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.
I'm listening to an autobiography of Octavian, the man who went on to become Augustus Caesar.
What's interesting from the book is that Augustus had more patience than his various rivals of the day in large scale affairs and reforms, but he moved with serious haste - celerity - when there was a situation that could be settled decisively.
Around six years ago, I started paying more attention to business and entrepreneurship and generally success and things like that. I remember coming across a lot of literature that encouraged doing things faster - especially in business. Shaving off the shipping time from 7 days to 4 days. Things like that.
Back then, I didn't understood why there was so much emphasis on speed. I thought, "Okay, obviously you wouldn't want to go too slow, but why go so fast? Why does it matter that much?"
And more recently, the answer has been clicking. It's not that getting your package 4 days from now instead of 7 makes such a big difference in all cases. Much of the time, it doesn't.
"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." Thich Nhat Hahn.
Me: Dear beloved teacher, you said that we never respond the same way to the same situation twice, but I find myself repeating some patterns of behavior over and over again, even when I do not like the outcomes. The most difficult of these habits is responding with anger. I do not like the feeling of being angry and I know that it does not improve my relationships, but similar situations seem to perturb me every time. Why does this happen? Why is it so difficult for me to change this response?
Teacher: Dear student, if you are repeating patterns of behavior that harm you and your relationships, it is because you are not able to receive the insight that will help you transform them. To change any habit, you must be able to clearly and convincingly tell yourself why you want to transform it. And once you have a good reason to transform it, you must give yourself a suitable alternative. If you simply focus on stopping yourself from repeating the habit, you will not succeed, because you cannot fight yourself and win. You can only train yourself to respond in a way that you believe is better.
Anger can be a particularly difficult habit to break because the generation of anger blocks us from receiving insight. Anger is an indication that you perceive a threat to your well-being. Anger is just an expression of fear. In a the state of fear, your mind reverts to a primitive state where you are solely focused on survival. You have only two choices, you can run or you can fight, neither of which is usually the appropriate course of action.
What do we hope to achieve by generating anger? We seek to control the people and situations around us in an attempt to prevent future occurrences of the stimulus that we believe created the anger within us. The question you should ask yourself is, why does this particular stimulus perturb me? What do I fear losing? Did this stimulus threaten my ego? What beliefs and identities do I have associated with my ego? Did I misunderstand the situation? These are the insights you require to avoid similar perturbations in the future. But because we do not have sufficient tools to survive our own anger, we focus all our energies on controlling our surroundings rather than transforming ourselves.