Learn why fear doesn’t hold Aaron Tang back anymore.
You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage.
Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery.
And I promise you, something great will come of it.
― Benjamin Mee,
When I was 15, I was dying to talk to the prettiest girl in my class.
Sometimes she sat just three feet away in front of me. But I was too shy and too scared.
Until the Internet came along. Then I messaged her on IRC. (If you don’t know what IRC is, it’s basically the ugly ancestor of Facebook chat). And we became the weirdest type of friends ever: I would chat with her online, but never said anything to her in class. I was too scared to even look her in the eye.
Thankfully, I’m a little braver today. But more importantly, I’ve learned ways to take action even when I’m dead scared.
If you’ve ever wanted to do something, but it feels so scary that you’re stuck—here are some ideas that might help.
1. Let Yourself Be Inspired
When you’re afraid of doing something, don’t run away and watch reruns of Friends to distract yourself. Instead, look for inspiration.
The Internet makes that really easy. Whether it’s TED talks, Youtube videos of someone who’s actually done it, or some random author’s book—you can find inspiration that works for you.
Fill your head with inspiration until you finally start to think “maybe I could do it too.” This is especially important when you try things, fail and feel discouraged. When you question whether you’re really worthy enough to do things.
Because you definitely are.
2. Ditch Your Negative Friends
Some of your friends love you and want you to become the best person you can be. Some of your friends love you the way you are and don’t want you to change at all.
You’ll hear it from them when you try to do anything. Change your diet, and they’ll give you twenty reasons why diets don’t work. Read a book on entrepreneurship, and they’ll tell you that most entrepreneurs fail. Start saving money, and they’ll tell you the economy is screwed anyway.
But it’s not about you. It’s really about them. They feel uncomfortable when you try to make your life better. It makes them feel bad.
So spare everyone the pain, and ditch your negative friends. Hang out with people who genuinely support you instead.
But what if most people you know are negative like that?
Ditch them anyway. It’s better to be lonely than to drown in hopelessness.
Besides, maybe they’ll come back to you when they see the light.
3. Start with the Smallest Micro-Step
I learned this when I hung out in bars with an ex-pickup artist. He would ask me to approach women and talk to them.
I don’t know about you, but my brain recoils in horror whenever I have to talk to a stranger. Especially a lady. In that few seconds, it’ll throw up excuse after excuse of why I shouldn’t do anything:
“She has a boyfriend”
“She’s going to be mad if you say Hi”
“He’s going to be mad if you say Hi”
“Everyone will think you’re a weirdo”
“You’re gonna get thrown out”
Reasoning doesn’t work. My mind still screams “WTF! WTF! WTF!”, no matter how I try and reason with it.
If this sounds like you, try taking baby steps. Take the smallest step that you can. It should feel uncomfortable. But not so uncomfortable that you freeze. And then take the next one. And the next. Just keep moving forward.
In the bar, it was taking a physical step with my right foot. And then my left foot. And then tapping her on the arm when I was beside her. At this point, there was no turning back.
Now let’s pretend you want to be an entrepreneur, but you’re so scared of failing you haven’t done anything. You can start with something really simple: send texts to five of your friends who are entrepreneurs. Then ask if you can learn from them over a cup of coffee. And then drive yourself to the appointment with a notebook and pen.
Don’t argue with your mind. Ignore it and physically do things.
And then let whatever happens next happen.
4. Treat Everything as an Experiment
Sometimes inspiration goes too far and dreams get too big. You want to start the next Tesla, clean up the world’s oceans and also become Forbes’ most eligible bachelor in 2016.
But now your dreams are so huge that you’re too scared to even take the first step. Why? Because if you go after them and fail — you’re now a loser. And no one wants to be a loser.
Stop focusing on the end goal. That’s just to inspire you to start. Instead, think of everything as an experiment. Don’t say “I’m gonna make ten thousand dollars online by June 2016.”
Say, “I’m gonna build an online business and see how much money I can make in nine months.”
Lie to yourself that you don’t care about the end goal. That all you want is to give it a try and see what happens.
You’ve probably realized that I’m a huge fan of lying to myself. But that way, you don’t get discouraged by your goals.
Try things. See what happens and learn. And then try something better.
5. Train Yourself to be Comfortable with Change
When I was fifteen, not only was I a coward, I was also obsessed with looking good.
I combed my hair excessively and checked myself out on any reflective surface I walked past.
I pretended that I had confidence. But secretly, all I wanted was for people to like me. “Maybe they’ll like me if my hair is nice” I thought. But then I realized I worried too much about what people thought of me.
So I cut my hair. Shaved it all off.
A lot of people laughed. And told me that I looked like a cancer patient. But none of them liked me any less. It seems really silly now, but it was a big thing for me back then. It taught me that making small changes can give you courage.
If you find change very difficult in your life, I recommend you start with something really small. Like waking up thirty minutes earlier. Or learning to brush your teeth with your other hand. Or getting a wardrobe makeover. Once you get comfortable, make another improvement.
Get used to making small changes in your life. It’ll come in handy when you’re afraid to make a big one.
A few years later, I eventually reconnected with the prettiest girl in class.
Turned out she liked me too. So I lied to myself that I was a good match for her, and we went out for a while. But I was never brave enough to take the next step, and screwed things up.
I hope I’m braver next time.
And that you’re braver than me.
An original version of this post first appeared at mr-stingy.com.