February 20, 2023
min read

Fear: The Diagnosis & Cure You Need

How To Cure The Disease We All Have

“The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself.”

Wallace D. Wattles

When we’re young, we see fear as a “thing”. Spiders are scary or heights are frightening. Those are the fears that dominate our lives. But as we grow older, fear isn’t something we encounter, it’s something that’s part of us. When fear is external, it’s easy to fight — we squish the spider, or we close our eyes and jump off the diving board. But when fear is internal, it feels like we’re fighting against ourselves.

That’s how this post was born. It was inspired by Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich where he discusses fear as though it was a disease. Instead of addressing fear as a characteristic of ourselves, he goes over the diagnosis and symptoms of various types of fear. Framing fear this way, as a disease of the mind, gives us the power to start “curing” ourselves… so we can get back to doing what we want with our lives.

What is Fear?

Fear is a number of paralyzing conditions that generally lead to a lack of action, avoidance of risk, and a rejection of opportunities. People with fear may find difficulty in achieving their goals, finding happiness, or embracing life. Symptoms often differ from person and person and depend on the strand of fear they have been afflicted with.

Fear can affect everybody regardless of age, gender, or social class. It can continue even once “success” is achieved. People with fear are often held back by it throughout life. It is a contagious condition. Research has shown that spending excessive amounts of time with those who have contracted fear leads to a higher probability of falling victim to fear as well. It transfers from person to person through negative influences, conversations, and thought. While mild fears are non-threatening and even healthy, extreme fear can lead to problems in relationships, self-esteem, career advancement, health, and happiness.

Currently, the only cure for fear is through your own will. Fear is a disease of the mind and people with fear must manage fear with decision and small actions. While most types of fear are non-threatening (such as fear of spiders, heights, or closed spaces), some are classified as critical because they paralyze action and prevent you from achieving your potential.

There are 5 main types of critical fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear of discomfort, and fear of change.

All types of critical fears have something in common. They paralyze action, lead to self-sabotage, and an inability to achieve success.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is one of the most common types of critical fear. This fear is often caused by a point of realization that failure is a possibility. The more the individual focuses on the fear, the greater the fear becomes. If the individual focuses solely on the fear, rather than the actions necessary to prevent failure, failure becomes inevitable. A common misconception about the fear of failure is that it can be beaten by success. However, research has shown that fear of failure can grow with success and there is little correlation between the fear of failure and the success an individual achieves. Fear of failure becomes critical when it overpowers the desire to succeed.

Common symptoms include: procrastination, reluctance to try your best and an unwillingness to take risks. Other symptoms include: reluctant to commit to goals, lack of enthusiasm, procrastination, self-sabotage and lack of focus. Often these actions make failure self-fulfilling because they sabotage your own success.

Fear of failure can only be cured by embracing failure as inevitable. It is beaten by a change in mindset. Failure must be seen as a tool for learning, rather than a dead end. To overcome a fear of failure, doctors often prescribe three alternative solutions:

1) Do something you’re GUARANTEED to fail at

This is often effective in helping you change your perspective. By doing an activity that guarantees failure, you’re forced to enjoy the process of learning and doing instead of focusing solely on the end result. If the fear of failure is not deeply entrenched, often this activity is effective enough to remind you of the enjoyment of learning. However, research has shown that when the fear of failure is deep, individuals refuse to partake in this activity at all.

2) Identify the root cause

Often a fear of failure is rooted in an entirely different fear. For some it may be a fear that others will lose respect for them and for others, it may be fear of the consequences of failure (such as poverty). By identifying the root cause, it can help you see failure in a different light. It may also provide an alternative solution and show you that failure will not lead to the results you fear.

3) Start small — Do something you can’t fail at

If you aren’t willing to try remedy #1, this is the opposite version. If fear of failure is preventing you from taking action at all, start small. If you’re so scared of failing as a writer than you don’t ever start, just set a goal to write one 500 word short-story. As long as you put in the time and effort, you’re guaranteed to succeed at that goal. Let each success motivate you to take another step forward.

Fear of Success

Fear of success is just as common as the fear of failure. Often the fear of success occurs when success becomes visible. When individuals are the verge of success have this fear, they often become edgy and agitated. At its core, the fear of success is a lack of confidence that you can handle the responsibilities that success will create. When success is achieved, you enter into unchartered territory and you’ll be forced to step outside of your comfort zone. Other causes of a fear of success are a fear of selling out or a fear of changing. (Read more about the root causes of fear of success here.)

Fear of success becomes critical when it ends up sabotaging your success. Common symptoms include: making up excuses, always being “busy”, creating distractions, unwillingness to clearly define “success”.

Fear of success can be cured with 3 simple exercises:

1) Remind yourself how awesome success is

What do you still want in life that you don’t have yet? These usually aren’t material possessions but can be things like confidence, financial security, or freedom. How will success help you earn these things?

2) Remember the last big success you had

Ask yourself these questions: How did you feel before it? How did you feel after it? How did you cope with the change that came with the success and how did your life change for the better? Often this exercise helps people remember that they’ve felt this fear, and has overcome it before.

3) Write yourself a letter

If your fear of success is grounded in a fear that you’ll sell out or change after success, write yourself a letter. Express how you feel now and promise yourself that you will continue grounded in your morals and values despite success. Write down what might indicate that you’re changing, so your future self can be kept in check. For example, you may be proud that you always take the time to keep in touch with your friends and you’re scared that success will pull you away from them. Write down an “indication” for your future self, such as “I have not had a long dinner and good conversation with a close friend in 2 weeks”. When you achieve success, you can use that indication as a check. If you ever go longer than 2 weeks without reaching out to a friend, then it’ll be time to re-evaluate. By writing a letter, you can feel more confident that you won’t change for the worse once you achieve success.

Fear of Criticism

Fear of criticism is commonly developed the earliest. This fear is often created in children when they face schoolyard ridicule by their peers or harsh criticism by an admired authority figure. When the individual focuses on the fear, their identity becomes grounded in the opinions and perceptions of others. Rather than being themselves and having their own thoughts, they opt to blend into the crowd to avoid criticism. A common misconception about the fear of criticism is that it can be beaten by doing everything “right”. However, doing so often only leads to other types of criticism. Fear of criticism becomes critical when it leads to an abandoning of your dreams and goals.

Common symptoms include: a lack of ambition and initiative, self-consciousness, lack of personality, and over-caution. Other symptoms include an inferiority complex, extravagance, unwillingness to take risks, over-defensiveness, and reluctance to give opinions.

Similar to the fear of failure, a fear of criticism can only be cured by embracing criticism as inevitable. It is beaten by a decision to decide to not care what others think. Overcoming a fear of criticism also involves developing the ability to separate criticism from advice, and to only take the constructive elements to heart. If you have been diagnosed with a fear of criticism, try these 3 common solutions:

1) Repeat affirmations

Often the biggest source of criticism comes from ourselves. Repeating affirmations changes the narrative in our minds to be constructive and supportive instead. Affirmations that work are, “I am the architect of my life. I get to choose what I let into my world.” or “I am superior to negative thoughts, non-constructive criticism, and misplaced judgments of my action.” For more positive affirmations, go here.

2) Write down your worst criticisms

What criticisms do you fear most? Write them down so you can face your fear head on. Often, the act of writing down the criticisms you fear hearing take the power right out of them. Realize they are just words and often, they are simply incorrect judgments by others.

3) Seek out criticism

Try doing something that isn’t tied to your overall life goal and seek out criticism. For example, (if you’re not a painter), try going to a painting class and bringing your work back for others to see. Invite criticism and opinions from those who love and care about you. Often, their criticisms are not so critical, rather they simply want to help you improve. Facing criticism head-on with something minor can make you realize it’s not so bad!

“People refuse to take chances in business because they fear the criticism which may follow if they fail. The fear of criticism, in such cases, is stronger than the desire for success.”

Napoleon Hill, Think & Grow Rich

Fear of Discomfort

In our modern world, the fear of discomfort is often psychological or emotional, rather than physical. Fear of discomfort is often developed once an individual has reached a minor level of success or was thrust out of their comfort zone. It may be experiences such as getting a new job and feeling inadequate at their new workplace. For others, the fear may come from a failed relationship where they experienced emotional discomfort. When individuals focus on the fear, soon opportunity becomes equated to pain. People with a fear of discomfort becomes critical when it leads to an extreme risk-averseness and unwillingness for new opportunities.

Common symptoms include: an unwillingness to try new things, reluctance to commit, anxiety and chronic pain. Almost all growth occurs by stepping slightly out of our comfort zones so a fear of discomfort will lead to stagnation in personal growth, career advancement, or relationships.

A fear of discomfort can only be overcome mentally because discomfort is in the mind. It is overcome by the decision that you will be able to handle any discomfort that you need to. If you have a fear of discomfort, try these 2 solutions:

1) Make yourself slightly uncomfortable

If you easily feel emotional pain, inflict minor discomfort by connecting with the world around you. Instead of jumping with both feet in, just dip one toe in. If you’re uncomfortable with doing physical activity, just start off by running a minute by yourself instead of joining a fitness club right away. Or if you’re uncomfortable with social situations, just try to say hi to a friends’ friend, rather than jumping into a networking event.

2) Total immersion

The opposite strategy of trying it in small doses is complete immersion. Instead of running minute by yourself or saying hi, total immersion would be joining a week-long fitness boot camp and going on a retreat. Sometimes this total immersion can be so overwhelming that all the fear goes away. Your mind and body are incredibly adaptable and being forced to accept total discomfort can wipe away all fears.

Fear of Change

Fear of change can stop us from moving forward. This fear is one of the most paralyzing because it causes individuals to hold on to the past or the present regardless of how safe the future may be. A fear of change often comes from an unwillingness to let go of what we have now, or a fear that the future will be worse than the present.

Individuals with a fear of change often believe that doing nothing will prevent change, but that is often not the case. Fear of change becomes critical when it prevents individuals to move forward. This can cause problems in personal development, career advancements, relationships, and health. It often halts achievements, success, and happiness.

Common symptoms include: a reluctance to try new things, over-caution, worrying, nostalgia and a lack of enthusiasm for the future. It often leads to missed opportunities which only increases the fear.

Fear of change can only be cured by embracing change and uncertainty as inevitable. It is beaten by a decision to accept that we cannot prevent change but we control what type of change we experience. To overcome a fear of change, there are three commonly prescribed solutions:

1) Take control of change

Instead of having change be something that happens to you based on other people’s decisions, initiate change on your own. Instead of waiting for the next round of layoffs, start looking for a new job now. This way, you’re creating a positive change (switching jobs), rather than being forced to deal with a negative change (being laid off).

2) Create a Plan B

Often a fear of change is caused by a feeling that you’re “locked in” to whatever happens next. Instead of making big leaps that leave no way out, always plan major changes to allow you to change plans if needed. This can help overcome your fear because no change is final. If you’re scared of moving to a new country, start by testing it out for a couple months first. That way, if the change isn’t for you, you can always come back home with few consequences.

The Cure

These 5 types of critical fear — fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear of discomfort, and fear of change — are common. Everyone has experienced at least one, if not all, of these fears at some point. These fears aren’t necessarily bad either, a little bit of fear can be a positive thing. A small fear of failure can prevent you from taking unnecessary risks and a fear of criticism makes you consider others.

Fear becomes critical only when it paralyzes action. If your fear is holding you back from life, from opportunities, and from success then it’s time to start curing your fear. The good news is that one cure can solve all your fears: decision. Fear is a disease of the mind and it can only be managed with decisions. Decisions lead to small actions and small actions turn into big actions.

If you’ve got a fear of failure, you’ll find the cure in making the decision that you’ll be able to handle the consequences (and learning experience) of failure. A fear of success can be cured by the decision to not let success change or scare you. If you’ve got a fear of criticism, the cure lies in you; you’ve got to make the decision to stop caring what others think. And if you fear discomfort, the decision that discomfort is necessary for growth will make that fear disappear. The decision to accept change as inevitable and take control of it can cure your fear of change.

So before you go about the rest of your day, ask yourself, what fear am I diagnosed with and how will I cure it?

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie


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