Conquering Fear and Cultivating Courage
By Brian Tracy
Perhaps the greatest challenge that you will ever face in life
is the conquest of fear and the development of the habit of courage. Winston Churchill
once wrote, “Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon
it, all others depend.” Fear is, and always has been, the greatest enemy of mankind.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,”
he was saying that the emotion of fear, rather than the reality of what we fear,
is what causes us anxiety, stress, and unhappiness. When you develop the habit of
courage and unshakable self-confidence, a whole new world of possibilities opens
up for you. Just think—what would you dare to dream, or be, or do, if you weren’t
afraid of anything in the whole world?
Fortunately, the habit of courage can be learned just as any other success skill
is learned. To do so, we need to go to work systematically to diminish and eradicate
our fears, while simultaneously building up the kind of courage that will enable
us to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life unafraid.
Syndicated columnist Ann Landers wrote these words: “If I were asked to give
what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would
be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your
head high. Look it squarely in the eye, and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You
cannot defeat me.’” This is the kind of attitude that leads to victory.
The starting point in overcoming fear and developing courage is, first of all,
to look at the factors that predispose us toward being afraid.
As we know, the root source of fear is childhood conditioning that caused us
to experience two types of fear: the fear of failure, which causes us to think,
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”; and the fear of rejection, which causes us to think,
“I have to, I have to, I have to.”
Based on these fears, we become preoccupied with the idea of losing our money,
or our time, or our emotional investment in a relationship. We become hypersensitive
to the opinions and possible criticisms of others, sometimes to the point where
we are afraid to do anything that anyone else might disapprove of. Our fears tend
to paralyze us, holding us back from taking constructive action in the direction
of our dreams and goals. We hesitate, we become indecisive and we procrastinate;
we make excuses and find reasons not to move ahead. And finally, we feel frustrated,
caught in the double bind of, “I have to, but I can’t,” or, “I can’t, but I have
Fear is also caused by ignorance. When we have limited information, we tend to
be tense and insecure about the outcome of our actions. Ignorance causes us to fear
change, to fear the unknown and to avoid trying anything new or different. But the
reverse is also true. The very act of gathering more and more information about
a particular subject causes us to have more courage and confidence in that area.
There are parts of your life where you have no fear at all because you feel knowledgeable
and completely capable of handling whatever happens.
Another factor that causes fears is illness or fatigue. When we are tired or
unwell, or when we are not physically fit, we are more predisposed to fear and doubt
than when we are feeling healthy and happy and terrific about ourselves.
Once we’ve recognized the factors that can cause fear, the second step in overcoming
fear is to sit down and take the time to objectively identify, define and analyze
your own personal fears. At the top of a clean sheet of paper, write the question,
“What am I afraid of?”
Now, before you begin, I need to make an important point: All intelligent people
are afraid of something. It is normal and natural to be concerned about your physical,
emotional and financial survival. The courageous person is not a person who is unafraid.
As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear¾not absence
It is not whether or not you are afraid. We are all afraid. The question is,
how do you deal with the fear? The courageous person is simply one who goes forward
in spite of the fear. And here’s something else I’ve learned: when you confront
your fears and move toward what you are afraid of, your fears diminish and your
self-esteem and self-confidence increase.
However, when you avoid the thing you fear, your fears grow until they begin
to control every aspect of your life. And as your fears increase, your self-esteem,
your self-confidence and your self-respect diminish accordingly.
Begin filling out your list of fears by writing down everything, major and minor,
over which you experience any anxiety. The most common fears, of course, are the
fear of failure and the fear of rejection.
Some people, compelled by the fear of failure, invest an enormous amount of energy
justifying or covering up their mistakes. And some people, compelled by the fear
of rejection, are so obsessed with how they appear to others that they seem to have
no ability to take independent action at all. Until they are absolutely certain
that someone else will approve, they refrain from doing anything. Once you have
made a list of every fear that you think may be affecting your thinking and your
behavior, organize the items in order of importance. Which fear do you feel has
the greatest impact on your thinking, or holds you back more than any other? Which
fear would be number two? What would be your third fear? And so on. With regard
to your predominant fear, write the answers to these three questions:
1. How does this fear hold me back in life? 2. How does this fear help me, or
how has it helped me in the past? 3. What would be my pay-off for eliminating this
Some years ago, I went through this exercise and concluded that my biggest fear
was the fear of poverty. I was afraid of not having enough money, being broke, perhaps
even being destitute. I knew that this fear had originated during my childhood because
my parents, who grew up during the Depression, had continually worried about money.
My fear was reinforced when I was broke at various times during my 20s. I could
objectively assess the origins of this fear, but it still had a strong hold on me.
Even when I had sufficient money for all my needs, this fear was always there.
My answer to the question, “How does this fear hold me back?” was that it caused
me to be anxious about taking risks with money. It caused me to play it safe with
regard to employment. And it caused me to choose security over opportunity.
My answer to the second question, “How does this fear help me?” was that, in
order to escape the fear of poverty, I had a tendency to work much longer and harder.
I was more ambitious and determined. I took much more time to inform myself on the
various ways that money could be invested. The fear of poverty was, in effect, driving
me toward financial independence.
When I answered the third question, “What would be my pay-off for overcoming
this fear?” I immediately saw that I would be willing to take more risks, I would
be more aggressive in pursuing my financial goals, I could and would start my own
business, and I would not be so tense and concerned about spending too much or having
too little. I would no longer be so concerned about the price of everything. By
objectively analyzing my biggest fear in this way, I was able to begin the process
of eliminating it.
You can begin the process of developing courage and eliminating fear by engaging
in actions consistent with the behaviors of courage and self-confidence. Anything
that you practice over and over eventually becomes a new habit. So let’s focus on
some of the areas where you can practice to develop the habit of courage.
The first and perhaps most important kind of courage is the courage to begin,
to launch, to step out in faith. This is the courage to try something new or different,
to move out of your comfort zone, with no guarantee of success. John Ronstadt, a
professor at Babson College who taught entrepreneurship for 12 years, conducted
a study of those who took his class and later became successful. He could only find
one quality that they had in common: their willingness to actually start their own
business in the marketplace. He calls this the “Corridor Principle.” He said that
as these individuals moved forward, as though proceeding down a corridor, doors
opened to them that they would not have seen if they had not been in forward motion.
It turned out that the graduates of his entrepreneurship course who had done nothing
with what they had learned were still waiting for things to be just right before
they began. They were unwilling to launch themselves down the corridor of uncertainty
until they could somehow be assured that they would be successful¾something which
The future belongs to the risk takers, not the security seekers. Life is perverse
in the sense that, the more you seek security, the less of it you have. But the
more you seek opportunity, the more likely it is that you will achieve the security
that you desire. One way to get the courage to begin, from which everything else
flows, is to plan and prepare thoroughly in advance. Set clear goals and objectives,
then gather information. Read and research in your chosen field. Write out detailed
plans of action, and then take the first step.
The second kind of courage is the courage to endure, to persist, to stay at it
once you have begun. Persistence is a form of courageous patience, and it is one
of the rarest types of courage. Courageous patience is having the ability to stand
firm after you have taken action and before you get any feedback or results from
your actions. When you plan your work and work your plan through patient persistence,
even in the face of disappointment and unexpected setbacks, you will build and develop
the quality of courage within you.
Whenever you feel fear or anxiety, and you need to bolster your courage to endure,
switch your attention to your goals. Create a mental picture of the person that
you would like to be, performing the way you would like to perform. There is nothing
wrong with thoughts of fear as long as you temper them with thoughts of courage
and self-reliance. Whatever you dwell upon, grows . . . so be careful.
The last type of courage is the courage to conquer worry—a form of negative goal-setting.
It is dwelling upon, talking about, and vividly imagining exactly what you don’t
want to happen. If you worry long enough and hard enough about something, you are
going to attract it into your life. The great tragedy is that even if the situation
you are worrying about does not materialize, your health and your emotions will
suffer just the same. And the fact is that most of things that people worry about
The only real antitode to worry is purposeful action toward a predetermined goal
or solution. Since the conscious mind can only hold one thought at a time, when
you get busy doing something to resolve your problem, you will not have the time
or the mental capacity to worry. And before you know it, your worrysome situation
will have been resolved.
The mastery of fear and the development of courage are essential prerequisites
for a happy, successful life. With a commitment to acquire the habit of courage,
you will eventually reach the point where your fears no longer play a major role
in your decision-making. You will set big, challenging, exciting goals, and you
will have the confidence of knowing that you can attain them. You will be able to
face every situation with calmness and self-assurance. And the key is courage.