Aug 052011

Live “Sin Miedo”.  Without Fear.

There is an expression that is used frequently in Spanish:  “sin miedo,” which means without fear.  It is typically used in situations where someone is encouraging someone else to do something that may be a bit scary.  It is also a more general philosophy.

For those of you whom I’ve coached and those who have read a lot of my work, you’ll know I’ve written quite a bit about specific approaches to overcoming your fears and achieving peak performance in situations that otherwise could trigger a panic reaction and cause you to “run in the other direction”.  The piece on the GAMES Approach that focuses on techniques used by the U.S. Navy seals is a good example.  This article is not as focused specific techniques though; rather, it is about a more general “sin miedo” – without fear philosophy.

No matter who you are or what you do in life, you will run into “scary” situations – those that could cause you to freeze up or quit and run in the other direction.  If you are an achiever, which tends to describe well the vast majority of people with whom I work and associate, you will tend to run into these circumstances more frequently, as you are more likely to be “pushing the envelope” – that is how meaningful progress is typically made, after all.

If you are running into fear-invoking situations on a regular basis, you have two basic choices:  1.) You can go through life worrying when the next such situation may arise; and 2.) You can condition yourself and your mind to expect such situations to arise and welcome them as a challenge when they do.  You’d have to be crazy to welcome fear-invoking situations you say?  Not really.  The situations will arise regardless of how you choose to confront them.  Why not welcome them “sin miedo” and develop a spirit of embracing tough challenges?  Do you think such a mindset and approach may increase the likelihood that you will perform better in stressful situations and have less anxiety in general?  I assure you that it will.

So how do you program yourself to confront “scary” situations with unusual courage?  Well, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that it is possible – you can train yourself to respond without fear, or at least without as much fear as normal, when confronted with “fear situations”.  The bad news is that in order to program yourself to respond in an “unnatural” way to anything, you must do so through conditioning.  You must train yourself to confront such situations “sin miedo” and the only way to do that is to put yourself in those situations over and over again, respond “correctly” each time and it will get easier and easier.  The “correct” response will be come your default response.

Note that I’m not telling you to put your life in danger constantly just so you won’t be as afraid when your life is in danger.  That can of course be useful, but it’s a bit extreme for what I’m trying to teach you here.  Here we are talking mainly about irrational fears – those that we over-inflate in our minds as being “life or death,” when if we were thinking about them rationally, we’d realize very quickly that they’re not.  An example would be the fear of public speaking.  I’ve heard (and witnessed), more than once, the crazy contention that most people fear public speaking more than death itself!  So that would be an example of an irrational fear that you need to confront “sin miedo” – it’s clearly not “life or death,” but many people make it so in their minds.  You can no doubt think of several others, particularly those that you confront personally.

Alright, that sounds fine, right?  Confront my fears “sin miedo”.  But how do I do it?  In my experience, the only way to do it is to take the plunge and do those things that you fear most.  It sounds great as an intellectual exercise, I know, but trust me that I know it is not so easy to pull off in practice.  It’s very helpful if you have a friend, mentor or coach to accompany you on your journey to operate without fear.  If that person has experience in overcoming particular fears, even better.  But most importantly, you must trust that person implicitly, so that when it’s “go time” and you have to take that difficult step in the direction of the stage (public speaking) or out of the airplane (heights, parachuting), for example, you can trust that they won’t steer you wrong.

In a previous article I used the example of my youngest son and his fear of heights and how he ended up loving and embracing the ziplining experience in Central America, where you soar over the rainforest canopy several hundred feet up in the air.  That example is a good one here too, as it illustrates the importance of having a guide or coach to get you through the tough part – taking the first step.  In that particular case, my son was literally strapped to the guide, so he knew that his safety was inextricably linked to the safety and knowledge of that guide.  This allowed him to quickly develop a trust and confidence level.  He then had the “experience of his life” and while he still has some fear of heights, that fear has been greatly diminished.  And by the way, after overcoming that fear and doing the ziplining experience, his confidence shot through the roof in many other aspects of his life.  That is a nice collateral benefit that often accompanies a willingness to confront and overcome fears, to live “sin miedo”.

A technique that works very well in learning to live without fear and embrace difficult challenges is to develop a kind of “personal mantra” that you use whenever fear and worry start to creep into your mind.  In my case, I actually use “sin miedo,” as it has a lot of meaning for me and evokes a visceral response to “toughen up” and confront whatever challenge it may be head-on.  This is not so dissimilar to the importance of short-term goals I covered in the article “Why Goal Setting Is So Important,” where I discussed how you can use a kind of mantra (in that case “202”) to help you access your willpower and push through situations where you’d otherwise have an overwhelming desire to quit.  The two concepts are highly linked, as they deal with your mind’s desire to avoid or end an uncomfortable situation or feeling.

What are your fears?  Do you live “sin miedo,” or do you go through life in a constant state of anxiety and fearfulness?  I guarantee you that if you are willing to confront your fears, whatever they may be, head-on and you can find someone you trust to help you work through them, your life will improve significantly and irreversibly.  If you cannot do this, there will be little that can help you break out of a constant state of stress, worry and anxiety.  You must take action to get this result.  It will not happen automatically.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

  • Great thoughts here! I love the idea of conditioning ourselves to expect it. The great thing about conditioning ourselves is that our response becomes automatic. We can expect fear to raise its ugly head but we don’t have to live by it.

  • Agreed, Eric. The conditioning is the key. All the “greats” do this in every field of endeavor — special ops, sports, S.W.A.T., etc, etc — pressure and fear are inevitable, but you have the choice of how you respond, particularly if you condition yourself relentlessly to respond sensibly and not always the way the amygdala would tell you to. Thanks for your comments. Paul

  • Margaret (Peggy) Herrman

    Paul, thanks. this applies so much to people’s fear of conflict. my website is all about retraining, conditioning people to work with (rather than run from) conflict (a natural part of any human relationship, especially where you depend on someone for something). It is sad we don’t teach children good conflict skills (basic life skills), so by the time most people reach adulthood they actually put themselves in difficult situations by not addressing conflicts early and effectively.

    I feel like I’m constantly teaching, when I’m not pulling people and relationships out of ditches.

    FYI: it is a tome, but you might like my Blackwell Handbook of Mediation. A lot of great information.

    best, and thanks for a great post, Peggy

  • Thanks, Peggy. I agree that there is a very clear connection between this and people’s fear of conflict. We do a lot of work with family-owned businesses in the States and overseas and this is a VERY common issue. I also agree that it’s a shame that we don’t start teaching people at an early age how to process conflict. It leads to all sorts of unnecessary disfunctionality. Thanks for the reference to your site — it’s a great resource. Paul

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