You know what you want to accomplish. But there are a million reasons why you won’t succeed, ten thousand people who got their first and hundreds of legal, financial and technical obstacles in your way.
However, there are also countless people who face the same barriers but make the decision to ignore them and succeed in realizing their dreams. Here’s how they do it:
Take 100% responsibility
The first step on the road to fearless is to take 100 percent responsibility for absolutely everything that happens in your life. When things don’t go our way, we search for culprits and blame them for our circumstances. And nothing changes. When you place blame for your problems on something or someone else, you surrender all your ability to change anything. It’s only when you assume responsibility that things start to change.
Uncover your “why”
Each of us has a reason for being, something important to accomplish. But too many of us either roll through life, bumping from one event to the next, or do what other people tell us is worthy, well-paying or impressive. Your purpose is why, in spite of your fears, you take on the difficult challenges. When you find and choose to pursue your purpose you’re too busy and too focused to spend time on pointless fears.
Set intentional goals
With your ‘why’ clearly understood, the next step is to lay out your ‘what’ in clear and measurable goals. Most people have dreams but very few set goals. Perhaps they weren’t taught how. Perhaps they fear embarrassment and ridicule if they fall short. But high achievers know that, without goals, they’re rudderless. So they set clear goals that inspire them to action and steamroller over any fears or obstacles that dare to get in the way.
Appreciate yourself and everything you have
Appreciating yourself isn’t bragging, it’s recognizing that you’re a fully capable human being. It’s fuel for the times when self-doubt wants to derail you. And while you’re appreciating yourself, appreciate the things, circumstances and advantages you enjoy too. When your mind is filled with all the things you’re grateful for, there’s no room for fear. Fill your vision with what you have instead of what you’re afraid you might lose.
Visualize your fearlessness
The biggest obstacle holding you back from success is the beliefs you have about yourself. Reinforced by years of negative self-talk, you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t achieve your dreams. When you interrupt that pattern and introduce a new self-image through visualization, you start to ‘see’ your goals as already complete. At first, you won’t believe yourself for a moment. But the internal dissonance erodes the old beliefs and the creative powers of your subconscious mind begin to find ways to achieve those goals.
Join the winner’s club
Misery loves company, but it doesn’t have to be you. Leave the complainers behind and actively seek out those who lift you up and inspire you to great things. Find the ones who leave you feeling better than before. They bring energy, enthusiasm, optimism and encouragement. All emotions are contagious. Run from the toxic ones and seek out and breathe deeply from the uplifting ones.
Expose your inner roadblocks
The only real barriers to your success are within you. When you bring those hidden fears to the surface you can decide how you want to act in spite of those self-limiting beliefs. You can choose to go forward in spite of the (often irrational) fears. Identify both the desire and the fear behind each worry by saying: “I want to _________, and I scare myself by imagining ____________. For example, “I want to be my own boss, and I scare myself by imagining that I’ll go out of business and have to declare bankruptcy.” With the fear in broad daylight, you will find a way around it.
Take immediate action
There’s an old axiom of success that says, “The universe rewards action.” People who are consistently successful start something. They fail, learn from their mistakes, make corrections and try again. They build momentum and either achieve their goals or something better. No matter what your goal there’s always something you can do, right now, that will move you toward it. And in taking that action, you’ll immediately feel empowered because you acted fearlessly, took control and moved the marker down the field.
Act as if
Actors are trained to ‘become’ the character they’re playing. In their minds and in every fiber of their being they actually ‘are’ Hamlet or Spider-Man. Your success begins in your mind. When, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, you are able to walk, talk, think, breathe and feel success, your success is guaranteed. Like acting, it takes training and practice. Actors are just big kids playing ‘pretend.’ But when you pretend long enough, the pretending becomes your reality. Just like your success.
On a journey, your destination is in your windshield, not your rearview mirror. When we spend too much time thinking about and blaming our upbringing, our education or our lousy breaks we doom ourselves to an endless looping replay of what’s gone on before. The success you’re looking for is ahead of you, not behind. Never take your eyes off it.
Fearless people aren’t different from the rest of us. They just think and behave differently. When you begin to model those thoughts and behaviors, you become fearless too
We each make hundreds of decisions every day. Most of them are small and insignificant – What will I wear today? Where will I go for lunch? Others are pretty weighty – Will I accept that new job offer in Toledo? Will I ask her to marry me?
We love to believe that, as humans, we’re smart, self-directed and rational. In order to make the best decision we gather facts, weigh the pros and cons and, with the pure logic of a spreadsheet, reach the optimum conclusion.
Ah, if it were only that simple!
The truth is that, while there’s some logic involved in the decision-making process, no one makes any decision on a purely rational basis. Every choice we make has a whole lot of touchy-feely going on. Far too often, the emotions that drive our decisions are fear, anxiety and self-doubt.
The conclusion that most people will reach on any given question will vary by the day, the economy, what they had to eat for breakfast and probably the phase of the moon. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of this unreliability, which is why we get so nervous when faced with a big decision. How do you know you’ll make the right one?
There are four keys to making fearless decisions that will leave you feeling confident:
Key #1 Recognize that you’re being influenced
Logic aside, there are three psychological influencers in every decision you make.
The first is fear. Fear of harm or loss and fear of the judgment of others.
“If I take this job and it doesn’t work out, I’ll be stranded in Toledo.” “If I invest in this new business idea I might lose all my retirement savings.” “If I go away with him for the weekend, what will my Mother say?”
Get quiet for a few moments. Ask how you’re scaring yourself. Ask the wise, inner you what it is that you’re imagining might happen as a result of this decision. Recognize the fear for what it is and know that it’s worth overcoming.
The second is the self-limiting beliefs we all hold.
“I’m not smart enough to get a Master’s degree!” “He’s way out of my league and wouldn’t ever go out with me.” “I’ve never had good money instincts, so running my own business is a terrible idea.”
The third is the pre-programmed beliefs with which we’ve all been indoctrinated. “No one from our family moves overseas.” “My high school music teacher said I couldn’t carry a tune so there’s no point in me auditioning for that play.” “Dad always wanted me to be a doctor like him, so this idea about opening a restaurant is just a silly fantasy.”
Key #2 Know that there are two sides to every decision
Every decision has two sides. One is to go after what you DO want. The other is to avoid what you DON’T want. The first is made from a place of faith, courage and growth. The other is made from a place of fear.
“I’d love to hire that energetic young intern but my boss wants me to hire someone from his alma mater and I don’t want to get on his bad side.” “I really want to go back and finish my degree but I’m afraid of what my children might think.” “This new product line could really take off, but I don’t want to take the blame if something goes wrong.”
Key #3 Trust your gut
When all the weighing and comparing is done and the analysis and logic is complete, all final decisions are made in the heart, not the head.
Don’t be afraid of trusting your instinct. If you learn to be still and filter out all the psychological influencers we’ve discussed, you’ll discover a quiet, inner voice that knows what’s best for you.
In Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, he writes, “Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.”
You’ll know when your heart has spoken. Trust it.
Key #4 Once you’ve made a decision, own it
Second-guessing is a huge enemy of growth and progress. Sure, you can go over and over the decision, reviewing the pros and cons again and again. But a year from now you’ll still be trying to make up your mind and the opportunity will have passed.
Years ago I developed a method of decision making that I call “deciding to decide.” It recognizes that I always have many options and choices. But in THIS moment, I’ve made and will live with THIS decision. When I remove the option of changing my mind I become committed to finding every possible way to make the decision work.
And, more often than not, it does.
We each have 206 bones in our bodies.
Regardless of race, color, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, health, language, religion, national origin, political persuasion, wealth, or any other label you care to apply, you get 206 bones.
Our biggest bone is the femur or thighbone. In the average adult male it’s about 48 centimeters or 19 inches long and can support up to thirty times the weight of an adult. Our smallest bone is the stapes, one of three tiny bones in the middle ear. It’s about five millimeters, or less than a quarter of an inch long and you could crush it with your pinkie.
Every one of those 206 bones matters a great deal and plays a vital role in holding you up and moving you about. But if you should fall down and break one of your bones, it’s suddenly going to matter a whole lot more than the others.
All the others are just fine, thank you. It’s the broken one that needs the attention right now.
In the conversation and debate about whose lives matter, it’s obvious, even “self-evident” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence, that every single life is precious. But right now, and for far too long, there are some very particular lives that are broken and in desperate need of all our attention.
Fortunately, your body is smart enough to know that there’s no benefit, and a great deal of suffering to be had, if that one bone were to remain broken. It’s a ludicrous notion to imagine the other bones deciding that they’re all better off if your left arm remained permanently fractured. Even more ridiculous is the idea of the big strong bones ganging up on the smaller, weaker ones.
If you have an injury or infection your body responds in an intelligent way. Blood rushes to the area to provide healing oxygen and nutrients. The antibodies and white blood cells immediately attack the disease. Your immune system kicks in to rid itself of the invaders and the body heals itself.
The body does not fight against itself. On the odd occasion that it does, we call that cancer and do everything in our power to remove the abnormal cells and bring the self-destructive process to an end.
If only we had the instinctive intelligence of our bodies.
We’re all familiar with the ‘fight or flight’ response to fear. It’s built into our biology and it was enormously useful when saber-tooth tigers were attacking. In today’s world, however, the occasions when we’re exposed to immediate, life-threatening danger are extremely rare.
And so we imagine and make up our fears. Fears that I will somehow be diminished, hurt or even killed by that person who is ‘other’ than me. We call it xenophobia: the irrational fear of others who are different. And behind that particular fear lies virtually all aggression, anger, violence, oppression and hate.
In the absence of saber-tooth tigers we continue to treat anything and anyone who isn’t like us as a threat. The threat isn’t real, it’s merely perceived or imagined. But because that other person looks or sounds different, is wearing different clothes or comes from the other side of an imaginary border, we convince ourselves that we’re threatened and must respond.
And so, we fight or flee.
The fight response is obvious – we’re seeing it around the globe daily. The flight response is just as obvious – you run back to your own familiar place, close and bar the door, build walls at your borders and prohibit those ‘others’ from entering.
The fear of the ‘other’ results from focusing on the differences between us. You’re not like me.
We can leave the fear behind when we recognize the similarities, the things we have in common.
Astronauts returning to Earth frequently report an experience that has come to be known as the ‘Overview Effect.’ First mentioned by Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweikart, it’s a cognitive shift in awareness that takes place while viewing the Earth from outer space.
Ian O'Neill, a science writer on space says, “From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell had his life completely changed by the experience. O’Neill writes that Mitchell experienced, “a profound sense of connectedness, with a feeling of bliss and timelessness. He became profoundly aware that each and every atom in the Universe was connected in some way, and on seeing Earth from space he had an understanding that all the humans, animals and systems were a part of the same thing, a synergistic whole.”
Humanity has moved on from saber-tooth tigers and our primitive fear responses are guilty of far more harm than good.
So, what if, instead of fight or flight, we adopted a third option in the face of fear? What if our first response was to pause, even for a moment, to listen? To learn. To get to know and investigate how similar we are to the ‘other.’
What if our choices were fight, flight or unite
In the summer of 2009, for about a month, I found myself homeless.
I won’t bore you with the details of how or why, but suffice to say that, during that inglorious month, I spent a great deal of time looking for the people and the circumstances responsible for my impoverished situation. Believe me, if I’d been able to find them I’d have had a few choice words for them.
But somewhere along the way, in a rare moment of introspection and clarity, it suddenly dawned on me that, through all the descending cascade of events and circumstances that led to me sleeping in my car, there had been one, and only one common denominator: Me.
I had been the only one uniquely present for and actively participating in every single decision and action that led to my less-than-exalted social and financial status. Trust me, it was a shocking and humbling realization.
It was also a massive wake-up call as I realized two things.
First, as much as I wanted to blame and complain, no one was listening. And even if they had been, they were disinclined to change their world in order to make mine better. Second, blaming and complaining were making me feel even more miserable than I already was and contributing absolutely nothing to my improving the situation.
As daunting as those two realizations were, they also left me exhilarated. Because if the situation HAD been someone else’s fault, they would be the only one with the power to change it. But when I assumed 100% responsibility for everything that had happened to me I took back the power and the control over my life.
While I was responsible for all the failures that had led to my homelessness, I was also responsible for the successes I’d enjoyed. (And there’d been plenty of those, too!) If I’d created my current circumstances, I could also un-create them and re-create the ones I preferred.
But first I had to abandon all my excuses, victim stories and reasons why I hadn’t been able to achieve the goals I’d set for myself. Instead, I decided that, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, I’d always had the power to get it right and produce the results I wanted.
For whatever reasons – fear, needing to be right, ignorance, laziness, risk aversion – I’d simply chosen not to exercise that power. The reasons didn’t matter, they were behind me. What mattered was what I did – and to this day continue to do – next.
Since all the decisions and actions I’d taken to that point had landed me sleeping in my car, it was pretty clear that I needed to make some different decisions and take some different actions if I wanted a different outcome. As motivational speaker, entrepreneur and award-winning artist Mike Rayburn says, “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before.”
We have the choice to go back to the same decisions and actions, which will produce the same results. Or we can try something we’ve never done before which, of course, is scary.
But for every excuse I offer as to why the obstacles are too big and my goals are unreachable, there are countless people who have faced the same, or more challenging barriers, and succeeded. It is not my circumstances that limit me – it’s me. I stop myself with my limiting thoughts, my self-defeating behaviors and my excuses.
Right now, it’s very easy to blame and complain about the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whether it’s the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 or the rancorous mood the world has chosen to display, the universe has been throwing a few obstacles in our paths lately. I’d be lying if I said that all this hasn’t negatively affected my progress towards the goals I’ve set for myself.
But every minute spent listing the reasons why it’s hard, delayed or different than I’d hoped is a minute wasted.
There are three, and only three things that I can control in my life – the thoughts I think, the images I visualize and the actions I take. Those three things, when carefully chosen and controlled to serve me, will take me wherever I want to go