Posted in On confidence

Quest For Confidence Part 10: You Can’t Fight Your Fear So Don’t Try

It’s been over a year since I picked up Russ Harris’ The Confidence Gap (part 1 is here), that amusing self-help book which flies in the face of platitudes and crap about “positive thinking”. It takes an altogether rational and realistic approach which is why I chose to get it. I haven’t really needed it recently, but decided to pick it up again for curiosity. It’s proven a great companion to the NHS recommended Overcoming Low Self Esteem.

The main messages of the book so far has been:

  • Positive thinking doesn’t work – ever.
  • Positive thinking is actually dangerous to our collective mental health. It’s also insulting to suggest that all we need in life is to think positively for things to go well
  • Fear, paranoia and avoidance tactics are a perfectly normal part of self-preservation as an evolutionary response to threat
  • Self-styled confidence gurus and life coaches do nothing positive and end up making people feel worse
  • Confidence cannot be imposed or forced
  • Embrace your fears – they may one day save your life and can be a great motivator for change if you allow them to be

In the last part, it dealt with our fears – how to handle them and how to work with them instead of using some of the common unhelpful tactics in dealing with them and most importantly, how to “give it space“, acknowledging it. This is a fairly common tactic in deeper mindfulness exercises too, not to try to suppress distractions but to work with them and make them part of your routine.

Now at the end of part 4, he delivers the killer message on dealing with fear and it goes against all received “wisdom” from the ten-a-penny snake oil sales people with their imagined qualifications and unhelpful advice.

“Don’t fight your fear;  allow it, befriend it and channel it.”

It’s never going to go away and you can’t suppress it without them eventually coming back with a vengeance. No amount of positive thinking is ever going to help and will lead to further avoidance tactics so all you can do is accept it and work with it. You don’t have to like your fear, but recognise the benefits you get from it, that is, in understanding that it is an anxiety response to a challenge or a threat. You wouldn’t wish to remove fear from your life even if you could.

He finishes by explaining how to channel it and demonstrating how people in prominent positions do it all the time. The adrenaline we feel from fear can be channelled into a positive way – we call it “feeling pumped”, “feeling primed”, “buzzing” and simply “full of juice”. I’m sure we’ve all had moments like that but we don’t recognise it as fear despite that the adrenaline and our anxiety responses are the same. The only difference is how we feel it and what we do with it.

It’s not easy but it can be done and we usually do it involuntarily. Who loves rollercoasters? I know I do and that feeling of fear is like a wave filling the body with energy. It’s addictive and it feels good, but it is still fear and the same fear we feel as when doing something we don’t want to do. We get off on the adrenaline rush, we have the same physical responses during and after and when we disembark the ride we tell ourselves “wow, that was f*cking awesome!” That’s fear harnessed, that’s having a positive relationship with fear, that’s fear Accepted, Befriended and Channelled.

So less Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and more realising that fear can be your friend.



I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

5 thoughts on “Quest For Confidence Part 10: You Can’t Fight Your Fear So Don’t Try

  1. “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” is a book, isn’t it?

    A very close friend of mine is a Marine and fought in Afghanistan. He said the best way to cope with fear was to act like you were already dead. Rather than fear getting killed, you already dead. He also said, avoiding fear, especially in battle *will* get you killed. Furthermore, he states that during training, they teach you to deal with fear and how to think through the fear.

    As for all those “ten-a-penny snake oil sales people” my feeling is simply this: Some people are meant to be rich, famous, super successful and some are not. We cannot all be these things, the world cannot support that many prima ballerinas. People who have *made it* like Tony Robinson, try to come up with a formula for their success when IMHO, it cannot be analyzed there is no one size fits all formula. What worked for his success may not work for another. Personally, I am a believer in determinism — everything is already preordained. Tony Robinson is successful because that’s the role he is supposed to play. That was predetermined.

    In terms of fear. I fear a lot of things and avoid some of those fears at all costs, like flying. I hate flying. I hate airports and will avoid them at all costs.

    Other fears of mine, I deal with or as stated, work through them.

    I think I need to read that book.

    1. Yes, it is a book but I haven’t read it. My ex did and had very mixed feelings.

      It sounds like your friend was taught to harness and accept fear instead of suppressing it or giving in to it. Does that sound about right?

      By snake oil salesmen I meant pseudopsychologists who do more harm than good, armchair therapists and psychologists and “life coaches” and people like that who make money at other peoples’ misery. I really loath them. The former friend I mentioned before (Miss X) tried to offer some very unhelpful advice when I was going through a bout of depression about positive thinking and the law of attraction. I always hated it and I resented it then because she was blissfully unaware of the scale of my depression based on her misunderstanding of the illness and because she thinks such things can be easily cured with those “remedies”.

      By all means read The Confidence Gap it’s refreshing and amusing as well as helpful.

      1. Makes total sense and I agree with you 100%. I do not have a whole lot of respect for those life coaches and pseudopsychologists. Bunch of quacks.

        Full Disclosure: I hired a life coach once. She was fine but charged me a lot of money for no real tangible advice. I mean, she wasn’t a therapist, which is what I really needed and should have sought out at that time.

        Quite frankly, it wasn’t until later that I realize, all she was doing was trying to find a way to stay home, not work in corporate America and earn a living. So hey! Become a life coach. No real degree required.

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