Why Facing Your Fear Doesn’t Always Work – and 4 Things to do Instead


What are you afraid to do in your life?

Probably the most common advice you’ll get when you are afraid to do something is to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Whether you want to talk to a person at a party, start your own business or bungee jump, you’re supposed to face your fear and do what you truly desire.

In essence, this is good advice. The principle behind it is solid. It is by pushing against your fear and challenging yourself that you build confidence. You can even overcome your fear of speaking in public, like Arvind did.

Indeed, you can feel the fear and change the world anyway.

However, based on several years of experience as a confidence coach, I believe that in practice, this guidance often doesn’t work.

This is because in practice, many times the fear someone is feeling is too strong for them to be able to just face it and do what they want. No matter how hard they try, they cannot overpower their fear.

Unfortunately, many individuals who offer self-help advice simply don’t understand this, which is why they keep repeating the same advice for people to face their fears and to try harder, as if this by itself is the universal solution to overcoming any fear.

But it’s not. Many times, just trying to face your fear doesn’t do it. I’d like to show you a few things that you can do in these situations, and genuinely become more confident.

Here are 4 proven ideas that you can put into practice:-

1. Take a Progressive Approach

When you fear a certain stimulus, the intensity of the fear will generally be proportional to the intensity of the stimulus. If you’re trying to face that fear but you just can’t do it, it may very likely mean that you’re trying to face it at a very high intensity, and therefore it generates a very high dose of anxiety for you.

The solution to this predicament is to find situations where you encounter the same stimulus at a lower intensity, and try to face it there. You’re much more likely to be able to do it. And as you get used to the stimulus and you build confidence, you can increase its intensity. But the whole process needs to be gradual.

For instance, let’s say you have a strong fear of public speaking and you want to overcome it. It’s not wise to try and jump in a situation where you speak in front of 100 people. It will generate too much anxiety for you. It’s best to start small, with speaking in front of 10 or 12 people, and progressively advance to bigger audiences as you fear declines. I can vouch from experience that this is by far the most effective approach.

2. Gain Knowledge First

Frequently we dread dealing with certain types of situations because we don’t know how to deal with them effectively. We lack the appropriate know-how. But if we acquire that know-how prior to attempting to deal with it, our anxiety will visibly lessen.

Here’s an example: I often coach people who are shy or socially anxious. It’s not uncommon for them to have little social experience and not really understand how to talk to people or what the basic rules of conversation are.

Fortunately, it only takes a bit of theoretical learning for them to understand the basic principles and dynamics of conversation. And once they’ve done so, they can approach social situations with a lot more confidence, because they feel they now know what to do in such situations.

It just goes to show that a bit of relevant knowledge can go a long way in calming one’s anxiety. And then it’s much easier to face whatever fear remains.

3. Use Positive Self-talk

Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful tools I know for calming anxiety. The gist of it is to deliberately talk to yourself in a constructive way and reassure your mind that everything will be okay. Kind of like a loving parent talking to a child who is afraid of the dark and helping the child quiet the nervousness.

Using this kind of self-talk will help take down your anxiety a couple of notches, which will then make it easier to push against it and do what you want to do. Or it may even eradicate your anxiety completely. It depends.

Using positive self-talk effectively is an art and science in itself, and it can take a while to master this. I will say though that persistence goes a long way in mastering it. So it’s worth practicing with persistence.

4. Get Someone to Push You As Well

There is a reason why people who work out under the supervision of a fitness instructor usually get much better, faster results than people who work out without an instructor. It’s because the instructor not only gives them feedback, but also provides some extra emotional push.

When the person feels like putting the barbell down, the instructor pushes them to do another rep or two. And it the long run that small addition makes a huge difference.

Similarly, with some external help, you can push against a higher dose of fear and be able to go through it. You can get out of your comfort zone further than you could on your own, and this makes confidence building faster.

This external help can be a supportive friend or family member, but it’s better if it’s a qualified trainer, coach or psychologist, someone who truly knows what they’re doing. Facing a fear at a high intensity can be somewhat perilous if the person pushing you doesn’t have a good grasp the mechanisms of fear; and this is something to bear in mind.

I will be the first one to say that facing and overcoming any fear is not simple. It sounds simple sometimes, but it’s not. Fear is a tricky, complex adversary to face and it’s crucial to have a good understanding of the way it works in order to face it effectively.

You can do it.

Put the advice I shared with you here into practice, and I’m certain you will see impressive results.

Eduard Ezeanu helps others build the confidence to be more talkative socially, have more initiative in life, and follow their dreams all the way. He also writes on People Skills Decoded, his specialized blog for improving social skills and social confidence.

Image courtesy of Capture Queen 

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  1. Ryan Biddulph says

    Feeling the fear and doing it can help but also hurt. Find a coach. Someone who will push you a bit more out of your comfort zone, into your deepest fears, and you will be able to face your fears so much more readily than if you tried to do it all on your own. Power share here!


  2. I found pushing through fear just made it worse for me. I had the most paralyzing fear of dentists, until I discovered pain to be a more powerful motivator than fear. I had to get myself some treatment.

    It was then that I decided that this fear was no longer acceptable and I began to use the releasing technique to let it go. By the time I had my next appointment I was in a state of minor apprehension – a huge leap from overwhelming fear.

    I enjoyed your post Eduard.

    • That makes a lot of sense Elle. Doing something that generates a high does of fear tends to reinforce that fear. Doing something that generates just a bit of anxiety and soothing that anxiety works much better in actually overcoming it.

  3. I really like reading an article that will make men and women think.
    Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!

  4. We can’t force ourselves to face our fears. It takes time.

  5. Not sure if this will relate to what this page is about but some things did stand out that are similar. I have Trypanophobia, obviously I don’t want to say much more. I have had this phobia for as long as I can remember and nothing really works, I have had a year and a half of therapy and counselling but nothing worked. I feel like I cannot tell many people mostly because of what people have done in the past (teasing, bringing it up, trying to get reactions) so I don’t tell many people. My family believe in the fight it and do it anyways but I know like you do too that it doesn’t always work. I have to leave the classroom 2/5 times because images would appear in my head that would trigger it. I have been forced to face my fear twice at school and once I had to be restrained to face it so I couldn’t run away which made me even more stressed. I don’t know what to, I have also taken your advice and I am sorry to say nothing helped, I do understand this isn’t really for phobias but I thought I could try gain more confidence for when I do try to face it.

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