“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” – James Stephens

I’m going to try a little experiment to start lesson 5. I’m going to mention two little words and I want you to say the first word that comes to your mind. Are you ready? You don’t have to write anything down; no one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. I just want you to say the word aloud or in your head, okay?

Okay, here goes: public speaking!

Are you still with me? Or have you run screaming from the building? (I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t come back for a week!) In my line of work, I do a lot of public speaking. The first thing most people say to me as I walk off stage is, “I don’t know how you do that every day. There is no way I could get up there and talk to all those strangers, not even for a second!”

Was “fear,” “afraid,” “scared,” “petrified”… or some derivative of all four the first thing to pop into your mind? That’s because you can only be scared by something you know a little bit about.

Think about it: if you’d never experienced a little bit of fear over being called on in class, made fun of after a wrong answer, dying on stage in the school play, choking during a presentation or giving the wrong answer on an oral exam, you wouldn’t know enough about public speaking to be afraid of it!

Fear comes with experience. The more negative experiences we have in life, the more afraid of recreating them we become. The unconscious mind knows this. Remember, it wants to protect you. And what’s the best way to protect someone? Fear, there’s nothing like being terrified to keep you from doing something.

If you’re putting your hand too close to the flames, your unconscious mind will send out fear signals to keep you from burning your hand. Why? Because you’ve already learned your lesson the first time you burned your hand as a child. It’s the physical pain that causes our unconscious to take emergency action and put new rules and boundaries in place to stop that situation happening again. 

Your Saboteur has sent an emergency memo marked URGENT & CONFIDENTIAL giving him or her information that a new threat has been identified. Instructing that action must be taken to ensure that we don’t encounter that same danger or anything that looks similar to it ever again…….. another brick in the wall!

But in addition to these protective and deep physical fears we have – don’t touch that fire, don’t play in traffic, don’t step too close to the ledge – we have equally real, yet not as equally logical grown up fears that are based in emotional threats.

The fear of losing our job, perhaps. The fear of not being attractive enough, of looking foolish if we dress a certain way, of not sticking our necks out too far for fear of retribution – or failure. The fear of… public speaking.

These learned fears can protect us, sure, but they can also be self-limiting and cut us off from the life we’re intended to live. It’s important that we learn more about the fears that plague us.

What’s more, it’s vital that we identify those fears that are holding us back.

The Two Kinds of Fear: Natural Fear and Mind Fear

Take public speaking, for instance. Ask a class full of five-year-olds to get up and speak in front of the class, show and tell, share a story, do a dance, make a funny face and every hand in the room shoots up. Ask a room full of grown-ups to do the same, and not only do hands stay down, but everyone shrinks into their chairs, afraid of getting up and speaking in public, of having the spotlight on them.

And yet … what if you’re actually a “really” good public speaker? What if your words are meant to inspire entire rooms full – stadiums full – of people? What if you have lots to say, and plenty of wit, wisdom and encouragement to share with the world?

What if, instead of being petrified of standing in front of a room full of people you were meant to do that very thing? What if there is a whole other identity waiting for you; one where you master the art of public speaking, own it and live a rich, full, valuable, passionate life speaking to people on a daily basis?

If you can’t communicate because of a self-created, self-inflicted fear, you will never fulfill your true destiny. You are not “only” what you are today. Who you are is fine, but… what if you want more? What if you want to be the next Tony Robbins or Robert Kiyosaki, but can’t because you’re simply too afraid to get out of your own way?

I believe there is another destiny out there for you, if you want it; an alternate destiny – if only you’ll face your fear and realise that while it can certainly protect you, it can also hold you back and make you less than you were meant to be.

No, this isn’t a lesson about public speaking; it’s a lesson about fear. About the real fear that is created for us and the equally “real” fear we create for ourselves, often on a daily basis.

Not all fear is created equal. In fact, there are two kinds of fear.

The First Kind of Fear: Natural Fear

If there was a hungry lion loose on your street, fear would protect you from walking out the door and trying to pet it while dangling a raw piece of steak in front of its nose.

If there was an area in your city where gangs involved in knife and gun crime spent their time on the street corners, fear would protect you from walking anywhere near there, alone at night – or even during the day. If there was a speeding car coming your way, fear would protect you by making you move swiftly and get out of its path!

That’s our first type of fear: natural fear. Natural fear is otherwise known as “healthy” fear. Can fear be healthy? Absolutely; you’d be a fool not to be afraid of anything at all, walking into the path of an oncoming car, strolling down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night or climbing into the gorilla cage at the local zoo! We do need fear; we just need to experience it in a protective and not preventative manner.

Natural fear is the kind we feel all of a sudden; it’s that “fight or flight” fear that dumps tons of adrenaline in our system, makes our pulses race, our senses more alert and gives us the good sense – and the energy – to get out of the way of a roving lion, a dangerous criminal, a charging bear or a speeding car.

Natural fear is healthy because it physically protects us from harm. But what if our natural fears become unnatural? What happens when we “almost” get in an accident and, from that day forward, never drive again? What happens if we used to love camping and then see a show about bear attacks in the woods and never go camping again?

Remember Barbara, from Rule # 7 of the Saboteur Within: The More You Do “It,” The Easier “It” Gets? To refresh your memory, Barbara couldn’t swim. She could listen to the radio and drive a car at the same time, do her job, multi-task many things at once, but she had never learned to swim and the longer she stayed out of the water, the bigger an “emotional boogeyman” swimming became for her.

I was able to use a few psychological techniques to get her not only into the water, but to swim. Remember, I learned that Barbara’s reluctance to swim was based on fear; she’d been “terrified” as a young child and the negative emotion had never left her.

Only when she began to associate swimming and its many complex processes, with driving and it’s equally complex processes, could she get over her “mental fear” and embrace what I call “the swimmer within.” Today, of course, Barbara is an accomplished and fluent swimmer who regrets all those years spent sitting by the pool, suffering for her fear; a prisoner to it.

But what if Barbara had never faced her fear? What if Barbara had allowed her subconscious mind to keep building that wall, to keep reinforcing that “box” she’d put herself in that said, “I am not a swimmer; I am a person who does not swim”? She would have been denied a lifetime of happiness, in and out of the water.

So, what’s your “emotional boogeyman”? What irrational, unhealthy and unfounded fear is keeping you out of the water, so to speak? Natural fear is healthy fear, until our mind takes over and makes it unhealthy again.

The Second Kind of Fear: Mind Fear

I like to say that the first kind of fear is created for us; a hungry lion shows up at our campsite, a burglar’s at the door, our car starts sliding on a fresh coat of ice. What do we do? We panic, adjust and take action to avoid the very real, very immediate “thing” that’s causing us danger; then we act. This “danger” creates fear from the outside in. Unfortunately, the second kind of fear – mind fear – is created by us. This creates fear from the inside out!

We’ve all experienced mind fear, on a daily basis, many of us all day long. Mind fear is fear of failure, fear of success, fear of saying what you want, fear of asking for what you want. Fear of falling in love for the second time (for some reason, the first love isn’t there and we don’t want to experience the pain that comes with the end of a relationship ever again).

The concern about mind fear is that it’s generally not based on a real, literal or even logical sense of “danger.” Let’s say you’re afraid of falling in love for the second time. You’ve had your heart broken; maybe you’ve been betrayed, cheated on, put down, scorned or simply hurt very, very badly.

“Once bitten, twice shy” as they say. The problem is, where is the danger? Fear equates with risk, hazard, peril and a dozen other synonyms for actual, acute danger. Where is the speeding car, the roaming lion, the hungry bear? Well, in our minds of course, if we’re a prisoner to mind fear there IS a very real (to us, anyway) danger in falling in love again.

The pain of that first heartbreak hurt so badly that experiencing it again constitutes a very real threat to our emotional and, in some cases, physical well-being. That’s “danger” in my book, right? How about you? Such is the power of the unconscious mind; mental anguish can become so powerful, so insular, so isolating that the thought of experiencing it again really does cause physical pain.

So don’t get it twisted; mind fear is very real fear. We just have to remember that it’s based on created danger, not speeding bullets or snapping jaws. And who creates the danger?

The Saboteur Within, of course……. doing his/her job and keeping us out of harm’s way, guarding us against harm at all costs!

Fear Can Only Come from Experience

Natural fear can come from the shock of burning your hand on the stove or dropping an iron on your little toe, but mind fear typically comes in layers. That’s how walls are built, after all; brick by brick, level by level, and stone by stone.

It starts at home. Our parents tell us a lot of great stuff about ourselves. They are the ultimate force field against fear, both natural fear and mind fear. They tell us the world is a safe place, a fair place, a just place. They tell us good triumphs over evil, that the wrong will fail, the right prevail. They tell us that we can do anything, be anything we set our minds to.

Then, how come we can’t all walk on water and achieve anything that our heart desires? The trouble can then be that even though our parents believe in us, sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, and as a result, this is the limit that our unconscious mind will set for us.

Children imitate what they see their parents do and not what they say. It is one thing saying you can do anything you like, if they don’t demonstrate that by their own actions then that is the response that they will get. Woe betide anyone who should ever try to go beyond it. Suddenly your Saboteur is awake and ready to maintain your already limiting beliefs. That puts a slightly different perspective on “do as I say and not as I do”, does it not?

It’s not their fault, of course. Like the unconscious mind, they are only trying to protect us. But we quickly learn that some things are beyond our grasp, and that produces insecurity; and insecurity leads to self-doubt, and self doubt leads to anxiety, and what is anxiety but an appetiser for… fear?

Over time, in primary school, middle school, high school, university studies, graduation, first job, second job, first wife, second wife, our mind fears escalate. The twittering we heard in the back of the classroom every time we got up for show and tell in nursery gradually blossoms into a fully fledged phobia of public speaking as an adult.

The rejection we learned when we didn’t make the football team makes us fearful of any team sport, any organised athletics and, eventually, any kind of exercise at all. We won’t go to a gym because we’re afraid we might look stupid when we can’t figure out the machines, we won’t exercise with a friend because what if we’re not fast enough, good enough, coordinated enough to keep up?

As a result, the wall gets bigger, the insecure thoughts more frequent and pervasive, until entire areas of our lives – whole banks of opportunities – are closed to us. Such is the danger of mind fear; a shutting off of our world and, as a result, a walling up of ourselves.

It may be safer behind that wall the subconscious has built for us, it may be cosier in that “I Am…” box we’ve built for ourselves, but outside that box – and those walls – is a world of opportunity waiting to be explored!

Parting Words About Fear

So, what’s the biggest problem with fear? Quite simply, fear is an opportunity killer. Just think how many opportunities we’ve missed because of fear. The dates we didn’t go on, the trips we avoided, the jobs we didn’t apply for, the promotions we missed, the deals we didn’t do or inventions we didn’t make or speeches we didn’t give and songs we didn’t sing.

Think back to your biggest regrets in life – be they physical, spiritual, personal or professional – and chances are they are rooted in fear:

Question: “Why didn’t I hold out for that better price for my house when the first offer came in?”

Answer: “Because I was afraid I wouldn’t get the second.”

Question: “Why didn’t I ever call that girl after she gave me her number in the club that night?”

Answer: “Because I was afraid I would screw it up somehow.”

Question: “Why didn’t I try out for X Factor when it came to town?”

Answer: “Because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough and I’d look a fool.”

Question: “Why didn’t I follow my wife when she stormed out of the house?”

Answer: “Because I was afraid she didn’t think the marriage was worth saving.”

We can’t eliminate fear from our lives, but we can learn to tell the difference between a herd of stampeding elephants heading in our direction and opportunity coming our way! Fear creates limits, and ultimately our life is restricted by these limiting self-beliefs.

The bad news is, we’re not quite through with fear just yet. In the next lesson, I’ll introduce you to what I call the “8 Complimentary Fears” we all face as we go through life. The good news is that knowing them will help us combat them and, ultimately, conquer them.