Many people are crippled with fear in their business and personal lives, but a simple technique could change their lives says Graham Price
For the first thirty-two years of my life, fear was a significant limitation.
I was fearful on my first day at school and still fearful on my first day at university. More limiting was my fear of speaking to groups. I was fearful giving a speech to assembled colleagues at a celebration of my thirty-second birthday.
Three months later I’d eliminated fear from my life. I cannot recall experiencing fear in all the years since. As a psychologist and development trainer I now help others remove fear from their lives. I can tell you it’s challenging and requires courage.
In the thirty-two years that I was fearful, I made a mistake that most people make. I ‘resisted’ fear. When I spoke to groups, feeling anxious, I’d wish I wasn’t feeling anxious, worry that it might get worse and try to control it. I now know that resisting any uncomfortable feeling nearly always makes it worse. I simply became anxious about feeling anxious.
One of my ways of resisting anxiety was to do what most people do. I avoided doing things that made me anxious. I avoided speaking to groups where I could. I even avoided asking questions in large audiences. I now know that avoidance is guaranteed to make things worse by reinforcing the programming that’s driving the feeling. It sends a message to the unconscious mind such as: ‘speaking to groups must be dangerous; otherwise why am I avoiding it?’
I learned all these things shortly after my thirty-second birthday. I also learned that the way to resolve any limiting feeling is to accept the feeling (which means being willing to fully experience it, the opposite of resistance) and repeatedly do the opposite of whatever the feeling is telling us to do.
In learning to accept uncomfortable feelings, it helps to repeatedly remind ourselves that no-one has ever been harmed by a feeling. Furthermore any uncomfortable feeling, short of extreme pain, is bearable, however uncomfortable it may be.
I soon found that feelings nearly always diminish when we genuinely accept them. For the first time I began accepting all uncomfortable feelings. Then I began doing the opposite of whatever they were telling me to do. In the case of speaking to groups, that meant taking every opportunity to speak to a group.
However, I found myself opting out of significant challenges. I knew I needed to find a way to stop this. One evening, after a couple of drinks, I created a game. I called it the fear game. The game changed my life. The rules were simple.
- Every time I come across some fearful, I must do it, unless:
- It’s dangerous or financially risky;
- It could harm others;
- I don’t have time; or
- It’s illegal or immoral.
- If I don’t, the game stops.
- I can choose to stop at any time.
- If the game stops for any reason, I cannot restart it.
I knew the game would be life changing. So the last point was a penalty I couldn’t allow myself to incur … until, that is, I’d eliminated fear from my life.
In the morning I awoke sober. I accepted the trepidation I felt about the game and redoubled my commitment to play it. Two hours later I attended an open meeting I’d been invited to. There were roughly two hundred people seated in rows. The organiser announced that anyone who wanted to address the audience about any topic could have two minutes to do so. I’d never before spoken to more that fifteen people. I knew I had no choice. My next thought was to let someone else go first. The game told me I had to be first. I raised my hand even before I knew what I’d talk about. I talked about the fear game.
Two hours later I faced another challenge on the train home. I’d never spoken to an attractive lady out of the blue other than at a social function. I had no choice. I had to do that around 30 more times until I formed a relationship with one. I was then able to apply the second exception of the game.
Later, on that first day, I signed up for a course that only weeks earlier I’d told myself I could never do. I now had no choice. The course required participants to perform in front of the group and culminated with entertaining an audience of 600 for 15 minutes alone on stage. The course leader observed that I’d survived the course well enough by always being prepared. She gave me a challenge she said she’d never given previously – to get on stage with nothing prepared. I was still playing the fear game. I had no choice but to accept.
My performance was a success. I’d also managed it without experiencing any fear. Over the three months I’d done everything imaginable that was fearful, constantly accepting any fear. As a result I’d conquered fear and was finally able to stop playing the game.
I never require my students to play the fear game. I just tell them that if they do, it will change their lives.