As written by Tony Blauer
How many of you realize Tyson used to cry and even throw up before his fights? How many of you knew that George “Rush” St-Pierre dreaded fight day? In fact, he has publicly said the worst day of his life was “fight day.” They sure didn’t look scared! Learn how to overcome your worst fear and use it to empower your life instead.
A good friend of mine named Damon D’Amore and I were talking this weekend, and he reminded me of a brilliant line from another friend, the author of Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield, who wrote, “Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared.” I love that. So, what’s the lesson here? Well, there are many, but here are two immediate thoughts:
Overcome Your Fear Today!
- Our heroes experience fear but move towards the danger, the challenge, and the goal despite fear.
- Parents and teachers (mostly) don’t know how to teach their kids how to think about or manage fear.
Had I known this or been taught how to think differently to overcome my fear, my life would have been very different. As a young athlete, no one talked about fear. I’d watch skiers, wrestlers, gymnasts, boxers and martial artists and wondered how they could compete at such a high level without fear. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Little did I know.
I went pretty deep into this topic with Michael Gervais, one of the world’s great sports psychologists. Shortly after our podcast, UFC legend Forrest Griffin posted this to his Twitter feed. “Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared.” This tweet put a big smile on my face.
These two simple thoughts would’ve changed my life.The more time I spend teaching people to reframe fear, the more I realize how important it is to teach people that fear is real. But fear can be managed, and it can be turned into a fuel you consume to supercharge yourself.We can’t eliminate fear. It will be there, and generally, it’s a surprise, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one wakes up and says, “I hope life scares the shit out of me today.”Make fear your friend and your life changes.
My Fear Of Fear
As a lifelong martial artist, I always wrestled with fear. When I trained, sparred or competed, the “weight of fear” always distracted me from enjoying the experience, peaking or hitting the elusive flow state.
Dan Millman, the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, wrote, “If you face just one opponent and you doubt yourself, you are outnumbered.” When I finally grasped Millman’s message, it changed everything for me.
- Self-doubt creates hesitation. If you’re sparring or fighting, you’ve already missed the target.
- Hesitation leads to procrastination. In relationships, business and life. This leads to lost opportunities.
- Procrastination leads to fixation. Fear unchecked is the killer of dreams. Remember the “Rocking Chair Test.”
I’ve now spent decades studying fear, and I created a counterintuitive system to help make fear work for us instead of against us. I wish I had learned how to “lean into fear” decades ago. It would’ve improved how I taught and coached self-defense and martial arts. There is no such thing as “no fear” but there sure is a way to get to [k]no[w] fear and have it guide you.
When you don’t understand “fear,” it’s the weapon. When you study fear, it takes on a metaphorical nutritional role…You eat your fears. You learn to look fear in the eyes, it feeds you…When you consume fear as “fuel,” you become the weapon.
Real Life Fear
When was the last time you actually got into a physical altercation? Unless you’re active duty law enforcement, military, corrections or first responder, you probably can’t remember. For most of us, thankfully, this isn’t a regular occurrence.
Fear is like your personal mugger that robs you of time you can’t replace. Understanding the fear and appreciating its role in your survival has great value. But not every scenario is resolved with two palm strikes to the head. Movement is mental; it only happens after we have reconciled the fear spike. Does that make sense? We make strategic choices when there is greater clarity of mind. Managing fear is the inner battle that must take place before you can deploy the optimal strategy.
As a dad, husband, business owner and entrepreneur, I get fear spikes fairly regularly. I used to be very reactive but, over time, have learned to use fear as a signal to look at why I was in a fear loop. It’s an ongoing process. Real-life is like a rollercoaster comprised of micro-confrontations. How we handle them influences the quality of our day…and week…and so on.
Now when was the last time you played some crazy scenario in your mind worrying about a person, a relationship, a job or an email you sent? Or had an adrenaline dump triggered by a text message, an email, a misunderstanding, an argument, a jerk in line, people talking during a movie, the list goes on. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve wasted overthinking stuff because of worry. The sudden adrenaline dump is the physiological response, but how we relate to it or interpret it is psychological.
F.U.C.K. FEAR Formula
I created the F.U.C.K. FEAR. formula to remind us it’s a process. There isn’t really a state of “no fear,” but if you study it well, it’s all about getting to “know fear” and making it work for you.
Here’s the formula:
It’s a pretty cool acronym. It’s easy to say to yourself when you feel fear coming on. The formula is very straightforward, therefore, easy to use. You can learn more about the entire system on our website.
Fear As Fuel
As I wrote earlier, I was always afraid. I think I was literally afraid of my shadow—at least it felt like that. As a kid, I was afraid of the water. I learned how to swim after my mom threw me in a lake from a rowboat (they did things differently in the 1960s). I grew up on skis and skied competitively for years. I was always afraid to lose and to win. I hated competitions. My mind prevented me from enjoying the competition. I wrestled with our school team, but I don’t remember the competitions because of my fear. I never realized my potential as an athlete because of fear. Does that sound familiar?
No one was talking about fear. No one was teaching fear management. I started studying martial arts after getting attacked before starting high school. My goal was purely self-defense, and without realizing it, I was in the martial pipeline. I wanted a black belt; I wanted to progress. I was in the system and going to competitions. And there I was afraid again—not of my skill, but it was the performance anxiety surrounding competition.
All my life, fear prevented me from fully experiencing and enjoying whatever event, relationship or scenario I was involved in. “Enjoyment” is paramount to getting in the proverbial flow state, or The Zone, but that negative voice was always nagging me in the back of my mind.
Teaching and Understanding
It wasn’t until the late ’80s, after teaching for almost a decade and running hundreds of force-on-force scenarios (originally called The Panic Attack Drill) that I developed a system to help my students manage their fear. Today that program is better known as KNOW FEAR. In the ’80s, it was called the Cerebral Self-Defense Program, and it was built on the Cycle of Behavior.
Today, the program enjoys a worldwide reputation for its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s been taught in hospitals, to psychologists, to teachers and to parents. For those of you who know my combatives background, it was first vetted by elite military units, SWAT, police, airline pilots post 9/11, businessmen and women, people of all walks of life, and the list goes on.
I’m most excited because parents have finally discovered it. We had a father get his teenage daughter off antidepressants using the system. Another mom taught her son how to overcome his fear of swimming (without almost drowning him like me!). Some stories I get literally make my eyes well up. I wish my parents understood the role fear plays in kids’ lives and taught me how to re-think fear.
The variables for understanding fear and how it changes the conversations in your mind are endless. The applications for this are too many to mention. I believe everything we do runs through a fear loop to determine if this is good/bad, desirable/less-desirable, dangerous/safe and so on. The ability to use the “fear spike” like a radar blip is what we’re talking about here. Is that blip safe or something I need to assess?
Overcome your Fear!
The science and psychology of fear management require training. Learning how to overcome your fear requires discipline and practice. My goal is to get enough people talking about this and teach others how to look at fear differently so that one day our children are taught a course in school called KNOW FEAR. Imagine how different the world would be if we taught kids how to look at fear, investigate it and their feelings and thoughts, how to demystify challenges, and so on. How would that change lives? That’s how big this is. What’s holding you back from doing what you need to do? The root cause is always “fear.”
Fear creates doubt and doubt triggers hesitation…This is the tactical moment for introspection. If you don’t have the tools to do this, you’re left with the psychological feelings associated with this state. This becomes a vicious cycle between your physiology and psychology, where your mind manufacturers images to support the bad feelings. Unresolved fear or undefined fear can produce anxiousness and more. True situational awareness is understanding where you are in your head.
Embrace The Fear
Tyson and St-Pierre figured out how to overcome fear. They were never macho about it. They figured out how to confront it and do what they had to do in spite of its presence and with time and practice, they learned to integrate their relationship with fear into their pre-contest rituals.
This is what it means to turn fear into fuel. What if you made fear your fuel? What if the “fear spike” was like a radar blip that you need to investigate? (Is that an airplane or missile? Do I need to take action? Do other people need to know? And so on.) That’s the F.U.C.K. FEAR formula!
I promise you when you change your relationship with fear, you change your mind, when you change your mind, you can literally change your life.
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