How to Conquer Your Fears...
In the least scary way possible
I have a lot of regrets.
Like, a lot…
The things I regret the most are not things that I’ve attempted and failed at. But the opportunities and risks I did not take.
I regret not standing up to my high school bully.
I regret not starting a high school rock band.
I regret not asking that girl out. And, most of all;
I regret not reaching out for help for my anxiety earlier, and allowing myself to stack up a long list of regrets.
Living a life of regret is a sure fire way to living a life of misery. (And trust me, I’ve been there.)
I eventually realized that it was my anxiety that was leading me down this path...
For example, in high school and university, I used to choose my classes based on whether or not an oral presentation was required. Like a lot of people, public speaking terrified me. This was a prime example of avoidance.
BUT, after discovering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I learned that the only way to get over my anxiety was to face my fears head on (it’s scientifically proven).
CBT taught me a systematic approach to help me face my fears and minimize my regret. I learned how to stop avoiding what makes me anxious, because I finally realized that I’m the only one who’s stopping myself from achieving my dreams.
Learning the skills taught in CBT, and having it transform my life for the better, is why I decided to take the biggest risk of my life - entering into the unknown world of startupland and creating something that will help hundreds of thousands of people with their anxiety, and hopefully minimizing the regret that they feel: Tranquility Online (tranquility.app).
Do I still get anxious before public speaking? Yes, of course I do, so But the difference is, I now actively sign-up to do it. This has allowed me to win pitch competitions and help fund my company.
For example, here’s a pitch I did at a Demo Day a month ago:
So, how did I get here?
A systematic approach to facing your fears
Here’s how it works. It’s a simple theory, but challenging in practice, but I believe in you!
What we want to do is use one of the behavioural aspects of CBT: “exposure therapy”.
The idea is that we want to gradually expose ourselves to situations that make us feel anxious. By doing this gradually, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to get accustomed to the sensations of feeling anxious, while still feeling in control. With practice, we can train ourselves to realize that we are not actually in danger, and we can train ourselves to better accept some of our anxious feelings. Eventually, we may even forget that these things ever made us anxious in the first place.
To start we must think of a situation that makes us anxious. Usually, this is a situation that we actively avoid. Once we have our anxiety provoking situation that we want to face, we can then start thinking of intermediary steps that we can face to build up our confidence. We call this, building a fear ladder.
We then want to rank the steps by a fear rating, on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the most anxiety provoking.
As I mentioned previously, I used to avoid any kind of public speaking. So, if I were to build a fear ladder for myself today, it would probably look something like this:
10 - Do the presentation
9 - Practice my presentation in a pitch workshop and receive constructive criticism
8 - Practice my presentation with my close colleagues and ask for constructive criticism
7 - Perform my presentation to my best friend ask for constructive criticism
6 - Perform my presentation to my best friend
5 - Record my presentation and watch it back
5 - Practice my presentation in front of the mirror
4 - Practice my presentation sitting down, but out loud to myself
2 - Use my imagination to walk through the presentation step-by-step
The idea here, is to start at the bottom of the fear ladder (i.e. 2/10 on my fear scale), and then move up as you gain confidence with each step.
The key is to allow yourself to feel the anxiety and to stay in the exposure long enough for your anxiety to eventually decrease.
For example, I now know that I will feel anxious right before a presentation, but once I get over the first minute, my body begins to calm down, and then I’m fine.
If you attempt an exposure, and it felt really difficult, then that means you may not be ready to move on to the next step on your fear ladder. What you can do, is keep practicing that same step, over and over again, until you’re anxiety feels less intense, and you feel confident enough to move to the next.
One last point to mention. If you attempt an exposure and it feels too overwhelming, then you may need to introduce easier steps before moving to that step.
To learn more about CBT and exposure therapy, visit tranquility.app.