bad habits

How To Cultivate The Habit of Fear

Fear is at the root of every personal development and peak performance methodology. It is the most primal of emotions and the wall that stands in the way of taking action.

So why would anyone want to make fear a habit?

Because fear is misunderstood. It is not your enemy. Fear is in fact your best friend on your journey to success. Every time you take that step outside your comfort zone, rest assured, fear, your faithful companion, will be by your side. Fear is nothing more than excitement with a touch of caution.

As long as you choose to keep growing in life, it will require some degree of risk. Growth cannot occur without change or risk. And with risk comes fear. It is only natural to experience fear when you do something new. It lives within us because it serves a purpose. Not only does it keep us alive, but almost always, it also makes us come alive.

More than likely, you don’t feel fear before sitting down to watch a movie, but signing up for your first marathon, on the other hand, that may just cause your heart to skip a few beats.

Fear lets you know when you are about to do something grand.

The problem is that from a young age we are told that fear is for the weak. We are told to prevent it from ever entering our hearts and minds. But the more we resist it, the more it will persist. By trying to control it, we give it power over us, and that is when we find ourselves paralyzed by it.

Should we simply be with it and embrace it, it will help guide us as we navigate our way into the unforgiving unknown.

Cave diving is often considered the most dangerous sports in the world. There is no room for error. If something goes wrong, you can’t just swim to the surface. Underwater caves have been transformed into a tomb for many excellent divers.

Jill Heinerth is a master at the art and has dived more caves than any woman in history. She is also the first person to dive into an iceberg cave in Antarctica. Considering her level of experience, she still feels fear on every one of her dives. Fear keeps her alive by breeding a healthy respect for the hostile environment she regularly explores.

Making fear a habit

NASA conducted a study where a group of astronauts wore convex goggles that made everything look upside down. They were required to wear these goggles for every minute of the day for a period of 30 days. The purpose of the study was to determine how these astronauts would cope with life in an anti-gravity environment. What they did not expect to find was that after 25 to 30 days, even with the convex goggles on, every astronaut started to see the world the right way up again. Their brains created new neural pathways that flipped the image coming into the eye to help them function with optimal efficiency.

In a second study, NASA had half the astronauts in the group take the goggles off for one full day after 15 days of wearing them. They found that it then took another 25-30 days for their brains to flip the image.

To condition a new habit to the point where your brain has created a new neural pathway for that habit takes an uninterrupted period of 30 days.

How to shift your relationship with fear

Every single day for the next 30 days, do something that scares you. No matter how small or large. That may sound challenging, especially if you have a comfort zone that extends far beyond the average persons, but even with a certain degree of comfort for the unknown, it isn’t too difficult to find something that makes the butterflies in your stomach go wild.

In my 28 years, I have been skydiving, cave diving, ice diving, I have spent 7 months in a war zone with the US Marines, climbed mountains all over the world, climbed vertical cliffs without the safety of a rope, started two businesses and spoken on a stage at a fortune 100 company.

On more than one occasion, someone has asked me how I developed a no fear attitude. I always tell them that I was and continue to be afraid every single time I try something new, and even when I am doing something that initially scared me more than once.

While driving to the drop zone for my seventh skydive, I was terrified. During the hour and a half drive, I spent most of the time almost hoping it would rain so I would not have to jump. Fortunately, it did not rain and I made the jump.

Without giving it a second thought I walked back to the drop zone, grabbed a new parachute and got back on the plane for my eighth dive.

Each step into fear builds confidence to tackle new challenges and set higher goals. Fear has always been the precursor to possibility.

But even with an expanded comfort zone, I continue to find activities that scare me.

I still get nervous even when speaking in front of a small group at a toastmasters meeting or when I am about to start an insane workout that will leave me drenched in sweat.

Planning out your 30 day journey into fear

No matter how much life you have experienced, plan out 30 activities that make you a little nervous and spend the next 30 days engaging in one of them every day.

These could be speaking in front of a group, trying something new that you may not be good at, taking dance classes, working out, eating something that you ordinarily would not, the list is endless.

Or you can even devote an entire month to one single terrifying expedition. I did this in May of last year when I spent 28 days skiing across the second largest icecap in the world in Greenland. In temperatures as low as -40 degrees, I dragged a 190-pound sled for 350 miles. I had to get very comfortable with fear during that month.

You can also spend 30 days traveling to new countries that push you outside your comfort zone. Or you can do what one of my friends did. She turned her training regimen into a fun game by pretending to swim across the English Channel. Every day, she devoted hours to swimming a certain number of miles and symbolically complete this expedition in less than a month.

Use your imagination to create ways to interact with fear that are in line with your life goals and passions. Whatever method you choose, the point of this exercise is to commit to engaging with fear for one whole month.

At the end of the month, you will have grown in leaps and bounds emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. 

By conditioning the fires of the human spirit that lives within you, it will become undeniably clear that the human potential is truly infinite.

The only thing standing in the way of you creating the life of your dreams is not fear, it is your relationship to fear. Create a new relationship by making fear a constant companion on your journey and you will find within you the courage to embark upon any voyage into the unknown, no matter how stormy the seas or dark the skies.

For as Meg Cabot said, “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

Cultivating the habit of fear is in fact cultivating the habit of courage and strengthening the muscle to move forward despite it.

What will you do for the next 30 days of your life?

  • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

    I love hearing about that whole 180 goggle thing. That story fascinates me every time! It’s pretty crazy how people can view another as being fearless, but in reality, they’re cultivating the fear.

    People view my public speaking and my ability to approach people spontaneously as fearless, brave, etc. Truthfully, my heart is racing and I am scared to death when I’m doing either. Getting in front of that crowd makes me want to run, but I do it and I calm myself as I’m headed up. Even then, the fear is there. Approaching random girls to start a conversation also scares the hell out of me, but I use the fear to provide a bit of momentum.

    Not sure what I’ll do for the next 30 days. Maybe I’ll talk to the people near me at my local Starbucks whenever I’m there. Maybe I’ll ask a girl out to lunch with me, regardless of whether or not my heart is beating out of my chest. There are tons of things that scare me and I’ll tackle them all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Vincent. I love that study too, it really reveals the power of the human mind. And thanks a ton for sharing your own experiences, its really inspiring! Both public speaking and speaking to random girls continue to scare me as well (although not so much random girls anymore because I am married, but it did before :) ). Its really encouraging to hear about people like yourself pushing through fear. Thanks for keeping me inspired and connected to the human potential Vincent. I can’t wait to hear about what you will take on for the next 30 days and more. Feel free to share it here as well if you like, so we can support each other in our journey through fear into possibility: http://www.existing2living.com/about/my-path-to-immortality/

      • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

        Thanks for the link, Akshay! Stopping by now. :)

        • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

          Awesome Vincent. Really excited to see your list and to see how we can work together to achieve the impossible!

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    What a great and much needed observation!

    I’m reading that you have been exploring some of the most hostile environments on the planet. I’ve been taken to similar places, only on the inside, through a series of severe losses. Apparently inner and outer are not all that different, or at least some of the discoveries are concordant:

    In my experience too, fear is a multi-dimensional experience, a joyful excitement, an energetic intensity. It’s just that we seldom dare to stay with it long enough to explore it, long enough to start seeing and, more importantly, feeling what is there.

    Thank you for sending this very important impulse!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Halina. I am so sorry to hear about your losses and thank you for your courage in sharing. I LOVE the way you describe fear as a multi-dimensional experience, a joyful excitement and an energetic intensity. That is a really powerful, vivid description, and I couldn’t agree with you more that we don’t actually sit with it long enough to understand it and be with it. Thanks for sharing Halina!

  • http://www.acalltoaction.net/ Trevor Wilson

    Awesome freakin’ post! And your message is a powerful one.

    “Fear has always been the precursor to possibility.”

    That’s cold hard truth right there. Fear cannot be separated from opportunity. The two always go hand in hand. Every time you run from fear you are also running from opportunity. You turn your back on all the possibilities life has to offer.

    Making a habit of risk-avoidance is a surefire way to create an unfulfilling life. And once it sets in it can be damn near impossible to break free of it. But it’s absolutely essential that you break it if you wish to live a remarkable life.

    Cheers!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Thanks Trevor! I love the way you said every time you run from fear you are also running from opportunity. Reminds me of a quote from Jill Heinerth, who I mention in the article, “If you don’t chase fear, you have to spend the rest of your life running from it.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom and input Trevor, risk is definitely necessary for growth and fulfillment.

  • Matt Maresca

    I agree with Trevor, Akshay. Awesome freakin’ post! And it’s funny, I actually just started a 218-day challenge to do one thing every day that scares the heck out of me. Good timing on the reinforcement. I like to think of the challenge as becoming comfortable being uncomfortable, and opening up life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Thanks Matt. That is AWESOME!!! I would love to hear what you are doing on your 218 day challenge. Success is a team sport, so if I can support you in any way, it would be my honor. Shared this with Vincent below, but would love to have you share some of the things on your list so we can work together in manifesting all of them: http://www.existing2living.com/about/my-path-to-immortality/
      Being comfortable with discomfort is the path to success. Thanks for inspiring me Matt, I think I may just take on something like this myself :) Stay tuned for an update on that!

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    This is an interesting idea. I have dealt with extreme fear in the past. I was the child victim of a cult and then spent years dealing with paranoia. I’ve learned to accept fear and I’ve grown from my experiences with it. But to purposely do things that scare me seems tough. Not because I fear fear, but because it seems a challenge to find things that truly scare me that are not foolishly dangerous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Dan, I am really sorry to hear about the experiences you have had to go through but am really impressed and inspired by the growth you have created as a result of them. I couldn’t agree with you more, it is tough to intentionally do things that scare you. Also some people need this more than others because we all have different lines of where we believe our limits to be. With a smaller comfort zone, it is easier to find things that push us outside of it. With an expanded one, it becomes more challenging, but that line of foolishly dangerous is relative as well. I am planning on climbing the Cassin Ridge on Denali either next year or the following and am terrified of the thought. To some that is extremely dangerous, to others, that might be a fairly easy task. Only we as individuals get to say what the line is. And we can choose to explore new frontiers in different areas: the mind, body, heart and spirit. But from my experience, the more I push myself in any area, the more I grow, and that makes life more exciting for me. Writing a book scares me and thats not at all dangerous, not physically at least, perhaps for my career, but lets hope not :)
      In the end, all we want is to to be happy and bring meaning to our lives, so perhaps you may not need to find things that scare you, but if you do, I would love to help you find things. If you would like to Dan, feel free to contact me here: http://existing2living.com/contact Thanks again for commenting though!

  • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

    Fantastic essay on fear, Ashkay. It is an important indicator in life. I even wrote a post about how fear can motivate us.

    By the way, not all habits take 30 days to form. It depends on the habit – some can take months to form (and some less than 30 days). But 30 days is a clean month-based number that works for many habits.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Stephen. Firstly, I loved your article on fear. Right up my alley! Totally agree with you that “all humans have ridiculous potential.” Will contact you from your site, would love to discuss some ideas with you. I also loved the polar bear picture, hoping to see some of those in the wild next year. I totally agree about the habits, it all depends on how deep they are ingrained, but yes, from my experience and research, 30 is a good average that does work. Thanks for the added input Stephen!

  • http://www.thoughtful-self-improvement.com/Metaphors-for-Life.html Natalie

    Excellent article with a very intriguing headline.

    We all seem to have this love/hate relationship with fear. We go to amusement parks in order to feel the exhilaration of fear in a safe and controlled manner. Yet we shy away from our everyday fears. Most people don’t realize that they can experience the same exhilaration by embracing those everyday fears.

    You have brought this to light and explained it very well. I am going to watch my fears and embrace them instead of giving into them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Thanks Natalie. I really like the connection to amusement parks as a means for controlled fear. Didn’t think about that one. Really valuable insight and I appreciate you sharing it here. You are so right too, it is a huge rush embracing even the most basic of fears. Sitting down at a computer writing sometimes scares me as I wonder if people will read it, but simply being with the fear allows me to experience the excitement that comes with it as well. And thats not even when climbing a mountain or anything, I’m just sitting on my computer :) Awesome! Super excited for you as you embrace your fears Natalie. Would love to hear more about journey as you keep moving forward, please stay in touch!

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne.jonesimpens Suzanne Jones Impens

    Facing fears in the end does bring a huge sense of exhilaration. Whether it is changing jobs or skydiving, fear is fear. To look back and know you walked with the fear is just an amazing experience! Great post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Suzanne. Totally agree with you, it is less about the activity than the level of courage it requires to engage in it. That builds the muscle of courage, which really is an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Suzanne.

  • Morgan Decker

    Fear can be invigorating and inspiring, facing what scares you the most is the most amazing and terrifying experience all at once. Great post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Thanks Morgan. Fear and excitement are generally one and the same. I am terrified every time I even plan an expedition, but thats what it makes it worthwhile.

  • Debbie

    This is a thought-provoking post, Akshay. Merely by replying to this post, I am facing one of my fears. I’m a lurker…always reading what other people say or do, but rarely jumping in and engaging. One of my biggest fears is that no one will care what I say – silly, huh? I grew up extraordinarily shy, but I know I am an intelligent, loving, caring human being, so why should I have so little confidence? I’ve been in business for 30+ years with many successes and yet I still struggle with this. There is so much that I want to share with the world, so I am sitting down right now and writing out my 30 fears to face over the next 30 days…a new journey begins. Cross off #1 on the list – responding to a blog post. :) Thanks Akshay!

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Debbie. I really want to acknowledge you for your courage in sharing your fears. Just the fact that you have shared them here for the world to see is a testament to your strength. I am certain that many others feel the same way you do and will benefit from your share, just as I have. I too struggle with confidence despite what I have done in my life, every new venture scares me, so I understand where you are coming from. If you are open Debbie, I would absolutely love to see your list and enlist your support in working together to move through our lists together. If so, please share your list here: http://www.existing2living.com/about/my-path-to-immortality/
      It would be a real honor to work through our fears together Debbie! And congratulations on crossing 1 of the list. Awesome!
      Thank you so much for your courage and for the inspiration, there is a lot of strength in being vulnerable. I often see it as the greatest strength, as Brene Brown said “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

  • Daniel

    Personally, I never considered people going into unnecessary life risks as courageous. The first word that comes up would be “silly”. Sorry about that, no offense.

    For me, it is almost absurd to compare questionable spare time activities like sky-diving with a sensible, harmless task like speaking in public. You might lose your life in lots of those 20th/21st century “action hobbies”, you may only have some mild psychological problems if you fail miserably when giving a talk.

    Guess what: You have your chance to cure these psychological problems, you won’t be able to cure yourself when you killed yourself while attending a car race.
    I see a difference for people doing these things for some higher purpose beyond them personally (astronauts, soldiers, etc).

    I do know that few people share my opinion and many see me as a coward. In this case, I am happy and proud to be a coward.
    Seems like I just don’t need the adrenaline kick and ego-boosting effect of life risks. There are a lot less risky ways to get the same effect and development potential.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Hi Daniel. Thank you so much for sharing your voice and the courage in offering a different viewpoint. And don’t worry, I am not offended in the least bit. I really respect your opinion. I also don’t see you as a coward, as I have said in some other comments, the line of courage is different and unique to everyone and there is no right or wrong about it. I am sure you push through your fears in other contexts, just sharing an opposing viewpoint here takes courage in my opinion, so that to me is admirable. There are many ways of harnessing an individual’s potential and risking your life in, what you call “action hobbies,” is by no means the only way. These pursuits are not just ego boosters though, they are a means to express one’s passions and desire for life. Others do it through teaching, knitting, speaking, cooking, whatever it may be. Each activity is an expression of the human individual. There is just as much ego in climbing a mountain as there is in cooking a delicious meal, they both simply serve as channels for unleashing the human potential. I am sure a cook who is cooking on a big stage for the first time in their life feels the same fear I do when crossing an icecap, but through that fear, we find our infinite capacity for greatness. Yes there is risk in some of the activities I do, but the way I see it, I would rather die at the age of 30 having lived a full life than live till 80, existing through a mediocre one. To me the quantity of my life is less important than the quality, and I find “action hobbies” a great way to connect the mind, body, heart and spirit in an unfiltered expression of freedom and joy for life. Whatever that may be for you, I wish you nothing but the best in expressing your passions Daniel and living your life to the fullest. Thanks again for sharing!

      • Daniel

        Thanks for your answer. I really appreciate it.

        “Yes there is risk in some of the activities I do, but the way I see it, I would rather die at the age of 30 having lived a full life than live till 80, existing through a mediocre one.”

        That is the standard answer I get from every risk taking friend, I must admit.

        I cannot agree on this statement, and please consider one thing: With every statement you make, you might inspire or mislead people.

        “Live fast, die young.” (that are not your words, just the old punk rock quote) is one suggestion I would not give to people. Chances are high to be not helpful even for just a few. Giving guidance implies responsibilities.

        I checked your “immortality” list on your side. It is rather a mortality list, as some of the rather pointless endeavors (from my point of view) have a severe risk to your life. Indeed, when you get killed while trying one of these things there is no self of yours left that could be disappointed.

        I think the whole concept of giving life a total “value” like being a mediocre or a full life is questionable (I am also still trapped in this of course).

        Indeed, one day of life is fine, 100 years of life is fine, too. But it’s still a different life and different impact.

        See it as this: You needed a certain amount of time to get developed mentally and having insights like you do today. Great. Imagine there are insights that just plain need more than 30 years to realize for you (or even every one). You would miss them.

        I guess your current idea of yourself (your “self”, your identity) would not have preferred to have been killed in an accident when you where 8 years old. You would be able to tell helpful stories about your life to people.

        So how do you know that your alleged 80 year old self would not have preferred to stayed alive that long because you stopped sky diving one day and missed your day of bad luck when you were 39?

        Right now you only lived the fullest of what you *know*. It is absurd to think that you will not have changed and gained significant knowledge in 5, 10, 20, 30 years – especially as you seem to be someone who works on his development. Imagine what it possible! Why waste this for some quick kicks?

        The mind needs a very long time to develop. Even those who work a lot on it for 50-60 years would have preferred to have more time.

        I met quite a lot of old people and while some thought they should have been doing stuff differently none of them told me they would have preferred to die earlier. And if, I would have called that a depressive disorder.

        What I do not understand with all these things people like you want to do so badly (climbing mountains, making 1 million $) it is actually not so much about the fact a mountain gets climbed by someone, it is about *you* climbing that mountain. I totally lack the creativity to see how that contributes to some goal beyond yourself despite inspiring more people to act like you.

        You know what really takes courage in my opinion?

        To accept and embrace my mediocrity and my limitation. To be happy if no one knows about my specialness. To change things without getting praised or even noticed.

        I think your most important fear could be that of being average.

        Take good care of yourself.

        Daniel
        daniel_on_a_river (a.t) outlook (d.o.t) com (if you like to continue this in private, as I got a bit off-topic)

  • http://findingourwaynow.com/ Susan Cooper

    I LOVE this post. I couldn’t agree with you more, within bonds of course, but that what your trying to convey. It is the juice that stimulates growth. I have always called it “becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanavati03 Akshay Nanavati

      Thanks Susan. Love the way you phrase it as becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s a perfect way to put it. And I agree, there are limits, and we as individuals get to set them for ourselves, they are different for everyone but there is no right or wrong about it, as long as we believe that deep down we truly are living our greatness!

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