Have you ever been scared of something, simply because you’ve never done it before? I most definitely relate. Just over a week ago, my life changed forever. My wife and I received a tremendous blessing from Hashem: We welcomed our firstborn son into the world. This past Sunday, he received his name (Yosef Baruch) and his bris milah as we welcomed him into klal Yisrael. As excited as we are to see what this beautiful neshamah will become, it is a daunting new stage of life.
For many of us, the fact that we’ve never done something before holds us back from even trying. But have you ever committed yourself to tackling a problem, spent the time and effort to figure it out, and then, through trial and error, eventually solved the issue? Such accomplishments create the most incredible feeling.
In our previous article, we began developing strategies for overcoming our inner fears so that we can fully unlock our potential and achieve the extraordinary. In this article, we will delve more deeply into this topic and continue exploring the strategies we can use to overcome fear.
1 – Believe That You Can Find the Solution
There is a key decision that each of us must make at some point in our lives: We have to decide whether we are capable of figuring things out, of learning and growing, or whether we are static and incapable of improvement. Having a growth mindset – the belief that we are capable of growing, adapting, and learning – is one of the most important human beliefs. The moment we decide to have a growth mindset, an adaptability mentality, we can embrace any new challenge Hashem sends our way. Instead of seeing every challenge as another obstacle that can crush us, we realize that we can meet any obstacle and solve any problem. Will there be uncertainty, struggle, and failure along the way? Certainly! (As a matter of fact, the one thing you can be certain of is that nothing in life is certain.) But with a growth and adaptability mindset, we can embrace the challenges and uncertainty of life, and ride the difficult waves that Hashem sends our way. That’s not to say this is easy. It’s not. Figuring it out can be grueling and tiresome. But that’s the greatness of being human: We have the ability to embrace struggle and push through it, growing each step of the way.
Whether it’s fixing a broken sink, learning a new skill or language, or developing a new passion, there are different avenues we can take to navigate the uncharted waters of life. The simplest option is trial and error; we can try one way, and if it doesn’t work, we can use different methods until one finally works. We can use other models of success as our inspiration and keep on practicing until we find our own version of success. The easiest way to model success is to find a teacher or expert and have them guide you through the process. Once they teach you their path, you can practice until you are able to replicate it yourself. Nowadays, there are also videos, online courses, and books that can guide you every step of the way. Beyond this, we must also learn how to utilize our resources and resourcefulness to find other forms of help. Think about your network: Whom do you know who is extraordinary at what you would like to accomplish? If no one comes to mind, whom do you know who might know someone who fits this description? We’re all part of an incredible web, a network of relationships. Learning how to navigate that web can provide you with the exact resources you need.
While reaching out to others for help and guidance may seem like a way of relying on others to solve your problems for you, this is not necessarily the case. Unquestionably, the ideal is to develop the skills ourselves and not rely on others to solve them for us. However, we cannot always do everything ourselves, and getting help and guidance from the people around us can be exactly what we need to help us reach our goals. The key is finding the proper balance between investing in ourselves and taking ownership of our growth while still recognizing where other people can help and guide us along that journey.
2 – Developing Mastery
One of the greatest contributing factors to fear is doubt. We doubt ourselves and fear the possibility of failing, so we often don’t even try. While we already discussed the importance of believing in our ability to figure things out and the value of trial and error – learning from our mistakes – there is an additional tool that helps silence our inner doubts: mastery. When we can get to the point where we are so confident in ourselves and our skills that we no longer have any doubts, we can say goodbye to our fears. Of course, one needs to balance the idea of mastery with two factors:
1 – Nobody is perfect
2 – Everything comes from Hashem. So, nothing is ever guaranteed.
But that being said, think about the times when fear has had the greatest impact in your life. In most cases, our fears are based on uncertainty and the unknown. We wonder, “What if this happens?… What if I mess up?” But what if we could get to the point where we are so confident in ourselves – because we’ve practiced so many times – to the point where we’ve mastered it, and have such complete trust in Hashem, that we enter into a state of certainty. Not absolute certainty, as there’s no such thing, but certainty to the point that fear no longer holds us back.
I remember when I first started speaking in public, far before I was traveling to conferences and major events. I started out by taking any and every opportunity I could get, speaking in local shuls and lots of smaller venues. In the beginning, I was extremely nervous before every single speech I gave. But why? Why are so many people scared of speaking in public? The truth is, there are several factors. On a simple level, we fear messing up or forgetting what we were supposed to say and looking like a fool in front of everybody. In a deeper sense, we know that the moment we open up our mouth, the whole room will see what goes on in of our heads, what we truly believe, and who we really are; thus, the moment we open our mouth, the audience won’t only judge our speaking abilities, but they’ll judge “us.” For most, this second factor, while the more significant of the two, is overshadowed by the simple fear of messing up and looking like a fool.
At first, I thought the best way to overcome my fear of messing up was to review every single word of my presentations over and over again, so that when it came time to speak, I would have no trouble recalling what I had prepared. And this worked: I was able to give my lecture exactly as I had practiced it. But after a few years of experience, I came to realize that the single best way to prepare for a lecture or presentation was not to spend countless hours “memorizing” the material; it was to “become” the material, to become the ideas. When you talk “about” ideas, the distance between you and the content comes through in the presentation. But when we can become the ideas, embody them, live and breathe them, then there is no chance of messing up or forgetting them. Just like you wouldn’t have trouble sharing your name, when the ideas we talk about become so intimately one with our inner selves, when we open our mouths and present, we are simply sharing our “name” with the audience. This level of connection with the content requires a level of mastery and certainty that only comes with a lifetime of immersion, commitment, and trust in Hashem. And just as this works for public speaking, it also works for just about every other area of life, as well.
3 - Flooding: The Power of Immersion
Flooding can be an immensely effective tool for your arsenal. If you’re like me, you probably have certain fears that are irrational, that other people don’t understand. While some fear heights, others are scared of spiders, or water, or the public. As we discussed, we often build our fear into something infinitely expansive and insurmountable. It becomes an untouchable and immovable obstacle within our minds, to the point where we can’t even conceive of the possibility of overcoming it.
One way to approach this type of overwhelming fear is to engage in what is known as “flooding,” where you immerse yourself within the very thing that you are afraid of. The idea is as follows: If you expose yourself to the fear in a controlled and measured way, you can slowly show yourself that your fear is not as bad as you thought, and you will therefore be able to overcome it. It’s usually best to start out small, and then step by step, expose yourself to greater and greater amounts or levels of your fear, until eventually, you no longer feel any of the fear.
I used this very strategy to overcome my fear of blood. When I was in high school, I wanted to become a physician. There was only one problem: I couldn’t handle blood. Whenever the doctor drew blood from my arm, I passed out. Still determined to become a successful doctor, I decided to watch a recording of an open-heart surgery. A few minutes later, I woke up on the floor, still in a daze. Knowing that a doctor who can’t deal with blood was not a great match, I made it my mission to find a way to overcome my fear of blood. I immersed myself in this project, viewing different photos and videos of blood every day. I started small, with photos of people receiving shots. Then I moved on to simple cuts and bruises. After a few weeks, I progressed to videos of simple hand surgeries. After several months of flooding, I came to the final test: open-heart surgery. And for the grand finale, I watched the original video that had caused me to pass out a year earlier. This time, the results were much better (the patient survived both times, by the way).
In our next column, we will delve more deeply into this topic and finish exploring the strategies we can use to overcome fear.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.