It’s a phrase I recall my father saying to me when I was a teenager. As with many of his quoted or invented idioms, I dismissed it as a casual “Dad” saying with a roll of my eyes and the kind of smirk that only a worldly and wise young lady of fourteen can muster. But those words of Eleanor Roosevelt, for whatever reason more so than many others, sunk in and took hold. Perhaps they tickled the adventurous and fearless spirit I had exhibited from a young age, drawing my curiosity to things unknown. Or maybe some part of me recognized the value in challenging oneself on a daily basis.
Fear comes in many forms. Spiders, heights, and death can cause hearts to skip beats and faces to blanch, but there are more subtle fears that can motivate with just as much force. Rejection, commitment, speaking up, meeting new people, uncertainty of the future. Some of the things that I do on a regular basis (skydiving, for one) don’t induce a tangible, psychological fear response in my body quite the same way that they do for others, but other things, like confrontation, can give me the heebie-jeebies.
Fear is a great motivator for day-to-day actions and broader life decision-making. Consider some of the things you avoid on a daily basis… parallel parking, phone calls, mental math, telling the stranger in the grocery store how you really feel when he winks at you. It’s easy to claim you simply don’t want to do such things, but I’d argue that behind your aversion is fear. It could be fear of failure or fear of success, fear of the unknown or the equally terrifying fear of the known. And maybe you’re not ready to break those habits, and maybe you never will be.
But if a small part of you wants to do all of those little things without thinking twice, give it a shot. The purpose of this exercise is to transform small fears into tiny instances of increased control and empowerment. It’s a means to thwart stagnation in your habits, to push your own limits of comfort and security. The fewer self-imposed limits we have, the more you’ll feel like a superhero.
In doing one thing every day that scares me, I am not looking to illicit terror, sweats, or a state of panic. What I aim to do is conquer a small challenge and in doing so gain a fractional amount of self-confidence and satisfaction. Additionally, if you’re having a particularly boring day, mastering something that scares you can be a highlight.
So what on earth am I talking about? Here’s an example. I find that when I’m in public places, I see strangers in whom I admire certain qualities in: humor, grace, wit, physical attractiveness or the sound of their laugh. A comment such as, “you’re hilarious!” is easy enough, but telling someone honestly, “I’m drawn to your personality and I’d like to be friends with you” is, for me, a whole different ball game. When I do muster up the cajones to do it, it gives me a thrill. A little high. Maybe they look at me like I just sprouted a third ear, but it’s not the quality of their receptiveness that matters – it’s the way I feel after doing something that I’d normally shy away from. It feels great.
Recently I walked into a room full of a group of friendly people I barely knew. They were taking turns reading random poems from a book aloud with a beat playing in the background. Next thing I knew, the book was being handed to me and I heard jibes of “your turn!” from all around the room. I politely and firmly declined, over and over again. Later, I was kicking myself. What was I afraid of? Embarrassment? Making a fool of myself? Not being the best? I believe that I have far more regret over not trying something foreign to me than being the source of good natured laughter among strangers.
Oftentimes the source of fear is obscured, and the biggest barrier in overcoming it is acknowledging that any perceived threats are smaller than your mind would like you to believe. In terms of risk vs. reward, the risk is small, the potential reward is big. What do you really have to lose by requesting a promotion you feel you deserve? If anything, any boss worth their stuff will respect your gumption even if they can’t grant your request. Doing one thing every day that scares you is not about the outcome, it’s about the process.
I’ve realized that this mantra does not have to be interpreted literally. It was an idea floating around in my mind for many years before I tried to make a habit of it. But training your mind to consider things that you normally balk at is a great first step.
Change a tire on your car, so when you really need to, you’ll know how. Submit an article to an online magazine. Ride the elevator. Get up at the bar and do karaoke! (There’s always someone worse than you). Pitch a crazy idea. Wear those ridiculous pink tiger leggings with gold chains to Zumba class. Be brave. Have courage. Let these tiny accomplishments build up your reserves for when you face the heavy artillery. C’mon, Nike generation… just do it.