How Fear Blocks Action

We’ve all got it: a list of things we hope to do. In some ways it’s a great thing to have. We can carry around this list and it gives us hope of a future brighter than today. When we finally write that novel, or make that movie, or start that business or painting, then we’ll really show the world. Then the world will turn around and pay attention.

And so we keep these ideas for future actions locked up deep inside our heads. You keep a few of them so they’ll be there when you’re feeling down. “This job sucks, but when I finally write the Great American novel, my life will be so much better and different.” So long as you keep the idea inside, you can always seek solace in the certainty that you’ll someday do this great thing and the world will finally give you the rewards you so richly deserve.

The single best piece of culture on this phenomenon, by far, is this episode of The Show with Ze Frank about “Brain Crack”. Sensitive viewer should be aware the video includes a fair amount of profanity. All viewers should know that there are fair number of irrelevant inside jokes.

The video is just a masterful clarification of the concept, its problem, and the solution. I should stop writing, because I feel that I probably won’t say of this better than Ze’s seven-year old video does. I’m afraid I’m wasting your time.

And fear, as the title says, is what this is about. You’re so afraid of this brilliant idea of yours working out — or failing to work out — in exactly the way you picture it, so you never really do the thing. Fear stifles action. Fear — of success, of failure, of doing the work, whatever — is a devastatingly powerful impediment to progress.

There is a very real possibility that the project, or life-change, or whatever you’re dreaming about will land in the world with a heavy wet thud.

So what do you do? We practice, slowly but surely, getting intimate with fear. We try to trust that while this project may not succeed spectacularly, it also will not be our end if it fails. We push through our doubts, and accept that this idea, no idea really, is going to change the world.

Unlike the somewhat concrete and physical projects you’re probably dreaming of accomplishing, your idea has no weight. It doesn’t even have an existence outside your head. It has no impact on the world, and no real likelihood of having an impact while it remains only an idea.

There is a very real possibility that the project, or life-change, or whatever you’re dreaming about will land in the world with a heavy wet thud. And you’ll undeniably and reasonably be disappointed. But the effort of trying to make this brilliant idea real — at least so long as your idea isn’t a life-threatening stunt of some kind that doctors would strongly discourage — is guarunteed not to kill you.

In fact, for most failures the world just doesn’t notice. So do it. Do it now. Your first failure to make the thing that’s so perfect and beautiful in your head will be at least three times as valuable to both you and the world as the idea of it in your head. Because even if the world totally ignores what you make, you’ll have it, the concrete product you can show history, and a lesson learned about one particular way in which this idea will not successfully change the world.