Can You Work at Being Fearless?

Fear is at the heart of most of our worst choices. 2013-04-27 10.11.11

I read this facebook post by James Altucher and it really punched me in the stomach. But that’s just one punch in a series, because every time I question how I ended up somewhere, the real answer (underneath all the bull answers) is fear. It’s why most stupid things happen, why all bad things happen (when humans are involved), and is even worse than you think.

I’m afraid of a weird collection of things. I’m afraid of sharks (ever since seeing Jaws at a very young age – because I pestered my parents tirelessly til they succumbed). I’m afraid of being invisible (not like the superpower, but not being worthy of anyone’s attention). I’m afraid of bad things happening to my kids. I’m afraid of being seen as harmless (odd one, really). I could go on for a while, but you get the point).

Thinking about fear is helpful to you.

A Quick Accounting of Fear

  • Fear is why we market too much and upset your prospects. – fear of failure or poverty.
  • Fear is why we use big words when little ones will do. – fear of being perceived as insignificant or unimportant.
  • Fear is why we cling to praise. – fear of not measuring up.
  • Fear is why we stay. Fear is why we leave. – fear of the unknown, of the known, of not having enough.
  • Fear is why we watch so much TV or hang out online all day. – fear of having to deal with what’s in our heads.

If you found nothing in common with any of the above, either you’re in denial or you’re about to ascend into whichever heaven you voted for in the last religion elections.

Can you Work at Being Fearless?

I think it’s impossible to be fearless, though this guy might come close:

Can’t see the video? Click Here.

(If you can stand a little cursing, this version of the above is hilarious!)

For you and me, it’s less likely that we’ll claim to be fearless. More so, we probably shouldn’t. The opposite of bravery isn’t fear. The opposite of bravery is surrender (or more accurately, settling). #tweetable.

But the real power is in the knowing. When we know we’re feeling fear, we can take a moment and sit with that, and we can acknowledge the fear. And we can choose to take an action that isn’t a pure reaction to the fear alone.

For instance, though I’m afraid of sharks, I usually swim in the ocean. I accomplish this by thinking through the odds of being the one eaten during a shark attack. Though I’m afraid of being invisible, I work on opening myself up to more experiences that aren’t designed to make me visible. Etc.

The recipe is simple:

  • Realize your fear and name it.
  • Acknowledge it (to yourself, not necessarily on a blog like me or James in that amazing post).
  • Choose to take an action based on your own goals and intentions, taking into account the fear, but not acting purely upon it.


Do you work at managing your fear and seeking what matters to you? Come join over 200 of us who work on that every day, together. It’s some of the best (and most difficult) work you can do to improve your success this year.

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  • The Franchise King

    Walk through your fear.

    That’s what i do.


    You are 100% correct…about why we hang online so much. Watch TV so much.

    You’ll like this, CB:

    I’ve found that you can’t have fear if you have faith.

    (Not in a religious sense-just having faith that things will work out.)

    The Franchise King®

    • Chris Brogan

      Ah, but I don’t have faith. I embrace the absolute nothingness and hope that I can find my way to something. Trust, I guess, more than faith. (Again, not in the religious sense).

      • The Franchise King

        Interesting, Chris.

        Faith works for me. Nothingness–and hoping to find your way, works for you.

        My hope is that you do get where you want to go.

        I have faith that you will.


      • Jane Boyd

        The mere fact that you are able to embrace the nothingness and have trust says a lot. There are a great many people who struggle with trusting themselves or anyone else for that matter. Having trust in “nothingness” is an incredible strength I do believe.

  • David


    How would you a apply this to your children?

    As a new parent, sometimes I get very fearful of what could happen to my son in the future.
    What practical actions could be taken to overcome this?

    • Chris Brogan

      It feels like the only thing that can cure a new parent is watching your kid take some dents and survive. How many dents did YOU get as a kid? How’d you do?

  • Bobbi Klein

    Great advice Chris! I’m working on this currently with my project in the works. It’s taking my fears to the extremes and I’m 100% all in.

    • Chris Brogan

      Thanks, Bobbi. That is wonderful!

  • elena lopez garcia

    It’s a good reflection. I think you must have a balance between fear and courage or as you say, the delivery. You can not go through life without fear but when you paused or is an obstacle to doing something beneficial for you is to fight that fear. A look I do not work because it grows more, not think about it. What helps me is realizing that there is unlikely that something bad happening to me or else think about the results that I go and meet them yet.

    • Chris Brogan

      Fear’s a great thing you have. You just have to keep going.

  • Bruno Coelho

    Loved your thoughts on fear Chris!

    I quit trying to be fearless and decided to become unstoppable instead. The difference is that I’m still afraid abut I’m more afraid of what my Life would look like if I don’t follow my purpose than ALL my other fears combined.

    When I did this I started working on using every emotion to fuel my journey instead of using a limited set of “good” ones.

    Then I figured that if this was going to work I had to face my biggest challenge: death. We’re so afraid of death that most of us don’t even mention it. It’s something that we wish that will happen only in a distant future. Yet, we’re all dying… So instead of asking “what would I do if I knew that I couldn’t fail”, I asked “what would I do even if I knew that I would die because of it”.

    You’re not giving all you’ve got until you’re ready to give your life for it. Every super-hero knows it! :) it’s not about the tights but about living bravely in full alignment with who we really are while we serve something beyond ourselves!

    • Chris Brogan

      Death is such a tricky challenge, right? I only half joke that by being suicidal, I’m a lot less afraid of death. : )

  • Wendy Pitts Reeves

    Chris, in my work with Courageous Women, I tell them all the time that they are ALREADY Courageous – they just don’t know it. They don’t see it.

    Because they deal with so much every day – coping with illness, single parenting, economic hardship, aging parents, and a host of other difficulties — they assume ‘anyone’ could (and would!) do what they do.

    And because they’re terrified the whole time, they don’t recognize the Courage they’re showing all along the way.

    My kids think I’m fearless. Sometimes my clients do. I am SO not.

    Sometimes, you just gotta hold your nose and jump. And if we do it often enough, sooner or later – we discover we can swim after all. Who knew?

    Thanks for a truly lovely post.

    • Chris Brogan

      True that, Wendy. To better swimming for you and me. : )

  • Mary Ulrich

    HI Chris, I get scared, then get brave, then get the “guilt sandwich” and get scared all over again. And, that’s in about an hour. Today, my “brave” from last week means the CEO of my son’s residential company is calling a staff meeting to decide if they are going to straighten up, or just cut their losses and tell our family to go elsewhere. So, I am proud of being brave (hey, it’s my kid) and then fear sets in. I just hope the CEO can be brave too. His “fears” and “brave” impact mine.

    • Chris Brogan

      I’m glad you’re brave. The world needs you a thousand times over, Mary. But I’ve said that before. : )

  • Linda Lopeke

    Until I suffered a brain injury in a near fatal head-on collision caused by an impaired driver, I only had run-of-the-mill fears, a few of which I was able to manage some of the time.

    My injury resulted in extreme changes in cognitive functioning — one aspect of which is a strong compulsion to commit suicide. (This is a rarely discussed side effect of TBI but all too real for those who have it and the medical professionals who work with them in attempts to manage an uncontrollable situation.)

    So now I can honestly say I really only have two fears: one is that I won’t be able to overcome the compulsion and the other is that I will. Either way, it’s an enormous struggle just trying to deal with my fate and keep going. On the other hand, it has brought some incredible insights I otherwise would never have had.

    By the way Chris, I really enjoyed that video. Thoughts are a lot like cobras. They have the power to kill you but, depending on how you respond to and interact with them, it isn’t a given that they will.


    • Barry Chignell

      Most honest and thoughtful comment I have seen in a long time. Also your last paragraph is very insightful.

    • Chris Brogan

      You’re always fascinating to me, Linda. That last line about thoughts being like cobras were really interesting. The whole thing was, but the last was the price of admission.

  • Jane Boyd

    So great to read this. Roger Overall and I just spent Sunday evening talking about fear for this week’s upcoming Business Jazz podcast. The more I learn about fear, the more I understand my responses to it. You are right….being able to realize and name the things that you fear accomplishes a lot. Sometimes just saying them out loud – to yourself or others helps in huge ways.

    • Chris Brogan

      Well look at that! You’ve got it.

  • Michael Martel

    Good post. Fear should be addressed and sometimes, only sometimes dismissed.

    I recommend Gavin deBecker’s book – The Gift of Fear to understand what fear does to keep you alive. The problem comes when we experience fear that isn’t related to survival. A lot of the same feelings – elevated heartbeat, adrenaline rush, etc are the result of excitement. We just confuse that for fear. Those feelings need to be accepted for what they are.

    • Chris Brogan

      That book is great! What a strange and powerful message it tells, and it’s amazing how FEW people have read it.

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  • Craig Holloman

    Great article, Chris. Fear is definitely a deterrent and I have personally experienced some of its negative consequences when it’s relied on for decision-making or other activities. I believe being fearless to a certain degree is definitely attainable; but to operate 100% free of fear might not be so easy. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Chris Brogan

      Well thanks! I’m glad you found some value in this. : )

  • Gertraud Walters

    Goodness me, just watching the video made me hold my breath and my heart beat much faster. I did stick it out for the 2 minutes though.The cobras raising their heads looked intimidating, yet majestic. Glad that I’ve discovered a weapon when Fear approaches me. “Stop It”.

    • Cijaye DePradine

      Gertraud, believe it or not – I’ve used voice therapy like that on my fears for years and it DOES work (most of the time). Mentally saying “stop it” (or a version thereof) seems to send a message to some place in our brains that says “I am not giving into this” or “this isn’t serving me and is not welcome”. It’s brilliant. :) Have fun with it.

  • robertrizzo

    Chris, thanks for the transparency. I agree, we all need to acknowledge the role fear plays in our lives. While it can protect us, it can also paralyze us. Some people way over-complicate the way to deal with it. You got it done in three steps. Nice! Lots of great resources out there. One phrase that always stuck with me from Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week was “Do something you fear every day.” I aspire to that goal, but I miss the mark a lot of days. Still I think it’s a healthy goal.

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  • Cijaye DePradine

    Chris, as always great article. (And great share of the video + the MaximBady version – my 14 yr old showed me that one a few months ago and a laughed so hard I scared myself hahah).

    For real though, this one hits home for me. I grew up with many fears IMPOSED onto me (which in turn I have subsequently imposed on my daughter….BAD MOMMY) and then I developed a few of my own as well.

    Somewhere along the way, I built up a “fearless” attitude so that I would “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” (great book BTW if anyone wants to read that)…but now that I am stepping out from behind the scenes after making everyone else their millions I am encountering new fears. Invisibility is one of them, personal failure is another, I’ve told you before about rejection as well – but I know that those ones are easy enough to turn off if I just LEAP and do what I need to do. But I have discovered another fear. This one a far more deadly fear than any of the others. It is my cobra so to speak.

    And that’s the fear of living up to my own expectations. They are high. They don’t live in a world of perfectionism, but they are still high. And I am battling with this one daily because of it. It’s one I never saw coming and I am not sure how to get over. But the bottom line is – it’s stopping me from completing my next book and releasing the campaign for it to the world.

    It’s sad and frustrating simultaneously and makes all the other fears seem microscopic on their WORST days.

    If you have any tips on that fear, I would love to hear them. :) Thanks.

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  • Julie Edmonson

    “The opposite of bravery is surrender (or more accurately, settling).”

    EXACTLY what I needed to hear (er… read) today. Having just recently put in my notice at my fabulous full-time job to go out on my own, I can attest to the whole notion of fear and what it can (and can’t) do to a person.

    I’m working to overcome my fear and embrace the awesomeness each day. Great post!

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  • Skibb

    We were kind of afraid you would be on a tirade against fear, dropping one-liners but you actually really hit the nail on the head: to “overcome” fear is to accept it and not let it reign but channel it to do good choices. In a way, to not fear the fear itself. True!

  • Daniel Decker

    Brilliant post and dead on (me thinks).

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  • Sandy Gerber

    I think we in North America are so sheltered that we’re afraid of things that would be laughable in other cultures. In some places stating what you believe is a crime (whether officially or unofficially) or even just going to work on a bus can put you in danger (war torn countries). So it’s interesting that we have fears such as not being able to ask for something for fear of the word “no”, when so many others are forced into being stronger human beings than we are. First world problems I guess!

  • Chinese Restaurant in Mangalor

    Hi… Very great Article….Thanks for posting

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