How to face down the things that scare you

The first time a senior performed a chokehold on me from behind, I freaked out and had to take a time-out.

That was five years ago. I had just started martial arts training, and I was not used to the level of physicality and how confrontational some of the moves were.

Right now I’m learning offence and defence with the hanbo (the short stick), and part of the training requires that when an attacker comes at me with a weapon, I am to duck under the arc of their outstretched arm and find ways to disarm them. To do that, I have to step towards them, which means I have to get up close.

My intuitive reaction is to turn my back and run, putting as much distance as possible between us. I mean, who in their right mind runs towards an attacker?

I see this analogy at play in business too.

We are beset by fears, self-doubt, setbacks, and our instinct is to turn our back on them and run the other way.

The trouble is that the threat hasn’t gone away or been undermined or removed. It has merely been postponed.

What if instead we were to turn and meet the threat head on, make eye contact, and send them the strong message that we are not afraid, and we are not going anywhere until we have successfully dealt with them?

What would happen to that fear, self-doubt, and setback then?

They would be surprised, disarmed, and rendered powerless, just as the attacker with the weapon when faced with a skilled defender. Which is not to say the defender will not have first endured a thousand cuts and bruises from mis-timed moves and uncoordinated reflexes during practices, but eventually the defender gains the confidence and smoothness of a master and the fear no longer has power over them. They know how close to get so they don’t get hit, time their movements precisely, and disarm their attacker without blinking.

In the same way, we can use this counterintuitive response when asked to do the things that most scare us, be it to speak to a live audience, sell from the stage, or simply tell people what we do for a living.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.