15 Ways To Overcome The Fear That’s Killing Your Potential

By Ryan Holiday

We’re afraid.

We know what we want to do, what we could do, what we should do. 

It’s an idea for a new business. It’s dropping out of college. It’s telling someone how we feel. It’s trying something radically different. 

But something gets in the way. The voice in our head. The voice of others inside our head. People tell us that our idea is crazy, that the odds are slim, that people like us do things like this, not like that

Oh, what this costs us. “Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion,” Florence Nightingale, a woman who resisted her calling for a good chunk of the first thirty years of her life, once wrote. Yet these pedestrian but powerful fears—they keep so many of us from our destiny. They give us a million reasons why. Or why not. 

But it must be said that greatness is impossible without taking the risk, without leaping into uncertainty, without overcoming fear. Name one good thing that did not require at least a few hard seconds of bravery. If we wish to be great, if we wish to realize our potential, we must learn how to conquer fear, or at least rise above it in the moments that matter. So here, adapted from my just-released book Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave, are 15 ways to do just that…and to hopefully get a little closer to reaching your potential. 

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Defeat Fear With Logic

In sobriety circles they use the acronym F.E.A.R. “False Evidence Appearing Real.” That’s what fear is. False impressions that feel real. We must break fear down logically. Go to the root of it. Explain it. Tell yourself: It’s just money. It’s just a bad article. It’s just a meeting with people yelling at one another. Is that something you need to be afraid of? “There are more things,” Seneca wrote, “likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Break it down. Really look at the facts. Investigate. Only then can we really see.

Block Out Other People’s Opinions 

Almost everything new, everything impressive, everything right, was done over the loud objections of the status quo. Most of what is beloved now was looked down on at the time of its creation or adoption by people who now pretend that never happened. When I talked to the rapper Logic on the Daily Stoic podcast, he talked about how every time he puts out a new album, the haters come out in droves. When he put out his first album, they wanted the sound and style of his mixtapes. When he put out his second album, they wanted the sound and style of his first album. When he put out his third album, they wanted the sound and style of his second album. And on and on. This is how it goes. This is how it has always gone. Some two thousand years, Cicero wrote about the haters, the gossipers, the side-line commentators. “Let other people worry over what they will say about you,” he said. “They will say it in any case.” Don’t value the opinion of faceless, unaccountable strangers above your own considered judgment.

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