How to overcome the fear of getting started

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How to overcome the fear of getting started

The unfamiliar is scary territory to be in. Whether we’re trying to ride a bike or want to start a blog, doing something new can be uncomfortable. This article explores the fear of getting started.

That initial hesitation is natural. It could be the slightest tinge of self-doubt or even crippling fear. But it’s all totally natural. It’s part and parcel of being human. Luckily, it’s also totally conquerable.

I believe there are two types of anxieties that feed into the fear of starting new things:

  1. Social anxiety – fears about how our actions might impact us socially
  2. Self-perception – fears about our limitations and weaknesses

In this article, I’ll talk about these two types of anxieties and the perception shifts that helped me overcome them.

Social anxiety – an evolutionary instinct

Over the years, there’ve been many things that I’ve not done because I fear social disapproval. For example, the fear of rejection has often held me back from asking girls out. Social anxiety is the fear that actions perceived negatively by others will affect my social standing in some way.

No advice will completely dissolve your social anxiety. But I can tell you how I’ve worked through mine. For me, understanding where my social anxiety is coming from helped me overcome it.

Our fear comes from the possibility of social disapproval. We’re vigilant against any potential hits to our social status and standing in the ‘tribe’.

If we think in terms of evolutionary psychobiology, fear serves to ensure our survival. There’s the sort of fear you’d feel when a lion is chasing you and your life is in active danger. But we’re also highly attuned to the judgment of other people in our tribe.

As prehistoric men, we lived in hunter-gatherer tribes. If you were ostracised from your tribe, it’d potentially be the end of you. You’d have no one to rely on and would have to go out into the wilderness on your own.

It’d be very likely that you’d get eaten by that lion chasing you around. You might even just die of starvation. Being part of a tribe was essential for our survival.

So our amygdala – the part of the brain that experiences and processes fear – became very attuned to social threats. The risk of ostracization is processed as a danger to our lives. That’s why we evolved to fear other people’s judgement and rejection.

I’ve been able to shift my perception by recognizing two things:

  1. Social anxiety is normal
  2. No one really cares what I get up to

1) Your social anxiety is totally normal

We evolved to be afraid of social approval. Understanding that was really important for me. It enabled me to question my social anxiety.

When I notice this anxiety acting up, I can stop and ask myself: Is this evolutionarily designed fear still useful in my modern-day life? Is there any utility in continuing to live this way?

Obviously, it’s still useful for me to run away when I see a lion. That’s a no-brainer.

But is it still useful for me to worry about what my friends will think? Will that actually affect my survival? Will it really kill me if I ask a girl out and she says no? Probably not. Back in my caveman days some 300,000 years ago, yes it might’ve killed me. My tribe could’ve ostracised me because of it.

But nowadays, what’s the worst that can happen? Probably not very much. People might laugh at me. I’ll feel the pain internally. But it’s not actually gonna jeopardise my survival. Just being aware of that helps me overcome my fear.

My brother was a true visionary in this regard. He started a YouTube channel nearly a decade ago. He’d just make random videos and shove them online. You can still find them, to this day. He just didn’t seem to care what other people thought of him.

2. No one really cares what you get up to

Most of us over-index on how much other people care about what we do.

Imagine this thought experiment: your best friend decides to start a podcast and they’re trying to interview people for it. Would you actually judge them for that? Probably not. You probably wouldn’t even care. At most you’d say something encouraging and promise to check it out.

Maybe internally, for like a millisecond, you’d make fun of them about it. If you do, you’re not a very nice person anyway. But chances are you won’t even be thinking in those ways.

Embrace the NOC mindset

Everyone is worried about other people’s judgment. But if we think about whether we’d actually judge another person, most of us probably wouldn’t. Not for too long anyway.

It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”

People are not thinking about us. You and me, we’re all going about our own lives. I’m not thinking of you and you’re not thinking of me. You’ve got your own problems to deal with.

You’re not spending any amount of brainpower thinking about what I’m doing or what people around you are doing. All you’re doing is getting on with your own life.

That’s been the second fundamental perception shift for me: recognizing that No One Cares.

I call this the NOC mindset. Even now I struggle to start things because I fear social disapproval, judgement, and rejection. I’ve to remind myself that no one cares. I can do the thing and no one would really care. No one would be thinking about me at all.

This was one of the liberating things about starting a YouTube channel. I thought loads of people would care. No one cared. People at my university were just whatever about it. Sure, a few people laughed at me. But when the channel became successful, those same people were asking to be in the videos.

Broadly speaking, no one really cared. They weren’t thinking about me. They were living their lives. There’s no need to worry so much about people’s judgement and rejection.

Self-perception – the folly of unrealistic standards

Quite often, we don’t want to try new things because we’re scared we won’t be any good at them. That’s our self-doubt and fear of failure.

For me, the easiest strategy to overcome this has been to simply lower the bar and embrace the crap.

We fear not being good at new things because our bar is way too high. I see this all the time in my YouTuber Academy.

We’ve had about 2000 students go through the YouTuber Academy. Most of them were complete beginners. Our course is what pushed them to start their channels.

A big part of what holds people back from starting their channels is some combination of perfectionism, self-doubt, and a fear of failure. That’s because their bar is so high.

Let’s say you’re thinking of starting a YouTube channel. You check out some experienced creators. The videos on their channels look slick and high quality. A lot of effort has probably gone into making their videos look good. A fair bit of equipment too.

You feel like you can’t compete with that. To you, those videos represent a standard you can’t even imagine achieving. So you don’t bother starting at all.

That’d be like someone comparing themself to a Formula One racer when they start learning to drive. They’d tell themselves there’s in point in learning at all because they can’t possibly drive like Lewis Hamilton. That’s completely dumb, right?

Just lower the bar and show up

Lower the bar. Recognize that you’re going to suck at things when you first start. It’s ok to suck at something when you first start. Accepting that is a growth mindset.

Whenever I procrastinate, it’s usually because I’ve set a bar for myself that’s too high. The solution is to lower the bar. Once I’m good at doing the thing consistently, I can then raise my bar.

Right now I suck at going to the gym. I don’t go regularly enough. For me, it’s a win if I just show up and do one exercise. That’s all I have to do. I’ve lowered the bar. Sometimes I’ll do a token gym session. I just rock up, do one exercise to failure and then I’m done. I’m out of there.

If I was competing to be a professional bodybuilder or athlete, this wouldn’t be enough. Then I’d have to keep on raising the bar. But if you’re struggling with getting started, just keep on lowering the bar.

By the way, our new cohort of the YouTuber Academy is launching in a few weeks. Head over to our website if you want to check it out.

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Consistent action is the foundation

Now the question is: how do you improve at the thing when you keep lowering the bar? If you’re struggling with getting started, you need to just embrace the crap. Your aim is just to get going. 

So for example, when it comes to starting a YouTube channel: one video per week is the threshold. Aim to reach a point where you’re making a video every single week, without fail. Then you can begin to raise the bar and try to get good at it. It’s essential to know what stage of your journey you’re at with that particular thing.

For me, the gym is currently a place where I need to lower the bar. But with YouTube, I can afford to raise the bar. I already know how to make videos consistently. It’s not that hard for me. So the way I improve at the craft is by trying to make better videos.

Just recognize where you’re at on the journey and take consistent action. 

I allow myself to overthink as much as I want as long as I’m taking consistent action. Overthinking becomes a problem only when it stops me from taking action. I overthink the hell out of my YouTube channel. As long as I’m consistently publishing videos, that’s fine. If I stop publishing videos, then overthinking has become a problem.

Overthinking must happen on a foundation of consistency. If consistency is present, you’re still moving forward. You’re still building a life that you love.

If overthinking becomes the foundation and action becomes an addendum, you’re in problematic territory. You’re never going to get anywhere in life. Thinking this way has helped me take consistent action while overcoming my fears.

Ali Abdaal

About The Author

I'm an ex-doctor turned YouTuber, Podcaster, entrepreneur and author. I've been creating YouTube videos for over 7 years and have a following of over 4 million over on my main channel.

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Muhammad Javed Iqbal
1 year ago

It was a fantastic article that encouraged me to get started and get going to move forward without any fear of judgment or rejection of society and people.

8 months ago

I have recently joined an internship and the anxiety has been terrible! This helped me ease it, I’ll remember these!

5 months ago

Great article. I’m thinking of starting a new website, and now that I’m almost ready to launch the fear has stopped me. These are very helpful suggestions

Sayed Siam
3 months ago

Staying consistent is one of the most difficult tasks I have ever met with. But this consistency may also help me to achieve my goals. So now I’m fighting with the consistency.

Atharv Prasanna
Atharv Prasanna
3 months ago

Thank You for this article Ali, I’m growing consuming your content, I’ve started my weekly newsletter and my website to launch my services. Thank You Very Much!