While addressing a crowd of very forward thinking teachers, Tim Ferriss got the following question:

“How do you recommend teachers address students who struggle with competition tasks due to anxiety or learning disabilities?”

My ears perked up.


Most of us (myself included) struggle with motivation and fear of competition (fear of failure) from time to time.

Tim’s answer was to use exposure therapy. Dose the fear, starting small and gradually increasing it with each small win.

Tim is deathly afraid of doing stand-up comedy. To illustrate the importance of exposure, then, he ended his answer by sharing what a number of stand-up comics have advised him.

It’s not what most of us want to hear:

“I’ve asked a number of professional stand-up comedians on my podcast… ‘If you had a million dollars on the line, and 8 weeks to prepare me for stand up comedy – I have to have 10 minutes of material – what would the curriculum look like in the first week?’

“They said, ‘Day one I’d have you on stage. I don’t even care what your material is. You’re not going to have any. I just want you to get comfortable on stage, because it’s going to terrify you. 90% of it is getting comfortable on stage.’ And the whole world is a stage, so you need to get students comfortable with it.”

It’s not the answer we want. It’s the answer we need.


Three examples spring to mind from my own life:

1) Approaching attractive ladies.

I used to be paralysed by the thought of chatting to a girl I found attractive, especially if there was any chance that she would figure out my “intentions”.

The fear of being considered a “creep” was too much.

I hired a coach to destroy that fear. He started by having me embarrass myself in front of “ordinary” strangers on the street, and worked up to the big fear – embarrassing myself in front of a hottie.

Within a day I was able to calmly and honestly express flirtatious intention with a total stranger.

My fear, as it happens, was unfounded.

The vast majority of girls responding with smiles, flattered and charmed by my boldness and straightforwardness. I found ‘hostile’ responses are both rare and inconsequential. The painful nerves in my chest miraculously transformed into joyful excitement.


2) Eating raw eggs.

I wanted to be like Rocky.

The fact that I couldn’t face down a raw egg was silly to me. For no other reason than that, I committed to drinking a raw egg.

For three days I tried to drink an egg in the morning. For two days I failed, often spitting out an attempt, my chest beating from irrational anxiety.

On the third day I hopped up and down while staring at the glass of egg, accessing a fierceness in me that would have been enough to send me into bloody battle, and I grabbed the glass.

I forced the yolk and fluid down my gullet.

I rested over the sink, mouth ajar, anticipating the worst. Nothing came.

I straightened up, calmed down, and cracked myself another cup of egg.

I raised it to my lips, and it went down like a vanilla smoothie.


3) Cold showers.

After hearing about the health benefits of cold showers… actually, it wasn’t the health benefits. I just wanted to start my day like a badass, but the health stuff helped me justify the discomfort.

Many people will say that facing a cold shower is a paralysing experience. Frank Skinner (British comedian) said that when he attempted it, he tried a “trick”. He imagined himself behind his body, pushing himself into the icy stream. He merely wobbled on the spot and gave up.

I was the same way.

My “trick” was to do it when no one else was in the house.

That way, I could scream and shout like I was being questioned for information.


My second “trick” was to only demand of myself a few seconds of agony.

I gradually increased the time under the cold stream, and reduced the volume of my clamour.

Eventually, I could step into the water without any complaints, and stay in there for as long as I chose.

Now, I use a combination of hot bath and cold shower to stimulate the onset of sleep, something I’ve struggled with all my adult life. Nothing has been more effective than this hot/cold routine at getting me to sleep. It feels like I’ve been drugged.



What things are you irrationally afraid of? How could you dose yourself to overcome them?

When you’re done with that, you can start tackling the things you are rationally afraid of.

Maybe…one day…you might be fearless.


Clip: Will Smith reveals he’s motivated by the fear of fear.



– James