The Five Basic Truths of Fear

A group of Stanford psychology students were researching the nature of fear. They wanted to build a system that could dismantle any fear. They brought a group of skydiving instructors together and asked about people’s first experience in jumping out of airplanes. Here’s what they found.

skydivers

The jumpers feel nearly the highest levels of fear the night before their dive or on the drive to the airstrip. Their fear starts to reduce when they begin receiving instructions on their jump. The more instruction and they get, the less fearful they become. By the time they are getting their parachutes strapped on, their fear not only drops away completely but they develop something of a superhero complex. Some people will even ask the instructors to skip the parachute safety check in favor of moving the process along. The instructors have a term for the first-timer’s walk to the airplane. They call it the march of glory because the students adopt a posture and swagger that suggests they feel invulnerable.

However, once the plane takes off, the fear begins to return. As the plane climbs higher the skydivers become sullen and quiet. When the instructors open the door to the empty sky, their level of fear peaks. The jumpers natural survival mechanism is at odds with their choice making system. Surprisingly, only a very small percentage change their minds and decide not to jump. Most people become somewhat confused and disoriented. The highest level of fear occurs with the student’s legs dangling out of the open door, sitting on the floor of the airplane waiting for their jump.

The instructors referred to this, as the moment of truth. Those who jump out the quickest are not necessarily thrillseekers. They are people who make choices quickly and efficiently in their lives. They are people who do not like the feeling of indecision. People who ruminate over their choices in life have a harder time jumping out of the plane. It is not the fear of death that is the fulcrum of this moment. It is simply the willingness to take action and not suffer in the torment of a long decision-making process.

Entrepreneurs, upper level managers, CEOs, these are people who tend to get out of the plane the quickest. They are those who practice decision-making the most.

Based on these findings the Stanford university students developed what they called…

The Five Basic Truths of Fear

  1. Fear will always be present in life. It cannot be permanently conquered or overcome.
  2. The feeling of fear is generated in the anticipation of an act, not in the act itself.
  3. The best way to reduce fear is to take an immediate action associated with that fear.
  4. Taking repeated actions on a fear dismantles the severity of the fear response.
  5. Hesitating at the moment of action produces the highest levels of fear, stress and a child-like sense of helplessness. Yet these are immediately abated when the action is taken.