Challenging yourself leads to reaching new heights. Doing what’s easy means staying inside your comfort zone.

Are you happy with your current situation? If the answer is no, then why do the same safe and tested things that you’ve already been doing? Something is missing.

Humans were designed to adapt. Designed to overcome obstacles. Avoiding discomfort is a self inflicted death sentence.

When you live your life contemplating, speculating, and working diligently to avoid pain, you rob yourself of the chance to grow.

Failure is not only an inevitability, but it is also a crucial component to reaching your fullest potential.

Let me tell you a quick story.

My second marketing agency job was a dream. I was still wide eyed and bushy tailed when I started.

It had a fun office, bright coworkers, meaningful work, and a two great captains steering the ship. Even though I was new they still allowed me to work on my own projects and make an impact.

So much so, that one month in I was presented with a huge challenge. Our biggest client to date had signed a contract with us and needed a major overhaul on their blog.

120 posts needed to be optimized. If you know anything about SEO you know this is no simple task…

Even so, I was confident that I could do some good work. The only problem? I had less than 2 weeks to complete the task.

That gave me roughly 20 minutes with each blog post. It’s safe to say that I had a legitimate panic attack. But the next day, I got started.

From the moment I began until the very end I was immediately behind schedule. The project was doomed to fail from the start. It was too important and had an unrealistic timeline. I got the work done but it wasn’t my best.

Heck, it wasn’t even that good if I’m being honest.

If you’re keeping score, chalk that up as a loss. I lost my composure and didn’t have that much of an impact. But there is a silver lining in this story. One that altered a fundamental part of my expertise.

I learned how to map project deliverable to timelines. I learned better methods for researching SERP opportunities. I became more comfortable with working through high pressure situations. It was my first big realization that failure doesn’t mean the end.

That knowledge was invaluable. It accelerated my growth and bolstered my budding skill set.

If you keep trying to avoid that, you’re holding yourself back.

Reframing what it means to fail

You weren’t meant to be awesome at everything you do. The human mind and body is wonderfully adaptive and has built in mechanisms for upgrading your flaws.

Picture yourself falling down from your bike and scraping your knee as a kid. What happened next? That’s right, your body formed a cool new scar, you got back on the bike, and kept going until you learned how to ride without worrying about it ever again.

Think about that for a second. If your goal had been to become a master bikist (yes, I did make that up) on the first try or to avoid scraping your knee at all costs you might have gotten discouraged by that failure and given up.

But that wasn’t the goal. Your vision was to ride the bike. To gain a new kind of freedom and liberation from having to rely on your parents to take you everywhere.

True failure only occurs when you decide to stop trying. Every other form of adversity is simply a lesson to be learned, and an opportunity to try a new method.

With the right mindset about what you want to accomplish and by merely changing your perspective, any given “failure” can go from being a negative experience, to actually motivating you to do a better job the next time around.

It’s completely up to you.

Before you start any task, it’s important to have a clearly defined idea of what you’d like the outcome to be. This should be future oriented and should also have significant meaning.

Having a solid foundation like this ensures that when you experience a set back, you won’t get discouraged and want to give up, but instead, will seek out ways to pivot and find alternative methods to reaching the goal. You will come to see short term adversity as part of an ongoing iteration process of action, feedback, and revision.

You’ve got to stop letting the fear of what you deem to be “failures”, stop you from acting on and executing the more meaningful parts of life and your work. This can only be achieved by consciously and actively taking inventory of what’s holding you back, why it’s able to stop you, and how to get past it.

Gaining control of the fear

Much like failure, fear is not your enemy.

It is a biological response that is triggered by your brain perceiving a threat in your environment. Key word there? Perceiving.

That means that you are making a decision about it being a threat, regardless of if it actually is or not. Or in other words, it’s within your control to decide what you are and aren’t going to let affect you.

Here’s how to condition yourself against letting fear control you.

Write down what you’re afraid of most instead

Everyone is familiar with goal setting. But you might not have heard of fear setting.

It’s a concept championed by the self proclaimed guinea pig Tim Ferriss. He says that you need to have a crystal clear understanding of what you fear the most, so that you can understand how it’s holding you back.

Fear setting has 3 main components:

  1. Let it all out. Make 3 columns. In the first, write down everything you’re afraid of and think through the worst outcomes possible.
  2. How to prevent it. In the second column, write down ways that you could potentially stop those from happening or make them less bad.
  3. Starting over. In the third column, decide on how you would start over if those outcomes in the first column came true.

Writing down your fears will allow you to make them less abstract and let’s you work through them more concretely. This helps make sense of the furious bee’s nest of activity buzzing around in your head driving you crazy all day.

In Tim’s own words “You come away from that exercise realizing, ‘Wow, I was getting extremely anxious and all worked up over something that is completely preventable, reversible, or just not a very big deal,’”

Keep this somewhere where you spend a good amount of time. A desk, your bathroom, refrigerator, bedroom, etc. This will serve as an ongoing reminder for you to keep them in mind.

Put yourself in one brand new situation per week

One thing that is holding you back from accomplishing more is your unwillingness to enter in to new territory. This is also due to fear.

Consder these.

Your next biggest adventure could be in a country you’ve never heard of. But you’re too worried to travel alone.

Your next favorite food could be part of a cuisine you’ve never tried. But you’re not willing to try it because it looks odd.

Your significant other could be sittong next to you at work. But you’re too afraid of getting embarrassed or asking them out.

See where I’m going with this?

Regularly exposing yourself to unfamiliar situations conditions you to operate in fear. It allows you to think more clearly in adverse situations.

That’s a freakin’ superpower if you ask me.

The best way to cultivate a level of not-giving-a-f%$-ness is by purposefully thinking through what you fear, and sysematically finding ways to encounter and overcome them.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Each week, select a day. If you work a traditional 9–5, doing this on a Sunday would be best.
  2. On your chosen day you should think through everything you wished you would have done but didn’t for whatever reason. Write them all down, and then select one.
  3. Think through the most basic unit of the task at hand. If you have a fear of speaking to large crowds, a core component could be your lack of confidence in your voice or vocabulary. Get a list of all the components of the task you’ve selected.
  4. Choose the easiest component to implement during the week. If you are afraid of asking out your crush on a date, start by working on saying hi to a stranger at the grocery store. The key is to give yourself a low barrier of entry and increase the likelihood of success.
  5. Keep increasing the difficulty of the tasks as you progress and repeat each week.

Do this over and over again for everything you’re afraid of until you die.

Fear should be your indicator that something is significant enough to be worth pursuing. Instead of letting it hold you back, use it as a guide for where you need to be headed in life.

Anything worth doing long term, is going to be difficult

There’s no way around it.

Fear and failure are integral parts of the recipe. If you are passionate about achievement in any significant area of your life you’re going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Do it for your future self.

Take time to understand what’s causing your fear and hesitation. Make peace with it. Develop ways to beat it or use it to fuel your fire.

In the immortal words of Rocky Balboa “that’s how winnin’ is done”.