Are You Using Your Fear Properly?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – attributed to Mark Twain

I had a friend ask me about fear, how to think about it and handle it. I pondered for a bit and asked myself why we have fears in the first place.

Do children have natural fear?

In some instances, yes, particularly as they age into adolescence. One thing I have learned by being the father of a little boy is that they generally are not scared to jump off the top of a slide or run headlong into a flying flip. It never crossed my son’s mind that this might be dangerous. It’s my job to teach him that. So far, he hasn’t hurt himself doing it. He is better at it now than he used to be, so much so that his first gymnastics coach asked where he learned to tumble. “From being a boy with no inhibition.”

Part of being a teacher is getting your students to release the fears they have been taught and quit focusing on the “What ifs.” “What if I get hurt?” “What if what you teach disagrees with what I’ve previously learned?” “What if…”

Some people fear uncertainty.

Humans tend to be risk-averse. This is an economic term meaning a person is cautious of losing and seeks a safer investment option. Many people would rather not lose than win. That’s not a paradox.

I recently told a student at my college, “A ship is safer in the harbor, but that’s not what it was built for.” We should never let the fear of the unknown stop us from seeking new things.

Some people fear death.

One of the most widely realized fears is the fear of death. Are you afraid of dying? Why? I typically look to Stoicism for answers to life, but in the case of death, I will defer to Epicurus. He wrote, “Death is nothing to us.” It is futile to the living because if you are alive, you are not dead. And it is fruitless to the dead because if you are dead, you have cannot care one way or another.

My question is, if death is what stops you in your tracks, perhaps you have not embraced living to its fullest. Marcus Aurelius (back to the Stoics) wrote, “You will give yourself peace of mind if you perform every act of your life as if it were your last.”

Ways to use your fear.

We often don’t realize that our fears are merely misguided perceptions. Seneca wrote, “We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” You might take a step back from whatever is blocking your way and causing your fear. Examine it for what it truly is. Tim Ferris says defining your fears is more important than defining your goals. Those fears may be what is keeping you from obtaining your goals.

Another way to cope with the anxiety caused by fear is to use negative visualization (premeditatio malorum). Think about the absolute worst outcome for a scenario.

If it pertains to martial arts, it might be that you break a limb during training (happened to me) or you tear up another student’s knee (also happened to me). In life, it might be that you ponder what would happen if your wife died suddenly of a heart attack or that a drunk driver hit your children. I know this sounds heinous, but by going ahead and processing what you might feel and visualizing the worst cases, you are freer to embrace the adventure and live in the moment.

Understanding that life generally happens on the continuum of best case and worst case scenarios, if you prepare mentally for the worst, falling somewhere in the middle is a plus.

Harness the Whirlwind.

I have learned to embrace the uncertainty that drives our fear. I thrive on that chaos, that whirlwind, to use a Biblical analogy. The presence of fear should be an indication of something unknown. If you can harness it and turn it into excitement about learning something new or the potential to overcome an obstacle, it can be a powerful tool.

When you step into the ring or on the competition stage, you may lose the match. But if you focus only on winning or losing, you lose sight of a bigger picture: the chance to learn and grow.

What fears are you experiencing? Do they stem from winning/losing? Getting hurt? Dying? What are you doing to use that fear or overcome it?


A version of this article was originally posted on my personal blog,

You can find me on Instagram @thephilosophicalfighter or email me:

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to share.

10 thoughts on “Are You Using Your Fear Properly?

  1. I used to visualize the worst case scenario because I thought that if it happened, I would be prepared. Then the worst case scenario happened once, with the precise facts and even words I visualized. So, now I try to visualize not exactly the worst case scenario, but a bit better than that. Interesting post!

    1. You may have thought it into existence. Lol. Not really though. Perhaps you had a strong intuition in that event. Your suggestion for a lessened negative visualization is solid advice for most, in my opinion. I tend toward extremes unfortunately.

  2. Nice little pep talk. I like this advice, although I would add that I doubt we can always know what the worst case scenario is. As they say, things can always be worse. Perhaps the best we can do is give it our best guess. But a lot of times when I imagine the worst, then dwell on it for a little while, I realize that it’s not that bad. Somehow things have a way of working out, and life goes on.

    1. Great point. Life does go on if we let it. That’s the essence of not letting our fears keep us from life. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Great article! My biggest fear right now is choosing an appropriate stream and consequently, the career best suited for me. For a long time, I was hovering between something related to science (research) and something related to arts (psychology and/or literature) and now, I have taken a big leap by forgoing science. I still do not truly know what I will be doing in the future and am still scared of the prospect of not earning enough money, or being stuck in a job or a location I’m not fond of.
    In India, students who have passed out of 10th grade have to choose one of the three streams: Arts, Science and Commerce, which would decide our higher education and career. I found that most of my peers were certain of what they wished to do, while I wasn’t. I also felt a sort of pressure as I’m usually in the top 3 or 5 of my grade. So my fear is a result of my expectations and ambition. Hopefully, your inputs will help me deal with it.
    Keep it up!

    1. That is quite the decision to make. I spent 12 years as a mechanic. I now teach and run a tutoring center at a college as well as coach martial arts in the evenings. Life has a funny way of changing our plans for us sometimes. You may find the obstacles in your path change your path toward a better one. Thanks for reading and sharing your story.

  4. When I imagined worst case scenario’s in detail, it never unfolded as I thought. With age, I’ve learned things probably will go well. And if they don’t, I’ll adjust.

    1. I agree. Life goes on whether we interpret it as good or bad. Our perceptions of things become our realities much more so than the actual things themselves.

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