Overcome Fear, Become More Awesome
By Alexander Shih-Ming Ku
I will not fear,
Fear is the mind-killer.
I will face my fear.
I will let it pass through me.
Where the fear has gone,
there shall be nothing.
Only I will remain.
From DUNE by Frank Herbert
Fear, though primal, is a wasted emotion. It brings about inaction, and inaction leads to a slow death, the slow death of lost opportunities and regret. As life is a series of challenges placed before you, why would anyone want to waste time and effort worrying? Instead, confront the problem, break it down, challenge the issues, and, with hard work, overcome it. As you dwell on a fear before an event, you become locked into inaction, but you should never let these stressful situations hold you back. You have a job to do. You have a task to accomplish. Do you step forward and try…or do you lose your chance?
In my own life I have been challenged with two main fears, that of public speaking and a fear of heights. Looking back, this seems very ironic in that I am currently a teacher that can’t stay quiet anywhere, and one of my more daring hobbies is rock climbing.
My fear of heights is limited to extreme heights, such as looking down from windows of tall buildings or overlooking the edge of the Grand Canyon. So in this case fear is more of an inconvenience than a life-altering dilemma, such as public speaking. One of the more painful memories of this fear limiting me would be early in middle school when I was given a class assignment to recite a poem. I had read the assignment a handful of times, and was given a day or so to prepare, but when it came time to recite my poem to the class, I could not overcome the rumbling of my stomach, the sweat on my brow, and the pounding of my heart. I ran out of class too embarrassed to continue. This led me to fail that poem recital.
To rectify these issues, I started simply. I began by taking leadership roles in my karate and scouting troop. Then I took my fear of public speaking and broke it down to the basics of why I was so fearful. When I realized it was my lack of confidence and competence in the subject I was assigned to work on, preparation become my shield against fear. I studied and researched the materials, worked with friends and family to practice and rehearse these types of speeches, and when the material became second nature, the fear melted away. After honing my skills and taking the baby steps needed to accomplish the task of public speaking, the fear became just a wisp of its former self.
With my fear of heights, I just needed to trust in my skills, in my tools, and in my partners, as well as the deep understanding that what supported or stabilized me would not give way. With practice and repetition, my fear of heights became a joy of success in overcoming a difficult climb. The physically demanding task of rock climbing and the fear associated with it…became a hobby.
Now when I see Fear, I step back and look at the big picture. I decide what I will need to do to overcome the problem, I ready myself, and then I attack.
The specific mechanism behind fear is a complex one that first involves an interaction with a stressor, followed by the body responding with a release of adrenaline (the more common term for epinephrine). This neurochemical courses through the blood stream increasing heart rate, dilating the blood vessels to increase blood and oxygen flow to skeletal muscles, and stimulating the release of glucose from energy stores. Added to this effect, is pupil dilation. The purpose of this is to provoke one of two possible reactions: fight or flight. When in this state, you may experience what is often described as a feeling of butterflies in your stomach, along with a massive surge of energy and an increased vision as to your current reality. You can use this aroused state to either fight, in an attempt to overcome the problem, or run and continue living in fear. The more situations you run from, the more your body and mind become accustomed to losing to fear.
Steps to Overcoming Fear:
1. Rehearse, practice, and prepare: Know the enemy, plan for the enemy, and practice overcoming your enemy. This can be an academic test, asking someone out, or even jumping out of an airplane.
2. Healthy body: Getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep severely unbalances your neurochemicals and limits your ability to make the harder choices.
3. Healthy mind: Reduce stressors in your life. Being stressed over non-essentials makes you more susceptible to fear.
4. Small steps: In life, when faced with an impossible task, break down the problem and tackle it one piece at a time.
5. Getting help and guidance: We live in society and in groups, so we need to take advantage of them. A teammate, a friend, your family…each can be useful in helping overcome challenges and facing fears by sharing tactics and skills, or just providing support.
6. Momentum: When you get a good movement forward, don’t immediately start running, but definitely don’t stop. When you get good at a skill, keep practicing, keep challenging yourself to do more.
7. Reward your personal successes: Treat yourself and make sure that you acknowledge your achievements. Put them down in writing and take a picture.
8. Analyze failures: Plot out the reasons for failure, and plan alternative methods of attack.
I will leave you now with this final quote of inspiration as told to me by my karate sensei:
Remember the past,
Plan for the future,
Live and cherish the Now,
As it is a gift,
Called the Present.
Alexander Shih-Ming Ku is a biology teacher at Coachella Valley High School. When not showing the students how to develop and nurture a long and healthy human existence, he is training and advising students on how to physically and mentally dismantle opponents under the guise of self-defense karate. He currently resides in Indio, California with his wife, and fellow teacher, Anna.
Standards-based questions for this essay.
Standards-based questions for this essay.