7 Truths About Fear That Build Courage



Can you have courage without fear? By definition, courage is the ability to confront fear and uncertainty. You really can’t have one without the other.

Some of the best things you can do for yourself require courage. Fear is what holds you back. But the two are so interlinked that you can never quite separate them.

What you can do is understand fear and its nature. There are some underlying truths about fear.  Once you understand them, they can help you build courage to do just about anything.

1. Fear only goes away with experience

The first time you try something new is always the scariest. The unknown is a scary place as you face uncertainty. But once you’ve gone there, the fear decreases.

It’s simple. The more you do something, the less scary it becomes. I was extremely afraid the first time I made a presentation to a large group of people. Now that I’ve done it dozens of times and gained that experience, it’s no longer scary. Familiarity lessens fear.

2. The best things worth doing are scary

Turning on the TV isn’t scary. Neither is reading a book or going to eat. Sure, they’re fun activities, but they aren’t exactly life-changing either.

In contrast, moving to another country is scary. Changing careers and getting married are also scary things. But these are the life-changing ones that can radically improve your life. They’re also the things you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Making big changes is scary. That’s why people stay in bad relationships and jobs they hate. But big changes have the biggest payoffs. Watching TV will never have the same payoff.

3. It’s never as dangerous as it appears

Sometimes I look back on some of the scariest moments in my life and wonder what it was that frightened me so much. I felt a lot of fear before traveling abroad for the first time. I had it when I applied to grad school and when I went whitewater rafting.

Now my fears look ridiculous.

Fear is always highest right before you try something new. But it often overblows the danger and underplays the positive things that will happen. So far, nothing I’ve done has ever been as dangerous as I’ve imagined beforehand. Things are usually not as dangerous as you think.

4. You either control fear or it controls you

When evaluating decisions, it’s important to weigh the potential dangers. Being a good decision-maker means knowing about potential pitfalls. But it’s important to make sure that fear doesn’t control you.

Deciding not do something because you’re consciously aware that the dangers are too great is fine. But if you do it because you’re too afraid, you’re letting the fear make the decision for you. Letting fear control your decisions is a great way to miss out on life changing opportunities.

5. Fear is an emotional, not logical response

Most fears are ridiculous and based upon an emotional response. Fear isn’t something you base upon logic; it’s all emotional. What you’re truly afraid of might have no truth in reality.

This becomes apparent when you ask people about their fears and compare them to statistics. I wrote an entire post about this when it comes to travel fears. Most people name crime, disease or even terrorism as their biggest travel fears. No one ever mentioned the biggest statistical danger in traveling abroad: traffic accidents.

6. There are different kinds of fear

Fears aren’t generally alike. For instance, the fear of public speaking isn’t the same kind of fear as the fear of death. You can be in total control of one and still have tremendous fear in the other.

Fear is sometimes battled on a case-by-case basis. I’ve conquered many different types of fear, but I know there are others I haven’t yet. For instance, I don’t fear public speaking or flying, but I’m still frightened of sky diving. So far I don’t have any desire to conquer that fear, but maybe one day I’ll get to it.

7. Even courageous people are afraid

It’s easy to look at someone who’s doing something scary and think they have a special quality that makes them courageous. You might even think they never experience any fear at all.

Everyone experiences fear. Even those people who do extremely bold and crazy things get fear. They’ve just learned to control fear in a way that other people can’t. The fear is definitely real and present for them; it just doesn’t stop them from doing what they want to do.

Overcoming Fear, Building Courage

If there’s one last truth about fear and courage, it’s this: you’ll always have to deal with fear, but you might not always have courage. Unfortunately you need courage to achieve things in life; it’s required to get wherever you want to go. On the bright side, understanding fear can help you make sure fear doesn’t control you and keep courage out of your life altogether.
photo credit: Halley Alexa

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  1. That book is a must. A lot of the points you’ve mentioned are covered and is such a feel good book.

    On top of that, you do have to face the fear. Because you can handle it! That’s all fear is – you can’t handle it, but you can! 😀 You don’t know something will go wrong, and it won’t. Everyone makes mistakes and we always learn from those so it’s not important.

    Do what you want to do!

    • Do what you want to do! So true. When it comes to fear, you have to do what you want to do in spite of being afraid. All fear can be managed. Fear should never hold people back from their goals and dreams.

      It’s true that you don’t know something will go wrong. More often than not, it doesn’t. Fear is not logical.

  2. “No one ever mentioned the biggest statistical danger in traveling abroad: traffic accidents.” Hah! You should have talked to me – that’s what I would have said. I’m great about keeping my fears rational, except when it comes to social things. Then the gates break loose.

    I seem to periodically forget #1 – that at one point, I was scarred crazy. Remembering would do me good the next time I feel afraid.

    • It’s good to keep your fears rational. It gives you a realistic look at the world. That’s great that you know about that travel danger. Most people don’t give traffic accidents much thought while traveling.

      Yeah, the first point is important. Think back to what things scared you when you were younger. For me, many of those fears don’t even register with me anymore. Experience overcomes fear.

  3. Hey Steve,

    another great post & an interesting read as I always find without fail whenever I visit your blog.

    Like a lot of subjects you write about, this one has a huge philosophical side to it and we could probably talk about it for ages. One added dimension I think is interesting and worth considering is the idea that at different moments in our lives we have a different appetite for both ‘fear’ and/or ‘courage’…

    … if our stress levels are quite high (which for a lot of people can be there without them even really knowing it) then we are unlikely to want to spend too much time at the boundaries, whereas if we are feeling really good about life and there’s not much going on that’s taking our emotional energy, we will have a different perspective on those same boundaries.

    i.e. when our stress levels are high, even the tiniest thing can cause us fear.

    • Hey Alan,

      That’s an interesting point. How much does situation affect your level of fear? I agree with what you’re saying. If you’re at the right point in your life, your courage might be high. That could happen when you’re feeling really good about life. You could think of it like when you get a boost of courage. That can totally change how you approach scary situations.

      And when you’re feeling a little low such as when you’re feeling blue or after a setback, you might not be as willing to face your fears.

  4. Michel vasanth says:

    Hello there,

    Coming to the point am just scared of attending interviews all ways,i just tried nlp Interview trigger languages to overcome this fear(AM IN HALFWAY).After reading this post a little enthusiasm touching in my mind,let me get rid of interview fear.

    Millions of thanks to you,i don’t know this post is how much important to everybody else but it is most worth full for me .

    thanks and hugs :)

    • I’m glad you got a lot out of this post and that it helped you get over your fear of interviews. I hope you can overcome it and find the courage so you can do them whenever you need to. Just keep working at it and eventually you’ll get over that fear.

  5. I absolutely agree. Once we get over our discomfort and gives things a try, fear disappears. It gets better every time. Soon we will realize that there is little to fear in the first place. It is also important to remember that even those who are successful had to face their fears too once upon a time. We just got to get up and go!

    Thanks for the inspiration, Steve!

    • Yes, it’s strange how often you overcome a fear only to look back and wonder what you had to fear in the first place. Many fears I’ve tackled in the past eventually made me realize that there was no reason to be afraid at all. Interesting how that works.


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