Action Kills Fear

by J.D. Roth

Last night, Cody and I watched the Portland Timbers battle to a scoreless draw with the New England Revolution. Really, though, the soccer match was just an excuse for two friends to hang out for a few hours. We had a good time talking about life: about fitness (Cody is my Crossfit trainer), writing, relationships…and fear.

I told Cody how productive I’ve been since I started taking my ADHD meds a week ago. “It’s amazing how much I can get done in a day,” I told him. “I’m able to focus. I have no anxiety. I’m able to get started on stuff without being distracted. I don’t let myself get sidetracked by tiny little fears.”

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about fear,” Cody told me. He knows it’s a pet subject of mine. Plus, I’ve been struggling in the gym since I returned from Europe. Lifts that should be easy for me are proving tough. I even dropped the bar last week, and the bar only had 165 pounds on it.

“I’ve noticed something about people who are learning to lift,” Cody said. “When you start lifting and you get near max efforts” — max efforts are lifts where you’re lifting the most you possibly can — “there’s a fear of getting under the bar. You’re afraid that you’ll drop it, or that you’ll hurt yourself.”

I nodded. I experience this all the time. I just experienced it yesterday while attempting the deadlift. My max deadlift is 345 pounds, but yesterday I was struggling at 275. When it came time to lift 315, I couldn’t do it, partially because I was afraid.

“I get afraid too,” Cody said. “Or I used to. When you do a lift, there’s this moment where you just stop thinking. You have to do the lift, and that means taking an action you’re afraid to do. In order to do that, you have to turn your brain off. It’s when beginners turn their brains off that they’re able to overcome their fear of lifting.”

“Well, instead of waiting for the moment when I’m no longer afraid — a moment that might not ever come if I keep thinking about it — I’ve learned to force myself to not think about it. I think this is key. Thought creates fear; action kills it.

“I love that idea,” I said. “It reminds me of what I had to do when I went skydiving. I hate heights. And jumping out of an airplane scared me shitless. In order to go through with it, I had to turn my brain off.”

“Right,” Cody said. “You leapt without thought. And in weightlifting, you have to get under the bar without thought. When trying new foods, you have to eat without thought. And so on. You have to reach a point where you’re no longer thinking, you’re only acting.

As I was falling asleep last night, I thought more about this notion: Thought creates fear; action kills it. It’s not a new idea, but it’s an important one. In his classic The Magic of Thinking Big — the book that’s the inspiration for my upcoming talks and ebook on overcoming fear — David J. Schwartz writes:

Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear…When we face tough problems, we stay mired in the mud until we take action. Hope is a start. But hope needs action to win victories.

Schwartz proposes a two-step plan to cure fear and win confidence:

  1. Isolate your fear. Determine exactly what it is that scares you.
  2. Take action. Figure out what action will counter your fear.

“Hesitation only enlarges, magnifies the fear,” he writes. “Take action promptly. Be decisive.”

Obviously, this is easier said than done. Overcoming fear takes practice. Being decisive takes practice. You need to practice taking action. But from my experience, action is the antidote to fear. If fear is the mind-killer, action is the fear-killer.

What have you been putting off because you’re afraid? What action can you take today to overcome that fear?

Updated: 03 May 2013

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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