Education Kills Fear

A great way to overcome fear is to educate your fear into oblivion.

Consider most people’s greatest fear — public speaking. Public speaking has a lot of variables — writing and organizing the speech, delivering it with confidence, vocal variety, voice volume and pitch, gestures, body language, eye contact, visual aids, achieving the speech objectives, connecting with the audience, adapting to the audience’s response, etc. If you don’t have specific knowledge of how to do these things, it will just look like a gaping void of uncertainty and overwhelm, and fear will be the natural response.

Watch any skilled actor or actress, and everything they do seems so natural — they become their character. But what you don’t see is all the subtle baby steps that were taken over a period of years to reach that level of proficiency. One reason people can be genuinely confident instead of fearful in front of a camera or up on a stage is that they took the time to learn exactly what to do.

If you progressively develop your skills by learning from others who have broken it down into bite-sized learnable chunks, then fear diminishes greatly because you know what to do. This is one of the reasons we do impromptu speaking at every Toastmasters meeting. You’re expected to do poorly at it initially. But when you do it over and over again, you eventually become comfortable with it, so if you suddenly find yourself faced with an unexpected impromptu speaking situation, you can relax because you know how to handle it.

I had a similar experience when practicing martial arts for several years. When you educate and train yourself to know how to handle an attacker, you become less fearful of being attacked. I remember one of the students at my school was attacked by a would-be mugger when he was only a green belt, and he used what he learned to successfully fend off the attacker without getting himself hurt. Many of the black belts at the school genuinely had no fear of ever being attacked because they knew their reflexes would just take over — they were actually more worried about hurting someone really badly by accident. Their whole body knew what to do. Somewhere around the time I reached brown belt or red belt, I started experiencing this as well, almost wanting someone to attack me just to see how my body would react from all the conditioning. I found out from others at my school that this is very common. When you know what to do, you not only stop being afraid — you actually begin to welcome the object of your fear. I’m not suggesting that inviting attacks is a good idea. I’m just saying that education is a powerful way to destroy fear. Uncertainty breeds fear; knowledge kills it.

You’re unlikely to fear what you’re good at, so a great way to conquer a fear is to make the commitment to studying and mastering whatever it is you fear. This way you take control of the object of your fear by facing it in baby-sized confrontations. If you’re afraid of public speaking, learn to speak. If you’re afraid of not knowing what to do in a medical emergency, learn CPR and first aid. If you’re one of those people who can’t merge when getting on the freeway, get someone who can merge to teach you how to do it.