What are we all afraid of?
Many people spend time on the verge of taking a great leap, but never seem to get up the courage to do it.
Hollywood movies would have us believe that people reach a moment where they take a great leap and leave everything behind. Sometimes this is literally a huge jump, swinging from a rope over a chasm or something, and then our hero is suddenly unafraid of heights. But you and I both know it doesn’t work like this.
More accurately, I think people view relatively small steps as large ones, and that prevents them from taking those steps. And it doesn’t matter how many people tell them it’s no big deal. To them, it is a big deal. To them, that small step is huge.
Well, that’s okay. To get the right answer, just ask the Right Question, no matter how big or small you think the next step is.
It’s different for everybody, but paralysis comes from the belief that something bad will happen if we get or do what we want but at the same time, we’re also afraid that something bad will happen if we stay where we are. I think everybody has both of these fears working on them most of the time.
If you do an internet search on the most common fears, you’ll find that without exception, they are things that we can’t control. Public speaking. Flying. Snakes. Heights. Elevators. The list is endless, and they all have one thing in common: We can’t completely control them.
I used to know a helicopter pilot who would stand on the skid of a helicopter as it hovered fifty feet off the ground in a high wind, with no safety harness. But he wouldn’t climb a ladder. He trusted the helicopter because he could control it, but he found ladders to be wobbly and unpredictable.
So it would be more accurate to say that we’re afraid of things that we think we can’t control.
This is one of the biggest reasons why the Question is so powerful. It immediately brings into focus things you can control, so you’re better able to manage your life.
Fears aren’t rational. Phobias, extreme fears of something, can’t be argued away by logic. They can be completely erased, but not without a little effort. And one thing that psychiatrists and counselors get asked by their clients every day while curing phobias is, “What will I fear instead?”
That’s an indication that the person in question is so used to being afraid that it doesn’t matter much what they’re afraid of, as long as there’s something. Because that’s comforting.
Let’s take a quick look at what will happen if we don’t get what we want, and what will happen if we do.
Fear of Failure
This is what many people are quite sure they’re afraid of. It’s pretty easy to describe why we might be afraid of failure. Our friends might get an odd satisfaction that we tried climbing out of the cage only to fall back in. We’ve spent time and money and other resources along the way that now seem wasted. We’re embarrassed that we were once all fired up about this goal or dream, and now that it’s come crashing down around us and we realize it’s never going to happen, we feel like a fool for even wanting it in the first place.
It’s also pretty universal to be afraid to be mocked for trying. Let’s face it, we don’t live in a world where trying but not succeeding is very well regarded. Fear of being ridiculed for dreaming big in the first place can be pretty powerful if we let it.
Being afraid of failure is an easy fear to paint a picture of, at least on the surface. It might go a lot deeper than this, though.
For example, you might be afraid of failing in business because you’re worried that it will only reinforce your image of yourself as a loser, or someone who isn’t worth a better life. In this case, you’re concerned that your emotional and mental health might be at risk if you fail.
Or perhaps you’re worried that you’ll fail when approaching that attractive man or woman you have your eye on. You know what everyone says – they can’t reject you if they don’t know you, they can’t reject you unless you want something from them, just move on, all those things – but you just can’t seem to shake it.
Would it help to know that everyone feels this? Whether they admit it or not, in fact whether they even know it or not, everyone’s heart rate increases and breathing gets shallower when anyone does anything out of their comfort zone.
The ones who seem unafraid are ones who just do it anyway.
In other words, without even knowing it, they’re asking the Right Question.
One thing that has helped me in my quest to overcome fears is to redefine what a fear means. I explore this in detail in the book, but I’ll give you an idea about it here – things only have meaning in a context. If you frame what you call failure differently, it might not mean failure at all. Make sure you know the difference between your own definitions of “not getting what you want” and “failing”. Most of the time, they aren’t the same thing at all. What we now call “Trial and Error” used to be called “Truth or Error”, but every result you get is truth. Some results get you closer to what you want, and some don’t, but they’re both truth.
Fear of Success
It’s a little more difficult to describe why we might be afraid to succeed at something. After all, you’re looking at the pictures in your mind of everything that’ll be great once you reach this goal or live this dream. Once your life is the way you want it, you’ll be happy, alive, awake, and everything around you will be better. You’ll have lots of money, friends, a successful business or your dream career with great prospects, and the man or woman of your dreams. What is there that we could possibly be afraid of?
Well, the world we live in doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about success. We hear stories every day about how students who achieve great marks lose them to those who don’t score as high. The harder you work, the more money the government takes. The more you beautify your property, the more property tax you pay even though your municipal government hasn’t lifted a finger to provide you any more or better services than it did before you did all that work. People who become successful are subject to scrutiny, suspicion, and mistrust no matter how many people they provide jobs for. It seems like you just can’t win, either way.
So which is it?
I believe that of these two fears, more people are afraid of success by far than those who are afraid of failure. Sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true.
At least when you fail after any attempt to improve your life, halfhearted or otherwise, your life is basically the same.
You get some immediate temporary relief in the form of sympathy from your friends (who may have been pretty nervous at your attempt to climb out of the nest and fly). They rally round you and agree it’s tough to make it in this world, and you’ll go out for coffee or a drink together and everything will be the same as before. You’ve failed, but it’s not that bad, you’re at least not really any worse off. You might have a huge loan to pay back, and that can weigh heavily on you, but you’ll find a way to do it, and you’ll have experience under your belt and some stories to tell.
Success, however, means that your life will change. And the worst thing about it is that you don’t know exactly how it will change. In other words, you’re afraid that it will suddenly become beyond your control.
Despite how clearly you’ve imagined it, how many hours you’ve spent meditating and visualizing how your life will look once this dream comes true or this goal is reached, the fact is that you don’t know precisely how your life will be different. And I would bet you that if you spent enough time thinking about it, you’d admit that it’s terrifying.
Why is this so?
Mostly it’s because we don’t know who we will be once our lives are different.
Let that sink in for a second. Read it again.
Remember what I’ve said about having the life of our dreams? I said that in order for us to have the life of our dreams, we must become the person who could have that life.
Right now, chances are you aren’t the person who owns the beautiful villa on the tropical island. Perhaps you aren’t the one married to the person of your dreams. You aren’t driving the car you want, and you aren’t respected in your field. In fact, you might be living in a rented inner-city apartment with no car at all, trying to decide if you can even afford to go to school.
Your life right now is frustrating and you are denied what you want by things beyond your control.
But it’s familiar. And keeping things familiar requires no effort on your part at all. It’s easy. You’ve become rather good at it.
And even though success seems pretty great, tempting, and wonderful, aren’t there people waiting to accuse you of not caring about your friends on the way up? Are you going to be seen as a terrible, greedy, uncaring and manipulative swindler? Deciding who you’re going to take for that trip to the tropics when you make your first million is just like what you went through when you were figuring out whom to invite for your seventh birthday party. Some will be left out, and others are going to show up and be cake hogs with no manners.
Instead, ask the Question.
It’s easier to succeed than to fail.
When I say that it’s easier, I don’t mean that you won’t face challenges, obstacles, and problems along the way. I don’t mean that all you have to do in order to have a successful business is to put a sign up and wait.
I mean that in the long run, it will cost you far less to make sure you succeed than it will to stay in your comfort zone. Staying in the unsatisfying life you have will cost you more than you can possibly imagine.
And if you really believe that it requires no effort on your part to stay where you are, think about this: When you finally do reach the end and remember what your dreams were, you’ll have spent so much time protecting your comfort zone and letting your fears decide how you lived that you’ll never reach that shore. Regret comes with an enormous price tag.
Are you prepared to live with that?
There’s an old saying that it’s lonely at the top. The inference is that once you’ve succeeded, you’ll be alone because so few people really make it. Everyone will want something from you, decisions you make will affect a lot of people who won’t be happy with what you decide, and that it won’t be worth whatever you had to do to get there.
I’ll admit that, as Anthony Robbins says, the bottom’s more crowded. But at the top are quality people who understand the struggle you’ll have been through.
What does “at the top” even mean, anyway?
Let’s say you’re trying to kick a habit or addiction. You couldn’t care less about material things, for whatever reason, but you want to get rid of a drinking or drug or smoking habit or addiction.
In your case, the people at the top are those who have already done it. For you, the top is when you can say no in the face of temptation. You’ll be able to say no even if your partner is into it, your friends, everyone. You’ll be at the top when you can refuse even when you’re down and that chemical seemed like your only friend. And you’ll know others who have been there. If they can do it, so can you.
At the top of your career in real estate, for another example, are those who have been able to find great people to work for them, and carved out a niche for themselves in an area that they dominate. They saw that people needed help finding a certain kind of property, or maybe they just decided they’d move to a city or country or climate they preferred, and decided to help others achieve their dreams of finding a place to call their own. At the top you’ll meet these people and you’ll learn from their experience, you’ll share stories of amazing properties you’ve seen and the people you’ve met along the way.
For every reason to fear your new life as a success, there are unlimited reasons to embrace it.
But what if your struggle is more personal than that? What if you are depressed and have trouble even getting out of bed in the morning? What if your goal isn’t to have a new car, to travel the world, or to swim with the dolphins, and instead you’d consider it a victory just to be able to clean your house and smile once a day? There’s nobody at the top there except you, even if you do manage to run the vacuum. Success for you means being able to leave the house without being afraid.
I could rationalize with you, show you the logic that you’re alone whether you sit around crying all day or get busy and get something done. I could use reason to illustrate what you should do. But ultimately you’re in the same position I was in years ago – it didn’t matter what anybody said, what the gurus told me. There was just me in my life. And there’s just you in yours.
Just ask yourself the Right Question, and you’ll always get the right answer.