How to Become Fearless

In youth, the world is wide open. Life is about trying new things, pushing boundaries, discovering limits, and exploring a planet that is ripe with possibility. As time passes we surround ourselves increasingly with comforts and lose interest in discovery. Our propensity for boldness atrophies. Our longing to see around the next corner gradually succumbs to fear of the unknown. Our world shrinks.

It doesn’t have to.

Our tendency to become more fearful with age is a real, potentially debilitating, force. I’ve seen it at work in others and felt it in myself. Things I once did routinely now elicit feelings of apprehension. The irony is that this is exactly the opposite of how a rational person should feel.

You’ve never had less to lose

If we value our lives by the number of days we have left to spend, we’ve never been poorer than we are right now. We’ve never had less to lose. We can’t possibly know how many days are left in our future, but we know with certainty that there is one fewer today than yesterday. And yet somehow we were bolder, more willing to take risks, yesterday.

They say that with years come wisdom. But instead of wisdom I see familiarity masquerading as safety. We feel safe in our houses, in our community, maybe even in our country. The world outside these self-declared boundaries meanwhile is foreign, and scary. At least that is how we perceive the world.

But there is no reason to believe the things with which we are familiar are actually more safe. Often they’re not. The most dangerous thing most of us will do in our lifetime is strap our bodies into an automobile and hurtle down a freeway at high speeds with opposing traffic a few short meters to the left. We feel completely comfortable doing this. Why?

Driving is far more dangerous

In 2010 there were 32,700 traffic fatalities in the U.S., compared with two deaths from shark attacks and zero airline fatalities. We are three times more likely to die in a car crash than we are from violent crime; yet we’re often more afraid of standing in a strange part of town than we are of driving there. We fear the unknown even when the familiar is more dangerous.

If we can become fearless in the driver’s seat, we can be fearless in almost every other situation we’re likely to face. The key is repetition. We don’t fear driving because we do it all the time. Whatever apprehension we may have felt once is overcome by years of experience and practice. We gain confidence in our abilities. Every successful trip reinforces those feelings.

That is a powerful reason to go out and do things, especially things that feel a little scary. By staying active and stretching our comfort zone we not only broaden our skills and bolster our self confidence, but we push back against fears that, left unchecked, only grow over time. Instead of aging into a shrinking world, we rediscover the wide open one of our youth.

Today is the first day of the New Year, and the first day of the rest of your life. Resolve to do something that scares you.

Image courtesy of Mika Hirsimaki

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37 Comments on “How to Become Fearless”

  1. Pat Bean January 1, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    This old wandering/wondering broad heartily agrees. On my 70th birthday I jumped out of an airplane. They say adrenaline wakes up the brain.

    Like

    • Brian January 1, 2012 at 11:12 am #

      Ahhhh, Love It! In an early draft of the article I said something about people who jump out of airplanes like that. I’ve yet to make the jump, but I’m going to eventually. Just have to find the right spot.

      Like

  2. Larry Vanstone January 1, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Brian. I’ve been following you for a couple of weeks and especially love this post. Powerfull stuff! I linked Fearless to my blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Larry

    Like

    • Brian January 1, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Awesome. Links and sharing are the currency bloggers get paid in (it certainly ain’t cash). Thanks for starting 2012 off on a prosperous note. 🙂

      Like

  3. Bukit Bear January 1, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Yes – I agree with your sentiments – we must escape our comfort zones – if we are to discover anything new about ourselves – and traveling (or transmigrating) to new lands and/or cultures is one of the best way to achieve this… the possibilities become endless.. as does our spirit’s will to explore not only the world – but ourselves… and who we are…

    Like

    • Brian January 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Nicely said. We can’t grow if we don’t change. Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  4. customtripplanning January 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Most people fear something unfamiliar…this relates to interaction with people who are not from your own zone as well as unfamiliar foods. It does not have to be an adrenaline rush that needs courage…it may be just entering a new experience as simple as going to an art museum or listening to a classical concert.

    Like

    • Brian January 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Absolutely. This blog is mostly about travel so this post comes at the topic from that perspective. But it applies equally well to all aspects of life. Too often fear and doubt hold us back from living the life we want and from becoming the people we want to be.

      A great example is freelance writing. Shannon is often approached by people who have a story or book idea. They want to get it published but they’re afraid of actually submitting it to an editor or an agent. Rejection is hard. But it’s something you have to risk if you want to be a writer.

      More generally, how many people never achieve the success they’re capable of because they’re afraid of failure? Far too many I think.

      Like

  5. sanstorm January 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I’m totally risk averse, but I like your style of thinking. Can’t think of anything scary I want to do.

    Like

  6. carol deminski January 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Brian,

    Happy New Year. This post is brilliant for many reasons but I can personally attest to the truth of it based on the three weeks I just spent in New Orleans.

    First I rented a furnished room from someone I didn’t know- something that turned out to be the best decision I made for myself. In addition to only spending $700 for 3 weeks lodging in NoLa, I grounded myself in a neighborhood.

    Next, I traveled by myself which gave me SO many opportunities to meet others. As a writer, there is no greater chance for inspiration than other people’s stories. Also, you are forced to get around and find your way by talking to others. Many times people travel in pairs, sightsee together, eat together and never have time alone. I suggest taking at least a few hours in a strange place to be on your own and navigate and see how different your perspective becomes.

    I invite your blog readers interested in this idea to check out some of my NoLa posts that speak to this.

    You guys have the right idea on this, but I also agree it can be a little scary. But putting one foot in front of the other and just doing it will take the edge off the fear almost immediately.

    All the best,
    Carol

    Like

  7. Debra Kolkka January 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    That looks like amazing fun! Driving in Italy is a big enough challenge for me.

    Like

  8. Mia January 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  9. Jane January 3, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    brilliant pic!

    Like

  10. Sara Jayne Teece January 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    I absolutely love this, thankyou. x

    Like

  11. Warren Talbot January 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Brian, what a wonderful reminder as we start another year of the importance of getting out and pushing your limits. Whether it is trying a new food, changing careers, or jumping from a plane you have the opportunity to discover a new passion and follow your heart instead of your fear.

    We love this attitude and try to follow the advice each day of our lives. We’ll be spending the day reminding ourselves of this approach and instilling it in each day.

    Like

    • Brian January 5, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Hi Warren. Keep on living the dream!

      Like

  12. Chris January 5, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    Loved this. A great reminder to go and do. Happy New Year!

    Like

  13. Carla Saunders January 6, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks, You have a new follower!

    Like

  14. Carla Saunders January 6, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    But you have it all written down. If you wanted you could publish the whole thing! You have your book.Happy travels to the both of you.

    Like

  15. Mark January 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Ecellent post ,, very relevant in my life right now…
    Thanks, Mark

    Like

  16. Suzy January 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Love this! It makes me want to go out and take a chance. It is funny when you think about driving and how dangerous and fearful we should be of it, and yet, we do it everyday.

    Like

  17. Sarahlynn Pablo February 24, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Very well said. Fate, indeed, loves the fearless!

    Like

  18. Carly May 4, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Reblogged this on Travelling On and commented:
    Truer words never spoken 🙂

    Like

  19. dfolstad58 May 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    check out my post called the 5 regrets in life Brian. I encourage everyone to scare themselves regularly and to not be afraid to fail. A teacher in the USA I read about actually ran a marathon juggling to show his students to be willing to fail, and to be unafraid of trying challenges. If we only do what we know we can; how much do we rob ourselves in our lives. There would be no Rick Hanson (Man in Motion) or Terry Fox Dreams of Cancer cures. I recommend people make small changes – get active, turn off the tv one day a week, join toastmasters, volunteer, and see what you can do. You never know until you try! Thanks for being an inspiration.

    Like

  20. TerryJerry June 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    I am with you! That is why I can’t wait to ride that camel in Egypt! 🙂

    Like

    • Brian June 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Big animals can be scary, and dangerous too. But what an adventure!

      Like

  21. mt June 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    Great post! As we age, we lose the ability to believe ‘without a doubt’.

    Like

  22. littlebiglauren June 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    so relevant to my life right now! i’m on the cusp of fearless child and fearful adult! awesome post! sounds like your livin’ good

    Like

  23. Lay Atmaja June 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    Reblogged this on Carpe Diem, Carpe Noctum, It's Lay.

    Like

  24. Lay Atmaja June 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    I reblogged this 🙂

    Like

  25. jmclau17 June 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    I hope that by starting young with this spirit I never lose it! I have too many goals to lose it, I think. I’m always thinking of new adventures to go on and how to accomplish them, the second matter the more challenging oftentimes. Maybe by reading your blog I’ll be able to answer a few of those questions. (My parents definitely abide by this creed!)

    Like

  26. JustASpoonfulOfZucker June 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Love this. Great post! Reminded me of one of my favorite quotes….

    DO ONE THING EVERYDAY THAT SCARES YOU.

    it’s amazing how much these 7 words have changed my life.

    Like

  27. Sony Fugaban July 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Needless to say doing something that will push your limits, physically and emotionally, will sure not only liberate us but improves our brain. Just sayin’.

    Like

    • Brian July 4, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for all your comments!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Shark Bait | Everywhere Once - February 22, 2012

    […] in the boat, foregoing the snorkeling, if Brian hadn’t thrown down the gauntlet with his post How to Become Fearless. So I jumped in…and lived to tell the […]

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