Before the Wright brothers we were afraid of flying. Before Copernicus and even for a bit after we were afraid of the stars. Before Tesla we were afraid of electricity. Before AOL people were afraid of the Internet.
Progress is often stopped by our fears. Our fear of the unknown, our fear of the boundless possibilities, our fear of damaging our fragile lives and culture, fear that change will bring something unwanted into our lives.
It’s hard to face fear, And while not feeling fear sounds nice, the people who don’t are basically lunatics. Fear is a gift that keeps you safe and a curse that keeps you trapped.
But one thing always makes fear grow and that’s our attempts to avoid it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been terrified by my own future, only to arrive at that future it was neither scary nor very exciting.
When we ignore fear, it grows stronger, but it also grows when we only half face it. The only way to conquer fear is to stare it head on. To look it in the eyes and decide whether stepping forward is the right thing to do.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, and I’ve come up with a simple technique that has helped me face the fear of making the wrong choice.
First take out a piece of paper and address it to yourself. Think about the choice you are about to make and how it will change your life over the next 6 months.
Think about all the positives and negatives, think about the work you’re going to have to put into it. Think about what it’s going to look like on the other side of this 6 months. Think about who you’ll be with, what you’ll be doing, what you’ll be creating, and how you’ll be living.
Then once you get a complete scene, write yourself a letter from the perspective of having made that choice from 6 months down the road.
Remember the letter is from the you 6 months from now to the you today. Tell yourself today how things have been going. What you’ve liked about your choice and what you’ve struggled with. Tell yourself what you’ve enjoyed about your choice.
Describe where you are and where you’ve been in as much detail as you’d like.
Make sure to end the letter with gratitude for yourself. Give yourself gratitude for doing the hard work, for making this choice, and for figuring out how to make it work for you.
When you’re done fold up the paper and put it aside.
Now take out another sheet of paper:
On this paper you’re going to write the same letter but from the perspective of having made the other choice.
Do the same thing. Write from the perspective of having made that choice six months in advance. Write what you’ve struggled with and what you’ve enjoyed. Describe it in as much detail as you’d like.
Remember to close the letter by giving yourself gratitude for all your hard work and what you’ve accomplished. Now put these letters a way for a while.
In a few days or a week come back and read your letters.
Notice how you feel as you read each one. Do you feel drawn to one or the other? Which one scares you more and why? What has changed now that you’ve read your letters?
This exercise forces you to step into the perspective of making a certain choice, which is especially helpful if that choice scares the crap out of you.
Facing your fear will show you that you don’t have to let fear control you. You’re free not to choose that option either because of the risk or because it doesn’t feel right, but at least this way you can make the choice free of some of that fear that weighed you down.
The exercise also helps you step into the reality of each choice. By describing the results of the choice, both the good things as well as the hard work you’ll have to do, you can see the choice more clearly, and you can see which choice your gut is tell you to follow.