The Secret to Overcoming Any Fear

This post is an excerpt from my friend Ken Coleman’s new book, One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices. This chapter is based on an interview he did with me. You follow Ken here on Twitter.

The name Walt Disney World conjures up words such as “wonder” and “imagination.” For most people, the renowned theme park’s moniker rarely summons up bone-rattling, tear-inducing fear. But my son Ty had a different experience during a recent family vacation to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The Secret to Overcoming Any Fear

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From the moment we stepped onto the property, my family was met with all the pageantry for which Disney is famous. The five hundred-acre amusement park is home to seventeen hundred exotic animals. Iguanas sunbathe on rocks, giraffes strut along savannas, and macaws showcase their neon feathers from perches just beyond one’s fingertips. From the fanciful to the mighty, this Floridian wonderland is a kid’s dream.

As with other Disney properties, the directory located near the entrance is dotted with attractions. Only a few steps in, a particular marker caught Ty’s attention: Kali River Rapids. Contrary to its threatening name, the water ride is an opportunity for weary parents to put up their feet and exhale. A twelve-passenger circular raft winds down a picturesque river with jasmine-scented mists and majestic waterfalls. If you don’t mind getting wet, this ride is not to be missed, and Ty made sure we wouldn’t forget by reminding us about it every few steps we took.

Arriving at the entrance, I made sure my son met the height requirement, and we began the five-minute walk to the loading area. As we strode along, Ty’s countenance changed from excitement to malaise to suspicion to outright anxiety. Stepping up to the turntable that places visitors in rafts, his emotional dam broke. Tears poured from his eyes as he pleaded passionately to leave.

I knelt down and reasoned with him, something every dad attempts in such a situation even though he knows it’s futile. I explained that the ride wouldn’t scare him and that if he could just muster the courage to step into the boat, he’d be glad he did. A few minutes after launching into my monologue, we were trek-king back to the attraction’s entrance, serenaded by my son’s relieved sniffles.

Just as we entered the common area, a second transformation happened. When Ty’s little brother, Chase, proclaimed his desire to take on the rapids, Ty was suddenly convinced that he had made the wrong decision. He wanted to return to the Kali River Rapids turntable once more. My frustration over the whole ordeal had risen to boiling, but it was dwarfed by my own desire to experience the ride. So after a third five-minute walk, we were finally floating through the Asian-style jungle together.

I looked over at Ty after a few minutes and saw his characteristic smile, the one that never fails to melt me. He reached over, gripped my hand, and shouted, “Dad, I love it! It isn’t scary at all … thanks!” Suddenly, I was the one who was being transformed—from the emotionally and physically drained father to the proud daddy. Despite the hassle of the ordeal, I knew Ty had experienced something profound, a lesson he could never receive through lectures or logic: he’d discovered how to conquer his fear.

The image of my smiling son was in the front of my mind when I drafted an interview question for Michael Hyatt. He is the [former] chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, one of the largest book publishers in the United States. Highly respected among his peers and widely sought after for his leadership advice, Hyatt speaks often about how he’s had to push through fear in order to achieve great accomplishments in his life.

I wanted to know what his experiences could teach the rest of us who often find ourselves stopped dead in our tracks, begging to walk back the way we came.

Ken Coleman: Many times in life, people don’t go after what’s on their hearts because of fear. How can we conquer fear?

Michael Hyatt: Fear is the number one obstacle that most people face in their lives. Very few people talk about it, but I can guarantee you it’s the biggest thing I face in my own heart. There have been times when I have lain awake at night wondering, particularly in this economy, “What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my company? What’s going to happen to my family?” Fear is a very debilitating thing. It doesn’t serve many useful purposes, and people can get really stuck in it.

When I’m afraid, I have a practice of walking right into my fears rather than away from them. If people can get used to that, their fear will dissipate. Most of the power of fear is in your mind; it doesn’t really exist. It’s just this idea that looms because we are unwilling to face it. But the way to declaw it, the way to defuse it, is to step into it—right into the middle of it—and do the thing that you are afraid to do.

How many times do we find ourselves frozen by fear? Our hearts palpitate, our eyes search frantically for an exit, and soon we’re paralyzed by trepidation. At moments when we need to lunge forward, our feet plant as though in cement.

Fear takes many forms. I find myself arrested by the fear of criticism. I fear looking back on my life and discovering wasted opportunities or unrealized potential. A great worry for me is that I will have lived life but never made a difference. Maybe you are a perfectionist and battle the fear of failure. Or you’re shy and stave off the fear of success. Whatever brand of fear you experience, the emotion can be debilitating.

Hyatt is right; fear lives mostly in our minds and festers as long as we fail to face it. Children, for example, often convince themselves that something is under their bed. The fear may not be rational, but it can cause much distress. Yet the emotion remains only as long as the child lies motionless in the dark. Once he or she looks under the bed and finds nothing, the panic dissipates.

Likewise, Ty didn’t have a real fear that memorable afternoon at Disney. I am his father, and he trusts me. He knows I wouldn’t endanger him physically or emotionally. But he still felt afraid, and facing that emotion was the only way to chase it away. What my son learned as a six-year-old, many of us need to learn at twenty-six or fifty-six: that fear can protect us from danger—but it can also keep us from life’s great adventures.

One Question is based on Ken’s popular blog, “One Question with Ken Coleman,” where well-known figures are asked one, solitary question. Drawing readers in with never-before-published interviews, this book delivers inspirational and applicable life lessons that can be digested in a matter of minutes.

I gave away 50 copies of One Question. To qualify, my readers had to comment below. You can find the list of winners here.

Question: What appeals to you about this book and why do you want a copy? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Tacicia Bryan

    I really enjoyed this post. Although we can laugh at a child’s fear, sometimes we fall into the same trap. I think this book would be very helpful to me. Thank you for the offer. Wow. The book really covers a good range of successful people.

  • Vicki Cato

    The title sounds intriguing. I would like to read the book. The post about fear relates to me and writing. I am unpublished

  • Phil Poma

    When I turned 40 a lot of unexpected worries started to surface. Broad life-related questions like, am I on the right path or am I the person I really want to be? Being able to read and learn from others has been a tremendous help in sorting these questions out. I hope in reading Ken’s book I can gain more wisdom and insight to apply in my life.

  • Tom Cadwallader

    There is a larger lesson here. All emotions are pathways to growth. Everytime we feel love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear, we should wake up and ask what is going on, what can we learn? Then walk into the emotion. We will also remember the lesson or “story” better when we feel it as well as know it.

  • Thomas Smith

    Having been a pastor of the same church for over 30 years, it is important to me to remain fresh and benefit from the insight and experience of others. This book sounds like it would offer that. Having dealt with the perpetual enemy of fear, both personally, as well as an adversary that hinders the potential of others, I think this chapter and others would prove profitable.

  • Emma K

    I love his illustration of how his son overcame fear. It reminds me that I need to face my fears. If the rest of Ken Coleman’s book is as good as this part I will definitely need to get it. As a young leader, I am trying to learn everything I can to make me a better leader.

  • samiesof

    It simply cuts to the chase and reveals the one fear most of us live with, the never considered fear…are we living on earth and making an impact or just simply passing through.

  • Ricky Sant

    What appeals to me about this book is the various strategies that are used to confront fear. I am currently facing some fearful situations in my life right now and I would like a copy so I can learn to step into the fear, not back away from it. I don’t want fear to get the best of me or my family.

  • Lynn Maupin

    Being an intentional leader is my passion. It is also something we have to learn, we are not born with the answers. In order for us to develop ourselves as Godly leaders and then pay it forward by being mentors for other intentional leaders, we need books like “One Question” to help us develop. I would love the opportunity to add this book to my collection of christian leadership books I have already read and applied. Being able to talk about fear in a Godly manner would be a great leadership tool to add to the toolbox.

  • Gina Quarles

    Fear lies within all of us. It is part of the human experience. I love reading how others diminish this very real feeling. After my near death auto accident last January and to date still recovering. I faced more fear as I fought like a warrior for my life and children. Being rendered helpless in a halo with a broken neck and leg, I had to face many fears and still do to this date. I find when we look them in the face and see the fear for what it really is, and we pull every ounce of strength from within to take that scary step we heal. I faced my fear. I had to. My recovery is short of a miracle.The only thing I could do was go to my gift of writing. I am editing a manuscript and will soon be publish. By sharing my most intimate fears in the form of the written word, my goal is to show others how strong and brave we really can be when we have a purpose. I feel GOD spared me to use me as an example and to bring hope, encouragement, and inspiration to others. I created a website for this person and if it helps one person, I have done my job. Daily I must pray for endurance, and discipline to not let myself get caught up in fear. That fear being my future. my new identity, some PTSD, and a pressing on if you will. I seek books to gain wisdom and others insights of how they have conquered fear. I feel we are all in this together and admire others who are able to share their private thoughts and or experiences.

  • Mary Catherine George

    Love the discussion of fear – I think it is interesting that once we frame fear by the presence of seeing how someone else either steps into the circumstance which frightens us or by recognizing I am afraid and do it anyway. I perform improvisation – not just any improvisation but I am an opera singer who makes up songs and duets and whole operas all improvised. I had always done this as part of a group and made the decision to perform a solo show. I normally am at ease jumping into my fear when I perform with a group but alone – it was all me – sink or swim – no script – no plan – just me an audience and audience suggestions. I even started my show late I was so frightened I wouldn’t have any ideas or that the audience suggestions would stump me and so and so on.. Fear can have a strong voice inside my adult head. Once I stepped on to the stage – BOOM – the fear dissolved and the FUN began. That has always been the key for me – just take one step in the direction of my fear. and I know I will be surprised. I have to encourage myself every time with this saying – Thank you again for sharing – Mary Catherine – would love a book!! Love this blog

  • Jim Nasipak

    This was an excellent piece about fear. Fear can be that item that causes a person the become immobile in what they are trying to accomplish. To fulfill a dream or vision, to realize growth or to live a life they want to live. I find myself gripped by fear each day I look to start a new venture. I am trying to work through the fear that draws me into a state of doing nothing to a state of starting. The fear of rejection and failure is difficult to overcome but can lead to great ideas never being realized. This book would be a great resource as I battle through my fear.

  • Jon Stolpe

    I’m a big fan of Ken and Brad Lomenick, and I’m a regular listener to The Catalyst Podcast and The Ken Coleman Show Podcast. I’d love to read Ken’s new book!

  • Will Laohoo

    I think fear can really keep us from the best opportunities God puts in front of us if we allow it. There are many different fears that people struggle with, and succumbing to that fear can keep us from really making a difference.

    One fear that I personally struggle with is the fear of rejection. This fear is most prevalent when it comes to sharing my faith in Christ with others. Because I’m afraid to alienate my friends and possibly be rejected by them, I shy away from what might possibly be the most important conversation I could have with them.

    Of course, there are also all the other natural fears that you mentioned, such as the fear of not having enough and fear of what the future might bring. I’ve come to realize that it’s a fear that may always be there that I just need to learn to work with.

    I would love to get a copy of this book to see what other people have done in their attempts to defeat the power of fear in their lives.

  • Barry Gray

    Really inspired by your piece on Fear and basically I’m at a crossroads. Call it mid-life or needing to re invent the wheel so to speak . After losing sight in one eye and having a couple of hip replacements after one got infected, old doubts and fears have resurfaced but my faith in Christ is my fortress against it and you can’t beat personal testimonies re life experience. Would love a copy if possible.God Bless Barry.

  • C. Crook

    I love Ken’s blog and am really interested in what he feels are the best and most inspiring answers.

  • Tom Mabie

    I’m intrigued! As I begin to launch into a new career of coaching, or a more refined focus following 30 years in ministry, I passionately desire to be a student of great questions. I believe that a great question unlocks insight into the heart and desire of another, giving them greater perspective. I would like a copy of this book because I would like to find out what questions Ken has come up with as he’s interviews these “leading voices” of today that result in life changing answers.

  • Katrina Holden Wilson

    When you only have the opportunity to ask one question – it is usually the one you need the answer to the most. This book presents a welcome opportunity to hear from leaders you respect and appreciate

  • Bosede Santos

    I’m in a season of my life where I’m determined to move forward despite my fears. Like Joyce Meyer puts it, I’m choosing to ‘do it afraid’. As long as one is alive, fear will attempt to dig its claws in and wind its tentacles around one, hindering destiny; that’s all it seeks to do. One must continue to stand strong as an Overcomer and push forward and press in. One owes oneself that, it’s the least one could do! Regrets of what could have been must be avoided, like you suggested, dig in the heels, grit the teeth and slam its back down. Fear is not bigger than God who is greater in us, with Him on our side, fear becomes irrelevant and surmountable. Every available tool/weapon, must be used in the offensive.

  • Joe Hentges

    One question, one answer…can cause the person to dig deep and be very insightful, open and honest. Reading the numerous responses from Ken’s interviews could help you change your life. It may be one simple answer that changes everything. I would like a copy of the book because I sounds like it could be truly inspirational.

  • Geales Goodwin

    This book appeals to me because I about to change careers and a HUGE thing that I know will hinder me is fear. I’d like to be able to take the leap of faith to change careers fearlessly to accomplish great things!

  • Matthew Trinetti

    Great story, thanks for sharing!

    The funny thing about fear, which I only recently learned, is that facing fear isn’t about removing the fear — it’s always seems to be there. It’s more about being able to act in spite of that fear — to deliberately look it in the face and choose to defy it.

    Fear was constantly rearing it’s ugly head while I was solo traveling for 7 months around Europe, in too many ways to list here. But I found one of the best ways to confront fear is to treat it like a game. Several months ago, I challenged readers on my blog to engage in “comfort challenges.” It’s endearing and touching to see how people actually went through with them. Anyone who wants to check it can read about the challenges here:

    • Matthew Trinetti

      Oh, and to answer the question: I think the concept of the book is great… simple but potentially very effective in its simplicity. I would love a copy of book because I would like to do a similar project, although using video vs. text/book. This will give me some ideas for questions, people, and themes.

  • Casey E. Palmer

    I’d like a copy of the book because I think we all need insights that’ll help us see our lives from a different perspective. I feel like this is the kind of book that’ll help with that.

  • Nathan Rust

    Fear is something I am constantly having to push through knowing that the end result will often be better than having run the other way! Not always successful but constantly progressing. Great post as always!

    • Jim Martin

      Good for you, Nathan, in continuing to push through your fear.

  • Mike McGinnis

    I started a project called one sentence, one word, where people would write down what they’d say to the entire world if they were on a platform in front of all 7+ billion and what one word they’d choose to define themselves. That project isn’t complete, but Ken’s is. I’d like a copy of this book because it’s my project (and my) mentor.

  • Patti

    I have been a vivtim of fear for a long time…..and recently decided, I am breaking FREE of FEAR! Wasted so much time….This book couldn’t come in a better time when I intend to make my life the best NOW!

  • Byron Sasha Jones

    It becomes more and more evident the more we learn from people like Ken and yourself Michael, that the enemy of fear is action. We simply need to ‘activate’ ourselves and our fear will go away. I would be most interested in reading Ken’s interviews with ‘activated’ human beings so that I too can, as we all do, follow the lead of those who’ve already forged the path. It is easier oftentimes to believe that you can do it when you know of someone else who has:-)

  • Denise Speer

    Just trying to improve…

  • Scott M

    deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” I try to remember this quote daily. Interview skills are critical to my job and I have learned over the years that you typically will get the answer you want ONLY if you ask the right question. I am always trying to develop my question-asking skills.

  • Betty

    just found your blog from a link in Xanadu’s newsletter about getting more control of your life by being more organized. Your blogpost about not letting fear paralyze your actions is coming at the right time since it is something I have to overcome and this book could only be another sign from the universe to further create good habits that will bring about a successful entrepreneur and leader.

    • Jim Martin

      Betty, so glad you read this post and that it connected with you the way it did. Sounds like wonderful timing.

  • TNeal

    In “Is This A Great Game or What?” Tim Kurkjian, who loves baseball, has a chapter on fear. He tells a story about sneaking over to 3rd base during a batting practice session for the thrill of fielding a Major League hit. As baseball bullets whizzed by him, he quickly crept back to the safety of the sidelines. He made the point that fear is a reality that all players face. Even the exceptional player doesn’t lack fear. But he overcomes it.

    • Jim Martin

      TNeal, thanks so much for sharing this great story. (Just looked at this book on Amazon!)

  • Adam

    Great post: what a awesome 1 question & reminder to continually jump into our fears. I’d like a copy of the book to hear more insights like this one.

  • Jim Martin

    I am reading this book right now. A really good book!

    I like his reminder about fear. Yes, fear can protect us from whatever might be dangerous. At the same time, it can keep us from experiencing some of life’s great adventures.

  • Josh Slaughter

    Would love to read this book and get the perspective from so many different great leaders.

  • Ava Oleson

    Reframing situations is one of the strategies I rely on to conquer fear. This requires mental flexibilty, a skill that can inspire a new perspective on a difficult situation. Most the time, obstacles can be a doorway to a new world of opportunities, and to strengthening our creative competencies. In the orientation I provide for our students who are starting their dissertation stage, I remind them to see their writing phase not as a huge mountain that paralyzes them with fear, but to frame it as an opportunity to give expression of their own voice – one sentence, one idea at a time! I remind them that Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Church” was, in essence, his doctoral dissertation/project. I doubt when he started writing it, he realized the far reaching impact it would have. It’s all how you see it. That is reframing!

  • Chris Truett

    Awesome article. I am ever note clipping it for a great sermon illustration

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  • Chelsea Giles

    I have been afraid of failure my entire life! What intrigues me about this book is learning how other people have addressed issues and answered questions about tough situations in their life and how they’ve powered through! Thanks for the opportunity to get this book. :)

  • Ava Oleson

    When I think of what leaders need to ensure long term sustained impact – this book would be at the top of the list! What a gift this book is. Thank you, Ken, for taking on this writing project and the effort it took to complete it. I see a book like this as a work of art. I will definitely add it to my own personal library, and then I will make it a required reading for one of my classes I teach. Thank you so much!

  • Joseline Alosbaños

    I often had fears that I may not go up the next level (being a Manager). I’ve been there before and somewhat got burned.

    My boss told me that I am ready for the next level. She said just get rid of the fears. I said “how?” She said – don’t worry – you got the competence and if I feel I am not capable – just call her and she’ll guide me.

  • Michael Statom

    Great post. It is so true. It’s amazing how we can be gripped by irrational thoughts, even though we know the truth.

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