Make Fear Fuel

Related: EverythingAboutObjects, BodyFollowsEyes, EyeOnTheBall


Fear too frequently paralyzes us from taking the risks that are the doorways to growth and success, whether in skiing, engineering, relationships, or any other adventure.


Faced with situations which challenge us at or beyond the perceived limits of our abilities or with unknown or incalculable consequences, we too often let fear either discourage us from the attempt, or sabotage our attempts by holding back when commitment is most required.

Forces: Solution:

Use fear as fuel. Think, "I'm not scared, I'm excited! Now let's go for it!" Remember: Adrenaline and noradrenaline are your friends.

Resulting context:

The energy generated from the normal fearful response is rechanneled into the energy necessary to overcome the challenge and endure any pain that results. Even in failure, the courage and self-respect that results can have long term benefits.


In all aspects of life, we are tested and, due to the slowness of evolution, we still respond as our forebears did to any unknown, i.e., with abject fear. Given an environment that has largely eliminated nearly all genuine threats to our well-being (physical, at least), and given also that nearly all situations in which we place ourselves at risk are the result of our choices (Gee, I paid $47 for this lift ticket so I could ski, and drove all this way, tuned my skis, got all bundled up, endured this cold and now I don't want to go downhill?), we have the freedom and opportunity to channel the physiological and psychological effects of fear into positive action. In skiing, when I sense the adrenaline pumping and my anxiety level rising, I remind myself that excitement is no different - it's just the spin I put on it that separates fright from fervid desire. In business, when I am faced with leading a team, or coming up with a design in an area where I have little actual expertise, I attempt to use the same fear as fuel for my efforts to learn, consider, share, and explore. I get scared all the time, but if I can smile, even laugh at myself (which resets the nervous system), I can perform the alchemy of turning fear into "fun fuel".

Naturally, taking completely foolish risks is not recommended. However, if a heuristic of some sort is needed, ask the following questions: (1) What is the worst possible outcome? (2) Can I live with it? If the answer to the second question is "yes" then the risk, no matter how foolish, can be assumed. This test is applied frequently in corporate settings where one's greatest fears turn out to be outcomes that can be easily survived.

Author: DonOlson
Rumour has it that rock climbing culture includes something called "The Obituary Test" - if I screw up on this and get killed, will it look stupid on my obituary? Typical examples are Everest or The Matterhorn (they pass - striving and failing at one of nature's greatest challenges) and a place in New Hampshire USA called "Fool Killer Hill" (which fails the test). This deals in the pre-adrenaline calm decision mode, but seems to still relate. -- MarkEichin

Interesting that you should bring in rock climbing (I climbed here in Arizona for a few years until a dislocated shoulder and laziness intervened). The lesson of fear as fuel was acutely apparent every time I found myself edging on some miniscule nub, leg beginning to go into "sewing machine" mode, and becoming totally gripped with fear. If I succumbed to the fear in the least, I would pop off, or not make the next move. But if somehow I could focus it into a steerable beam of determination, and go for it with zeal, my chances of making the move were always improved. True, sometimes I still fell, but that would just serve to increase the determination, and I would find myself attacking the very crux that had filled me with dread a moment earlier. Commitment was essential. Of course, a harness, rope, and a good belay mean even more. With those, I could do these experiments, and believe me, I never put myself in any real danger. The real hardcore climbers dance with a danger that is a treacherous partner. I marvel at the magic they must wield in turning their fear into fuel in their high-wire act along the edges of their skill.

-- DonOlson

Another sport that really relates is gymnastics. While most people probably think that physical attributes (strength, flexibility, etc.) matter most, it is actually much more of a mental struggle. There is a strong dose of fear in all gymnastic tricks, and giving into that fear is the one way to fail. -- James Clover
Or martial arts, for that matter. When you are sparring with someone who you know for a fact is far better than you, who is stronger and faster and more skilled than you have a prayer of ever being... the only option left is to strike with every trick and skill you have. You may get bruised, but if you do it enough, you realize that they aren't as good as you thought, or maybe you're better than you thought. -- SimonHeath

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