February 21

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, believed that the fears that paralyze us are often overblown. He recommended that his followers engage in an exercise of intentional discomfort as a way to better understand real vs. perceived risk. For example, many people allow their fear of failing on a project to escalate into losing their job and ultimately winding up homeless. To that, Seneca wrote, “Set aside a number of days where you will have the most meager of food and clothing. Then ask yourself: Is this what I feared?”

While I don’t recommend directly confronting every fear—it’s probably not a good idea to run out into traffic just to confront your fear of getting hit by a car—it can be a useful exercise for some of those paralyzing psychological fears that inhibit your creativity and effectiveness. For example, the simple practice of sharing an idea in a meeting or of speaking publicly in front of people you don’t know very well can cause some people to break out in a cold sweat. However, by engaging in this kind of activity, you are likely to discover that your fears of these activities are really nothing to fret. Even if things go poorly, you’re unlikely to be harmed any real way. Plus you’ll have a great story to tell!

By directly confronting your worst fear, you often dismantle it.

Is there a fear that’s paralyzing you that you need to confront?

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