Use This Technique To Overcome Fear Fast

5 minutes before writing this post, I asked for a 10% discount at Starbucks.

I waited in line, went up to the register, and ordered a medium roast coffee. My heart started beating faster.

“Anything else?” asked the barista.

“Actually, yeah...can I get 10% off on that?” At this point I could literally feel the blood rushing through my body as I spoke.

She looked at me for a few seconds, confused. “Sorry, I don’t think I heard you...could you say that one more time?” I knew she had heard me, but her brain couldn’t process what I was saying. 

“I’d like 10% off,” I said, trying to appear calm.

She paused again, frowning. “I’m not sure I understand.” She looked very confused now, almost worried. Clearly no one had ever done this before.

“I’m just wondering if you can give me a 10% discount,” I said for a third time.

Finally she blinked, and, sounding embarrassed: “No sir, I’m really sorry, I don’t have the authority to do that.”

I smiled. “That’s okay. Thanks anyway.” Then I paid for my coffee and got the hell out of there.

Once I was outside of the Starbucks, I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. I felt liberated.

The feeling hasn’t worn off yet. Writing to you now, I'm still smiling.

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The idea of the “coffee challenge” comes from Noah Kagan, the founder of AppSumo. He recommends that people go to a coffee shop -- preferably a chain where they can’t possibly accommodate you -- and ask for a 10% discount. In a recent podcast by James Altucher, Noah talks about how fear is one of the main things that keeps us from achieving what we want in life and in business.

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, the single biggest barrier to living deliberately is what one of my readers recently referred to as “the follow-through”.

As in, “deep down I know what I need to do, it’s the follow-through that’s a challenge.”

Knowing vs. Doing

There are two steps to following through on what matters:

  • Step 1: Knowing what matters to us in the first place
  • Step 2: Doing that thing

Often we think that we are on Step 1 when we should be on Step 2. We secretly know what matters already, but we’re scared to go after it. So we stay in Step 1 and pretend to gather more information.

Why do we do this?

It's not just because doing the work is hard.

It's also because we're uncomfortable going against the grain; it's much easier in the short term to do what others think is best. So we convince ourselves that what makes them happy will make us happy by default. And if not, at least we can tell ourselves that we were just following instructions.

This is a very dangerous gamble to make.

When we choose short term comfort, we often sacrifice our long term satisfaction and happiness along the way. We wake up days, months, even years later and realize that we’ve been living other people’s dreams.

Not good.

If we can learn to deal with some short term discomfort, however, we are more likely to win in the long term. This sacrifice is part of living deliberately.

So: How do we start following through in the face of fear?

We practice.

Why We Must Practice

Follow-through is a skill. You’re not born with it; it must be learned.

Intention is a muscle. You must train it consistently or it will atrophy. 

Fear is the stimulus. You need to apply it regularly or you won’t be able to perform when it matters most.

During my freshman season of high school wrestling, I went 0-2 at the prep national tournament. I hadn’t been exposed to that level of competition before, and I wasn’t ready for it; I choked.

For the next three years, I did everything I could to wrestle with people who were better than me. I even went to a camp in Ohio one summer where we wrestled in a barn all day and slept on the mats at night.

Kind of gross when you think about it. I actually got a pretty nasty skin infection but that's another story.

My senior year, I went back to the national tournament. It was my fourth time there and my last chance to become an All-American.

Just before the final round, I got into a tough spot. The match was tied, and I knew the best way to win was to keep the other guy on the mat for the entire last period. This was not my strongest position, and I was scared.

Fortunately, I had deliberately practiced that situation with my coaches again and again prior the tournament.

I was able to hold on and eventually become an All-American. It wasn’t about luck or some heroic burst of effort. If I hadn’t learned to perform when the pressure was off, I never would have been able to follow through when the stakes were high.

The Exposure Technique

In order to reach your full potential, you must consistently expose yourself to situations outside of your comfort zone.

Sorry, there’s no alternative. I’d probably have more readers if I lied and said that this stuff was easy. It’s not.

Building a business is uncomfortable. Ending a bad relationship is uncomfortable. Losing weight is uncomfortable.

Most things worth pursuing are uncomfortable at some point. But I'd rather experience discomfort now than regret later.

That’s why we need to practice. It never gets easy, but it does get easier. We can acclimate ourselves to the discomfort and fear over time.

Psychologists often use exposure therapy to treat patients with PTSD and phobias. You don't need to have an anxiety disorder to apply the same principle.

12 Ways To Crush Your Fears

Here are some ideas to help you practice. I've done every single one of them myself so I promise you that they are both possible and effective:

  1. Do the “coffee challenge” (see above). Another variation is to go to the supermarket and jump up and down while they bag the groceries. Make sure you’re nice to them but don’t do anything to relieve the tension.
  2. Take cold showers. I’ve been doing this every morning for the past few months. The moment right before you get under the cold water is excruciating at first, but eventually the rush becomes addicting.
  3. Run a Spartan Race. You can thank me later for this one.
  4. Write a gratitude email to someone you know. Better yet, read it to them in person. This has also been shown to strengthen relationships and increase well-being.
  5. Email 5 people you would love to know. Ask them a question. Most of them won’t respond, but one or two will. You’d be surprised who you can connect with this way.
  6. Take an improv class. It will make you look stupid and teach you to remain confident without a plan. This is a very good skill to have. Also, you’ll make friends.
  7. Perform at an open mic or poetry slam. Make yourself vulnerable.
  8. Say no to someone you would usually feel obligated to say yes to. Learn to be "selfish" now and create a strong foundation. That way, you can be even more generous later.
  9. Ask someone out who is clearly more attractive than you. This is how I got my girlfriend Emma.
  10. Start a blog. Create a daily writing habit and put your thoughts out into the world. This process will teach you a lot about yourself. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of setting something up, write a post on Medium (although Squarespace, which I use, is pretty straightforward as well).
  11. Try some freelancing. Find a skill you have that others will pay for. You don’t need to start a whole business, just make that first sale.
  12. Go skydiving or bungee jumping. Cliche but effective.

Now, go back through the list and figure out which one you absolutely refuse to do. The one that gives you butterflies just to read. The one you dismissed almost immediately. 

Got it? Okay, now go do that thing.

You can start with others if you need to, but the one that scares you most is usually the one that will result in the fastest growth. In behavioral therapy, this approach is called "flooding" (as in, flood your system with fear in order to overcome it).

Note: This post is designed to help mentally healthy individuals get out of their comfort zones. If you have an actual phobia or other anxiety disorder, please ignore me and see a professional. 

Now It’s Your Turn

If you've made it this far, creative avoidance should already be creeping in. Your mind is coming up with a number of seemingly valid reasons why you should not participate. For example:

  • "It’s a cool concept but he’s not really talking to me" (yes, I am)
  • "I’ve already done things like this" (do you already have everything you want in life or is there room to keep growing?)
  • "I’m not the type of person who does this type of thing" (okay, but what if you were?)

This is all bullshit, of course.

As soon as I finished listening to James Altucher’s podcast, I immediately started walking to Starbucks. I knew from experience that the only way I would do the challenge was to take immediate action. The longer we wait with this stuff, the harder it gets.

I already made myself some tea...Do it anyway.

I forgot my wallet upstairs...Get it and go anyway.

They don’t have the thing I want...Order something anyway.

Most of you reading this won’t do the things I recommend. That’s just the truth.

But some of you will try one. It will feel good and so you'll do another. Then another. The ones who make follow-through a habit will see their lives change drastically.

This is not something that I can describe to you; it’s something you have to experience viscerally. Please trust me on this.

Fear is not a stop sign. Fear means go.

Now go.

If you do decide to try one of these things, or want to propose a new challenge, I want to hear from you. Tell me about it in the comments section.

(Photo credit: visualpanic via cc)

Greg Faxon

Greg Faxon, 2829 Connecticut Avenue NW (Apt 513), Washington, DC 20008, United States