Overcome Fear by Facing it Frequently
Monday, Apr 02, 2018

I love creating stuff. Whether it’s code, music, literature, or even just some words that I speak (ask my wife—I love to talk), the act of creating something that someone else can consume and enjoy is thrilling to me.

But I also have a lot of difficulty putting myself out there. It’s a vulnerable thing to create a work of your own and send it out into the world. Why do we tend to be so afraid of putting our creative works out there, and how do we overcome it?

They’re all gonna laugh at you

With any creative content we produce, there is a certain fear—a little voice in our head that says “this is terrible, people are going to think it’s stupid, and you’ll look bad because of it.” And when someone criticizes something that we have created, it can tend to feel like a criticism of our worth as a person.

I’ve recently been planning and preparing to launch a podcast about the best practices for working remotely, and all of the things I’ve learned along the way that I wish I knew starting out.

The idea to start my own podcast flashed through my head at the start of this year, and while I thought the subject was a good one, I initially dismissed the thought as a passing fancy.

As time went on, I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about it (it literally kept me awake at night).

Before I knew it, I had scribbled down a show format, 12 episodes worth of topics, and even a list of guests I would like to interview. No question about it, I was excited about the idea in a big way.

But while I’ve been moving quickly on all of the logistical details around starting a podcast (equipment, hosting, format, topic lists), I’ve been dragging my feet on the most important task: recording the actual audio content.

Why is that? Why do I avoid outlining and recording the podcast audio that will actually accomplish my goal of starting a podcast? Why do I focus on the logistical details instead of the actual creation?

The reason I’m avoiding the creative portion is because it brings my creative work into existence. Once that work exists, it’s able to be judged (first by me, later by the public). If it never exists, there’s nothing to criticize, and no way I can feel embarrassed or look bad because of that creative work.

Repetition and frequency to the rescue

Not long ago I made the switch to taking all my notes digitally instead of in a paper notebook. Having a write-anywhere, available-everywhere solution was a large part of this decision, but the motivating factor was simply that I am much faster at typing than I am at writing.

Writing a note is incredibly fast and convenient now, which results in a much lower mental barrier to jotting down my thoughts. As a result, I have been writing a lot more.

A lot more.

And I’ve noticed that the more I write or create content, the easier it gets. I’ve also noticed that my confidence about what I write has increased dramatically.

I don’t mean that the content of my writing is so good that there is nothing to criticize, only that my fear and worry over what other people will think has lessened significantly.

Why does this work?

When you repeatedly experience a sensation, the intensity of the sensation is lessened. This is true of a drug high or the thrill of riding a rollercoaster, and it is true of fear.

Fear is fueled by unknowns and inexperience. When you do a thing repeatedly, the unknowns are replaced with familiarity, your abilities are honed through experience, and the whole thing tends to become… routine.

The more I write, the more I have to face my fear in a small way. And the more I face that fear, the more brave I become about facing it again. By doing this frequently, I have been able to accumulate a portfolio of little victories, and that quickly boosts confidence and motivation.

Don’t try to avoid failure, strive to overcome it

We often feel as though we must produce perfect content, and that we can’t risk any imperfections or failures. As a result, we convince ourselves not to try very often.

And on the rare occasions where we do decide to put ourselves out there, the pressure is unrealistically high—if we only try something when we believe it will succeed, failure is even more devastating. This is terrible for our confidence and self-esteem. We need frequency of wins, not absence of losses.

What boosts your confidence is not that you never experience failure—on the contrary, you need failure so that you have something to overcome. You need a victory that you had to earn.

I was looking at my notes in the Bear app the other day, and I realized that I have a lot of content, and that a non-trivial portion of it could make a good blog post. But a lot of that content is also sub-standard, incoherent, and/or not fit for public consumption. Here’s why that’s okay:

Our goal, if we wish to overcome the fear of creating, is not to produce one solid-gold creation every once in a while, it is to produce something frequently and consistently. It’s okay if even the majority of it sucks; there will still be diamonds hidden in the rough.