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.