Acknowledging The One Thing Standing Between You and Your Goals: Fear


Fear, not a lack of time, money or opportunities, prevents us from reaching our goals. The first step to overcoming this is simply to acknowledge our fear.

Wiktor overcoming his fear of gravity, one jump at a time...

It's been an interesting week, throughout which a random set of coincidences has led me to realize that the biggest thing that has slowed me down, that has kept me from reaching my goals and that has done the same thing to countless people I know has been fear. Not a lack of time, not a lack of opportunities, not a lack of money, but fear, pure and simple. Even when you look back to my last article, about no longer making excuses and just getting out there and doing the things you want to do (in my case, cooking more), you can see fear in the background. Fear of not having the right recipes. Fear of failure. Fear of wasting my time. I'd like to walk you through how I realized this over the course of this week.

Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Wiktor Jarka, recommended a book to me. Like most of his recommendations lately, it involved his favorite hobby - skydiving (the mere mention of which makes me fearful, I admit!). The book, Transcending Fear: The Doorway to Freedom, discusses how to recognize and move beyond fear from the perspective of the author, a world champion skydiver, test pilot and psychologist.

Midweek, I began preparing a presentation for this week's Awesome Friday lunch at Creatuity. We'll be watching psychologist Kelly McGonigal's TED talk entitled "How to make stress your friend" (a great video that's worth the 15 minutes to watch it). In her talk, Kelly quotes some rather surprising statistics from a study on stress and its impact on lifespan. Kelly references a study showing that people who have experienced significant stress in the previous year have a 43% increased risk of dying, but only if they believe that stress is harmful for their health. People who experience significant levels of stress but don't view stress as harmful have a lower risk of dying than those who have relatively little stress. The belief that stress is bad for you is estimated to be the 15th largest cause of death in the US - killing more people than skin cancer or homicide! So it's not stress that causes health problems, but the fear of stress - your outlook and thoughts on stress.


Finally, this morning, oDesk featured an article about my success on their blog and Facebook feed. Each time an article like this goes live, I receive a number of comments, Tweets and other messages from people who say they hope to be as successful as me someday, that they can't imagine making the leap to starting their own business or freelancing, and they ask for advice on how to get started and how I did it. As I was reading some of these messages this morning, the book Transcending Fear and the stats from Kelly McGonigal's presentation clicked together in my mind, and I realized that what holds back almost everyone I talk to about getting started as a freelancer, starting their own business or any new, exciting venture is simply fear.

My first impulse was to tell you about how to overcome your fear, how by defeating your fear you can become famous, rich, successful, whatever, but that is vastly oversimplifying the impact that fear has on the average person. Instead, I would like you to do something much simpler - acknowledge your fear. Admit that it is fear that's stopping you from going further, from accomplishing more, from starting that new business. Much like changing your attitude about stress changes how stress impacts your body and lifespan, acknowledging your fear is the first step towards mastering it and using it to accomplish your goals.

I'm reminded of the 'Litany Against Fear' that the author Frank Herbert wrote in many of his books. One version, from a miniseries based on his work is a great place to start. If you want to start a freelancing career, your own business or some other equally daunting task, repeat this to yourself:

"I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will let it pass through me. Where the fear has gone, there shall be nothing. Only I will remain."


Cooking and Reaching Your Goals

Don’t talk about it, be about it

Seeking Fulfillment Beyond Work

After spending entirely too many years focused on launching and growing Creatuity to the exclusion of almost everything else in my life, I recently decided to sit down and identify what I enjoyed in life and seeing and if I was actively pursuing activities that brought some sort of enjoyment or value to my life. Being a dedicated Omnifocus user and a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to productivity, I decided to sit down and create a Project for each of these activities I wanted to do more of, define the actions necessary to make it happen and just generally approach it like I would a project for work.

How Not To Become a Chef

One example is cooking - when we moved into our new house a couple of years ago, we went with the ‘gourmet’ kitchen with double convection ovens, a huge gas range and all the other trimmings someone who cooks often could possibly want, because I was going to cook more. Fast forward two years and I think I’ve cooked twice since we moved in. So, I setup a project called “Cook More at Home” and created some actions such as researching the best recipe websites, cooking apps, etc., because then surely I would cook more, right? I have the kitchen, the tools, the well-defined project and steps and access to a virtually unlimited supply of recipes and tips on the Internet.

A Complete Lack of Progress

Let’s fast forward a few more months, when I’m disappointed to admit I still wasn’t cooking more. Or at all. I’ve checked off some of the action items in my “Cook More at Home” project, but overall made very little progress on the project, and most importantly, I hadn’t cooked anything at home (unless the microwave counts). Then, I saw another developer on Twitter mention that he was looking for a good recipe app and I realized that I was pulling a classic developer/techie move - I was so focused on finding the best way to do something, that I wasn’t actually doing it.

No More Yak Shaving

I realized that I was using the fact that I didn’t know the best way to approach cooking, the best way to organizing my recipes and the best system to put into place to make sure I cook more often to stop be from actually doing the work of making this project happen. I was, as Merlin Mann discussed, yak shaving. Instead of running through the steps that Merlin lists in his article, however, I decided that, like most goals we set for ourselves but never manage to reach, the answer was simple: just do it. Stop talking about it. Stop making excuses. Stop coming up with systems and approaches and finding the best app. That night, I went to the grocery store, bought some ingredients and spent the weekend cooking. What I learned, and I hope you will learn as well, is that if there’s a goal that is truly important to you the most important thing you can do is just get out there and make it happen.

Be About It

Or, in the words of the famous 21st century poet, Busta Rhymes in his epic, “Pass the Courvoisier” - Don’t talk about it, be about it!