When I commuted to work in downtown Chicago, I sometimes crossed outdoors between moving cars on the elevated train, not to reach a different car but to practice facing a fear.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”* Something not dangerous or foolhardy, but dysfunctionally intimidating. For some it’s public speaking, complex paperwork, or raising a touchy issue with a friend. The “Fear” I burned in a New Year’s Eve bonfire involved unfamiliar machines and bus systems. The more I use them, the less they scare me.
Two caveats. First, advice to leave your comfort zone suggests a false dichotomy between discomfort and being stuck in a rut. There are far-from-boring ways to be “in the zone”: creating, writing, learning, running on the beach. No need to break the flow just because it doesn’t scare you.
Second, desensitization isn’t the only way to ease fear. In the body, a case of nerves looks much the same as excitement. Even for those of us not adrenalin junkies, it may be easier to reframe unhappy jitters as happy ones than to calm ourselves down. A wiser adage might be, “Do one thing every day that excites you.”
*Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, June 1997. Read here for quote history and misattributions.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.