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.
Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:
Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…
It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.
I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.
I keep thinking back on how things have progressed the last few years. The horrors I witnessed, and the things I lost. The things I gained. I find it...hard, to explain just what has been going on with me. What it feels like to have your children taken away, to have your wife die, to watch her suffer over a period of months. I tell my therapist about it, and he nods and listens. But I know he doesn't get it. No one seems to get it. Even my new wife, Margaret.
She tries to. I am really fortunate to have her. I really doubt I would be as okay if I didn't have her. We don't really talk about what happened, though she knows probably more about it than most. It just isn't part of our lives. She does her work and I do mine, and when we get home we simply spend time together. Neither of us talk about our day. We mostly read. But I saw a look in her eyes today I haven't seen in a while. She looked concerned.
I have tried to play the role of the good husband. I have kept my hours at work and I get her small trinkets that remind me of her. And I listen...but I can see it when she looks at me. The thing we don't discuss is becoming an issue and I am struggling with how I am going to tell her. What happened before my wife died. What led to the nightmares.
It is easier to write it down.
I think most people who have read this assumed that the nightmares came from what happened with my wife. It did in a way, but the nightmares started before that. Her suffering just made it worse. And really, what happened to her is what matters now. It is what bothers Margaret.