I'm reading "Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger" right now by Peter Bevelin, which is excellent. Author Bevelin is talking about fear here -
Fear warns us of potential harm and keeps us from acting in self-destructive ways. It helps us avoid threats and makes us act to prevent further damage. Fear guides us to avoid what didn't work in the past. Fear causes worry and anxiety, a normal response to physical danger. It activates hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which keeps us attentive to harm since we need full attention to escape from a threat.
The degree of fear we feel depends on our interpretation of the threat and our perception of control. The more helpless and vulnerable we feel, the stronger our emotion for fear becomes.
He goes on to give an example of how your body will react if you're walking down a deserted street at night and hear noise behind you. You'll naturally start to breathe faster, grow more aware, etc. - an instinctive response. He continues:
What we fear and the strength of our reactions depends on our genes, life experiences, and the specific situation. You may react instinctively at first, but if the situation is one that you'be experienced before (since our brain is continuously being "rewired" with life experiences), the final reaction may be to calm down. [...] The more we are exposed to a stimulus, even a terrifying one, the higher our threshold of fear becomes.
"The more we are exposed to a stimulus, even a terrifying one, the higher our threshold of fear becomes."
So if you're repeatedly exposed to someone behind you on a dark street at night, and nothing goes seriously wrong - you'll grow less and less afraid of the situation.
Had a conversation with an expert martial-artist friend last week. He was explaining that for new students, one of the most important things is to get over the fear of getting hit. In his classes, he's constantly having people get hit in a variety of ways, so they just don't panic and freeze up.
He's a believer that you're going to inevitably get hit if you fight, and you need to be relaxed and able to keep functioning after getting hit. So they hit each other, for real, a lot. He says he's gotten students from other disciplines where the student had never gotten hit in the face before, not even at slow speeds with protective gear. Then what happens if you're in a real fight and you hit in the face? Totally unprepared, panic, freeze up, things go badly.
Have you ever had nasty things said about you by an anonymous critic? Ever gone to someone's office uninvited and not gotten through? Ever had nasty things said to you during a sales call? Ever been threatened? Financially? Physically?
None of those are that bad. Scary to think about, scary the first time you're there. Dropping in on a potential client uninvited when you can't get through any other way and really want to meet the person? Yeah, it sucks when you get blown off by the secretary. It's even worse if you can get through somehow, fumble your words, and things end awkwardly. Oh, that really sucks. Especially if you have to wait for the elevator or take the stairs out and keep your posture up instead of just deflating after blowing it.
But then you get a coffee and laugh about it later.
And your threshold grows.
Terrifying to think about. Terrifying the first time. It gradually melts away, and you can do more without the fear.
Ever been hit in the face? No? Maybe you want to look into doing it in a safe context...?
Derek Sivers has a thorough review of Seeking Wisdom here.
You might be interested in trying something like the Rejection Therapy challenge? Here's Jason Shen's experience with it.
I was thinking about this the other day. There's a certain something I feel I should be able to do but for some reason I always slip up; maybe hitting myself in the face (figuratively) will fix it?
I can confirm what you said about martial arts, along with many other things. Anyway I'd like to add that one has to allow things to go through. I suggest taking actions that are uncomfortable to you to see that nothing really happens after you do them. For example Tim Ferris in the four hour work week proposes to lay down on the ground for 10 seconds. Now, this is something very uncomfortable to do, but after you do it you see that nothing really happens. It's just an example but I think it's important to let go fear, especially for non-life threatening situations.
From Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman's On Killing [emphasis added] --
When people become angry, or frightened, they stop thinking with their forebrain (the mind of a human being) and start thinking with their midbrain (which is indistinguishable from the mind of an animal). They are literally “scared out of their wits.” The only thing that has any hope of influencing the midbrain is also the only thing that influences a dog: classical and operant conditioning.
That is what is used when training firefighters and airline pilots to react to emergency situations: precise replication of the stimulus that they will face (in a flame house or a flight simulator) and then extensive shaping of the desired response to that stimulus. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. In the crisis, when these individuals are scared out of their wits, they react properly and they save lives.
This is done with anyone who will face an emergency situation, from children doing a fire drill in school to pilots in a simulator. We do it because, when people are frightened, it works. We do not tell children what they should do in case of a fire, we condition them; and when they are frightened, they do the right thing.
The human brain has a tendency to acclimate to whatever stimulus it is subjected to. If you lift weights your muscles grow stronger. If you lay sedentary your muscles become weaker.
When you take a drug for the first time the high is incredible. However, as you become a regular user of the drug you become accustomed to it, and the highs becomes less and less dramatic.
These are both obvious examples of desensitization, but there’s another type of desensitization that most people haven’t heard about. Fear desensitization.
An Example Of Fear Desensitization