have your strength tested. You want to have an opportunity to test your courage, bravery, and confidence in yourself. You cannot be tested without difficult situations from fate.
4. Slow down your breathing
Whenever I get afraid of anything — I feel my heart rate go up, sweat to accumulate, and pangs of nervousness tense up the muscles in my body.
Whenever I feel afraid, I remind myself to slow down my breathing. When I slow down my breathing, my stress and anxiety goes down.
I do this when I face things that scare me (either in the future), or even in the present moment. It is amazing how effectively this works to soothe my fears.
5. Overcome pain
Most of us are afraid of pain. Physical or mental pain.
One of the best ways to overcome the fear of pain is to face it directly, and to become accustomed to pain.
One of the most practical ways to become stronger to endure pain is to take icy-cold showers (yes, even in the winter-time).
I have made it a personal practice to take icy cold showers, even when I feel like I’m going to freeze to death. In the beginning, it was very difficult. I started with hot showers, and ended icy cold. Eventually, I just jumped in to go straight icy. I sometimes would only shower for 30 seconds, with quick haste, to avoid the pain of the cold water.
But strangely enough, over time— I became to actually quite prefer cold showers. Not because it ‘feels’ pleasant— but rather, it gives me mental fortitude. I feel mentally stronger, and less afraid of pain. And after taking an icy cold shower (in the winter), my body actually starts to radiate heat. And not only that, but leaving the icy cold shower, the bedroom is always warmer than the icy cold shower. Whereas when I take hot showers in the winter, when I get out of the shower, I feel colder.
You can also become more resistant to pain by taking up powerlifting, physically strenuous exercise, or anything that requires strength from your body and mind.
Don’t be a slave to fear
The last point I want to share with you is this — don’t become a fear of slave.
You were born for a great destiny — learn how to defend yourself against fear, by overcoming it.
Anything that can scare you or harm you, must be stronger than you. But you are stronger than anything else out there.
You are a diamond. Only diamonds (stronger) than you can cut you. All your irrational fears are like fingernails trying to claw away at your flawless exterior.
Always be strong, don’t fear death, and suck the marrow out of life.
Learn more: Stoicism >