What if your fairy godmother came to visit, waved her wand and removed your ability to be afraid of anything?
Now before we go too far and start messing with the rules, let’s be clear – she isn’t the genie that gives you three wishes, so this is all you get. And she didn’t even ask if that’s what you actually wanted. She didn't make you rich. She didn't make you look like Dwayne Johnson or Jennifer Lopez. She didn't give you an IQ of 160. She didn't guarantee that everything you try will always work out.
She just showed up, and Wham! You’re not afraid anymore. Of anything.
What would you do?
We all have a list of things we’d love to do, “If only I weren’t afraid of…” “If only I weren’t scared to…” That’s the worst thing about anxiety and worry – they hold us back from living the lives we dream about. They put the brakes on our potential and limit what we can and do become.
One college professor asked his students to list the things they’d do, if only they weren’t afraid. Here’s a selection from the list they compiled:
Every one of these wishes is a description of someone’s dream life from which they’re being held back.
When you and I look at that list, it’s easy for us to say, “Go ahead, turn the lights out! There are no boogeymen hiding under your bed!” And yet, for that person who doesn’t have the nerve to sleep with the lights off, the fear is an insurmountable barrier.
Imagine what their lives could be like if they could make that fear go away. Imagine what your life could be like if you could make the fear go away! There are so many things that we fail to even consider, let alone try.
Where’s that fairy godmother when you need her?
The bad news is, there’s no such person. The good news is, you don’t need one. Because the truth is that, when it comes to removing your fears, you are your own fairy godmother.
Let’s reference another fictional character. I’m sure you remember when Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, said to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
Fiction always mirrors real life. And in your own real life, you have the magic wand in your hand.
You see, anxiety is a decision we make. It isn’t some external, objective reality that can’t be changed. We’ve simply made the decision to be scared, afraid, intimidated and fearful so often, that it’s become a habit. Keep a habit long enough and it becomes a belief that rules your life, dictating what you will and won’t try, what you can and can’t do.
But for every fear that holds you and I back, there are thousands, even millions of people who decided, in the face of the same fear, to do it anyway. Sometimes unpleasant things happened. Most often, they didn’t. When, in spite of circumstances, those people keep making the decision to not be afraid, they eventually find their way to the goal they’ve been seeking.
And now they’re reaping the rewards.
We started this blog by asking a “what if..” question. So finish by asking another one.
What if you made a new, and different decision? What if you decided that you simply weren’t going to be afraid anymore? What if you decided that you’re simply going to try the things you’ve been dreaming about?
Here’s what going to go down: Some bad things might happen. They probably won’t. If they do, you’ll find a way around and through them. As you find your way around and through those obstacles, you’ll learn and grow and experience the glorious adventure that life can be.
And then you’ll reap the rewards.
Yes, there is a post-anxiety life waiting for you. And it’s worth the decision.
Yes, it really is that simple. You only need to wave your wand and make the decision that you won’t be afraid anymore.
Now what are you going to do?
Do you remember when you were a kid, how much fun it was to play “Pretend?”
On any given afternoon you might have been a princess, a pirate, an astronaut or Wonder Woman. With some imaginative and adaptive costuming, we became convinced that we’d been transformed into a different person. We could fly, see through walls and travel to distant planets without effort.
How many kids, playing backyard football, shout out, “I’m Tom Brady!” as they go to throw a pass?
Actors and actresses, also, are constantly “pretending” to be the person they are portraying in the movie or play. In the minds of those actors who are regularly recognized as being at the top of their fields they actually become that character.
Whether we’re a child playing pirate or an actor playing Hamlet, in that moment we’ve been transformed into someone else. And with that transformation come all the skills and powers and traits of the person we’re pretending to be. The kid who pretends he’s Tom Brady will actually throw the football farther and more accurately than when he’s just being himself.
In the process of moving from fear and anxiety to fearlessness, playing “pretend” as a grown-up can help you get used to the new (and initially uncomfortable) mental state you’re trying to nurture.
In this process it’s important to have role models who can show us how it’s done. They demonstrate the behavior we admire and give us the “moves” that we can imitate. So, on your way to your own brand of fearlessness, who do you look up to? Who do you admire and seek to emulate? Who are your heroes?
If they really are your hero, you’ve watched them in action. You know how they behave. You even have an idea of how they think and react in different circumstances. All that’s left is for you to pretend to be them for an hour.
Of course, pretending to be Serena Williams for an hour today won’t put you on the center court at Wimbledon tomorrow. But pretending to be her for an hour again tomorrow, and the next day will be moving you in the right direction. Which is exactly how she, and all the other greats we admire got to where they are. They found a hero and modeled their thinking and behavior.
Oprah’s hero is Maya Angelou. Richard Branson admired Steve Jobs. Elon Musk looks up to Kanye West. He says that “Kanye's belief in himself and his incredible tenacity got him to where he is today. He's not afraid of being judged or ridiculed in the process.”
When you study your heroes, focus on learning how they think. If they’ve passed on, study them and read their biographies. If they’re alive, follow them on social, read whatever you can about them. Watch them and learn how they think, process information and make decisions.
Then try it for yourself. Pretend to be fearless like your hero for an hour. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. So only do it for an hour. Then go back to the comfort of being yourself. But do it again for an hour each day this week, and two hours the week after. It will get easier and you’ll be more and more convinced about the charade.
When you pretend this new mental state often enough and long enough, you’ll get more and more comfortable in the role till eventually you won’t be pretending any more. You’ll have become genuinely fearless.
In my own life, as I realized that anxiety was an obstacle to my dreams, I learned to watch and imitate the people who I could see were behaving fearlessly. They were the ones who weren’t swayed by the opinions of others, tried the scary things, got back up after being knocked down. It was obvious that I needed to watch these folks because they were accomplishing the ambitions I had for myself.
The more I watched them, though, the more I realized that, in spite of appearances, fearlessness hadn’t come naturally for them either. Turns out that many of those who appear to be naturally courageous, have had to learn, study and practice the art of fearlessness before they were able to master it.
And that’s the key to success for the rest of us.
You’ve heard the term, “Fake it till you make it?” Well it turns out that if we find a hero with the courage we admire, then observe them, learn from them, and follow them around, we can start to imitate them. And the more we observe and imitate, the more comfortable we become with the same skills, same habits and same behaviors as they have.
I’ve been watching these rare Masters for more than a dozen years now and worked hard to make a habit of doing what they do. And I’ve found that, when I imitate these masters, I get the same results, the same satisfaction, rewards and joy that they do.
I’ve set some very big, very ambitious goals for myself.
In fact, most of the goals I’ve set for myself easily fall into the category of BHAGs. You may have heard this term – BHAG. It was coined by author Jim Collins in his ground-breaking book, Built to Last, and stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
A BHAG isn’t just any old goal – lose 20 pounds, clean out the garage, organize your photo library. No, a BHAG is huge and daunting. A BHAG is President Kennedy in May of 1961 declaring, “this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” At the time, the most optimistic scientific estimates of success gave it a fifty-fifty chance. Many experts didn’t think it was possible at all.
Given the odds, such a bold commitment was nothing short of outrageous.
Which is an appropriate word to describe the BHAG I’ve set for myself: Help 10 million people completely eliminate fear and anxiety from their lives.
Like I said, outrageous.
At this time, the most optimistic scientific estimates of success gave it zero chance. Every expert doesn’t think it possible at all. Which, of course, only adds fuel to my fire.
Setting the goal is the easy part. Achieving it is another thing altogether because BHAGs are REALLY HARD. Any BHAG worth the label is going to require a great deal of concentrated time and effort and it’s so easy to find a million reasons and ways to avoid or postpone the real work.
However, instead of calling them “reasons,” let’s call them what they are – excuses.
I have committed to posting a video-a-day on the i-fearless YouTube channel. Each one is five to seven minutes long and takes that time, plus about twice that to edit. I’m learning so many creative ways to convince myself that I simply don’t have those 25 minutes. It’s too noisy. The lighting isn’t right. My head isn’t into it right now. I’ve already got three that are ready to go, so I don’t need to think about that today…
I have committed to posting a weekly blog (just like this one) every Friday and sending it out to my growing list of email subscribers. This takes a little longer – maybe three or four hours. There are countless obstacles that get in the way of that weekly task. It can’t possibly be done in several shorter time periods – the writing won’t be good enough. I got caught up in some family to-do items and it’s not my fault that I couldn’t find time. My readers won’t even notice if I miss a week…
I have committed to building a thriving and highly engaged Facebook Group – Fearless Living and Growth Society, which requires daily postings, comments and interactions. I should also be doing Facebook Live events regularly. But the lighting isn’t right, it’s too noisy, there aren’t enough people going to participate, I’m too busy writing the blog…
I’m committed to building a strong following on social media so I can provide the inspiration, tools and resources people need to overcome their own anxieties. But that requires investing in ads with money that’s hard to come by…
I’ve committed to recruiting mental health professionals, life coaches and other wellness experts to help me teach and spread the techniques that allowed me to remove fear and anxiety from my own life. But they’re all busy, COVID-19 has made it hard to network, getting their attention takes time, resources and creativity…
In their moments, every one of these roadblocks is a legitimate obstacle to accomplishing the BHAG that I’ve set for myself. So any failure to achieve it certainly won’t be my fault. I’ll be able to point to hundreds of genuine reasons why it didn’t happen. I’m even making a list of people to blame when I have to admit defeat.
But the truth is that there are no legitimate obstacles, there are only excuses. If I choose to see them as dead-end roadblocks, I’m finished. If, instead, I choose to see them as challenges, against which I measure the kind of stuff I’m made of, they become a game to be played and won. What I lack in resources I can make up for in resourcefulness.
When I look myself in the mirror and ask why I’m allowing this BHAG to get the better of me, I’m forced to admit that sometimes I’m a little intimidated by it and sometimes I’m just feeling lazy. Neither of these conditions serve me. Neither of these conditions take me closer to achieving this audacious and, in my view, entirely worthwhile goal.
Imagine a world that is completely free of anxiety. Imagine waking up every day knowing that you are fully capable of successfully taking on any challenge that arises. Imagine sleeping like a baby every night.
That’s why this goal is worth the effort.
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd in the stadium at Rice University in Houston. Regarding the BHAG he’d set for the nation he said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
What excuses are you using to avoid progress on your BHAG?
There are four great reasons to rid your life of anxiety and worry.
1. It just feels awful
It sucks to be anxious all the time. In fact worry is one of the most unpleasant emotions that we experience as humans. It saps our energy, our strength and our motivation and there’s a powerlessness that seems to take over, preventing us from taking positive, constructive action. Anxiety comes with its own kind of psychic suffering that can (and does) immobilize you.
2. It accomplishes nothing
Worry contributes absolutely nothing to your life, to the lives of those around you or to the world. It has never improved any situation or solved any problem. While there are some who might fool themselves into believing that their worry will lead them to a solution to whatever perceived threat is hanging over their heads in the moment, it’s never true.
3. It blocks your potential
With every new bogeyman, we dream less, we hesitate more and the sphere of our infinite potential shrinks. Our potential and performance as human beings is stifled and we back away from the great things of which our unbridled imaginations are capable. Worries are constraining, restricting, limiting. In the face of them we believe less, try less and become less. They cause us to set limits for ourselves before we’ve even tried.
But the reason I want to focus on today is…
4. It makes you sick
It’s been more than well documented that stress, worry and anxiety are injurious to your health. From skin conditions and irritability to high blood pressure, ulcers and heart attacks, constant worry simply isn’t good for you.
The Mayo Clinic reports that anxiety can result in restlessness, panic attacks, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating and gastrointestinal problems. Healthline adds depression, headaches, irritability, heart palpitations, muscle aches and loss of sex drive as resulting from worry.
Are we having fun yet?
You’ve also likely heard of the hormone Cortisol. Often referred to as “the stress hormone,” it’s produced by your adrenal glands and can be thought of your built-in alarm system. One of its primary roles is to help fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis situation. Whenever cortisol is produced, your body goes on high alert, muscles tighten, breathing increases, heart rate goes up and you’re ready to take on whatever might be threatening you.
Obviously, like the city fire department, it’s an extremely useful resource and we wouldn’t want to be without it. But, also like the fire department, the best days are the ones in which we don’t need to call on it.
Cortisol and the fire department are both designed to respond to emergencies. The nature of an emergency is that it doesn’t last too long. We respond to the crisis, solve the problem and then go back to living our normal lives.
But if your body’s “code red” status lasts too long, if worry and anxiety become chronic, some nasty things begin to happen. Too much cortisol compromises your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease. Relationships have been found between cortisol and diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
More recently it’s also been discovered that too much reliance on cortisol can also take an early toll on your ability to think.
A study published in 2018 in Neurology found that responding to everyday challenges with worry and anxiety, and the resultant release of cortisol, can have negative impacts on the brain by the time we reach early middle age. The study of more than 2,000 people, most in their 40s, learned that those with the highest levels of cortisol performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception and attention.
The study also discovered that higher cortisol levels are connected with physical changes in the brain. In fact, the total volume of certain regions of the brain actually shrinks. This is often seen as a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This connection is reinforced by other research that has shown that weaker-than-average performance on these types of tests can indicate a higher risk of dementia in later life. The link between high stress and anxiety and dementia is becoming clearer.
The study indicated that these effects seem to be most evident in women. But it’s uncertain whether middle-aged women are under more stress than men or simply have higher cortisol levels as a result of the same levels of stress.
So what should you do about it?
The last thing I want you to get stressed about is stress. So at the risk of sounding cheeky, don’t worry about it!
Dr. Sudha Seshadri, the lead researcher on the study says, “An important message to myself and others is that when challenges come our way, getting frustrated is very counterproductive.” She also says that other research has shown cortisol levels can be reduced with adequate sleep, exercise, socializing and relaxing mental activities such as meditation. Other research shows that some fairly simple activity and lifestyle changes (such as those we show you here at i-fearless) have been shown to change these levels.
Bruce McEwen is a neuroscientist and cortisol expert at The Rockefeller University. He was not part of the study but says other research suggests it is never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle. He says that the brain does have the capacity for repairing and steps like reducing stress, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good-quality sleep and finding meaning in one’s life can aid in that repair.
Of course, that’s what i-fearless is all about – showing you strategies and tactics that can help you reduce and even eliminate worry and anxiety from your life. Because life is too precious and offers too much opportunity for joy to be spent worrying.