As with most bad habits, the first step in learning to live without fear is understanding the depth of your addiction. How afraid are you? How much of what you do is governed by fear? I'd like to invite you to do what I've done since I began writing this book-to live with a heightened awareness of fear.

You will be disturbed by what you discover. The amount of fear in our lives is staggering. Once you identify the fears that largely govern your life, it's time to admit to yourself that you live in a pound, that you have vanquished your humanity and chosen instead to be a caged animal.

It's time to summon the resolve to be free. I have many times verbalized to myself, "I will not live in fear. I refuse to be afraid." In the book of Psalms, King David proclaims, "I shall not die, for I shall live, and I shall proclaim the glory of G-d." These beautiful words have been in my mind as I have proclaimed my freedom from a life lived in fear.

  • I will not die that cold, horrible death of having my uniqueness snuffed out because I am afraid of being out of step.

  • I will not die the silent death of being afraid to articulate views that are unpopular.

  • I will not die the death of loneliness by being afraid to love and afraid to get hurt.

  • I will not commit figurative suicide by leaving my potential underdeveloped because I am afraid to take risks.

  • I will not die the pitiable death of destroying my life because I am afraid to take criticism.

  • I will not die the painful death of watching my health waste away because I am afraid to hear what the doctor might say at a checkup.

  • I will not die a national death by being afraid to stand up to evil and save my country from being overrun by tyrants.

  • I will not die the lamentable death of becoming a prisoner of my insecurities and living a life that is designed to impress others rather than pursuing justice and righteousness.

  • I will not be suffocated by the horrible death of self-absorption and selfishness, brought about by the fear that sharing with others will diminish who I am.

    The Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson, is a declaration of fearlessness. What the American colonists were saying was, "We are not afraid. We're not afraid of you anymore, George III, you oppressor of the people. We're not afraid of dying by your bayonets, and we're not afraid of fighting to expel your soldiers. We will never again allow ourselves to live under tyranny and without dignity."

    We too have to make a declaration of independence from our fear, a declaration that we will not submit to the tyranny of fear ever again.

    I determined to try to rid my life of all fear when I discovered just how corrupting an influence fear is. In fact, it is precisely those things that bring us the most pride and joy that turn out to be the leading causes of our fear. We love our children, but for many, that love is accompanied by very real terror that something will happen to their children. We take pride in our successes-a cultivated garden, a book we've written-but we're afraid as well. What if there's an insect infestation or an early frost? What if our books won't sell or they're panned by the critics, or both? The real tragedy, of course, is that fear is so unpleasant, so debilitating, that we learn to resent those things that make us afraid.

    Fear turns life's blessings into burdens.

    Before I show you how to replace the fear in your life with much more productive, effective, and creative emotions, I need you to make the following commitment. I want you to promise that over the course of this book, you will commit yourself to confronting your fears. Say it aloud: "It is time to turn around and confront the things that frighten me, so that I can move beyond them."

  • Learning to confront your fears puts you back into the driver's seat of life.

    Courage allows us to conquer our fears, as opposed to being conquered by them. It is only in confronting our fears that we learn the depth and breadth of our own capabilities. Teaching children to dive is almost entirely a case of encouraging them to believe that they can do it. They have to be shown the way. The first time, you may have to hold a young child's hand as she walks out onto the end of the diving board. You may have to tread water below the board to catch her the first time she jumps. But by the end of the day, she'll be flinging herself off with abandon, and you'll have to bribe her to come out of the pool.

    It's one thing for children to be afraid; in this case, the fear is innate, a manifestation of a healthy survival instinct. Surely it's better that they don't throw themselves into bodies of water without any trepidation at all. But eventually they have to learn that they can do it. Children are inherently driven to participate, however cautiously. By nature they want to learn, to experience, to live. Where is our incentive as a nation? When the media is encouraging us to buy duct tape and hide under the bed, where is our encouragement to take the next difficult step? When fear is as firmly ensconced as it is in our society, what are the social forces that will push us out of our cocoons?

    You will have to issue-and answer-these challenges to fear by yourself. You have to train yourself to believe that you will ultimately be OK. It's like a vaccination: you have to expose yourself to the disease in order to build up your body's natural defenses.

    When you confront your fear, you realize that many of your criteria for being afraid are false.

    Learning to do anything involves overcoming fear. Learning the technical aspects of skiing is 10 percent of the challenge. The other 90 percent is overcoming the fear that you'll die once you start moving. When you get down to the bottom of the mountain-a slope that looked like Everest from the top-you realize that it was just a gently graded bunny slope after all. You experience an amazing feeling of accomplishment, a renewed sense of confidence in yourself and your abilities, and a commitment to take your skills to the next level.

    Know what you're up against.

    For me the most chilling moment in Michael Moore's Academy Award- winning documentary, "Bowling for Columbine," was when he asked Charlton Heston if he'd ever been the victim of a crime. The answer was no. The man is in his eighties, sitting in a gated community, protected by the best security money can buy, and he's also got to surround himself with firearms "for protection"-despite the fact that, by his own admission, nothing bad has ever happened to him. Now, I'm not a liberal, and neither am I a fan of Michael Moore. I was especially opposed to his slanderous portrayal of President Bush in "Fahrenheit 9/11." But the great Jewish thinker Maimonides always said, "Accept truth regardless of its source." Michael Moore was absolutely right in his film about our irrational obsession with fear. I believe in the right of citizens to bear arms, and I also believe in the necessity of responsible gun laws. In the end it is the largely unfounded fear of crime that leads to so many mistaken shootings.

    A careful study of the facts yields one important conclusion: there is no reason to be afraid, because ultimately good always triumphs over evil.

    There are many casualties along the way to triumph, and we lament every one, especially if it's someone we love, but fearing evil will only make it stronger. Believing instead in evil's eventual defeat will hasten that day. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be vigilant against terrorism. When I argue against fear, I am not blithely suggesting that you leave your doors unlocked. One of the strongest weapons you have against terror of any kind is to feel that you are prepared and have protected yourself adequately. If the best way to combat fear is to do something, then you must protect yourself as best you can against the things that threaten you.

    Fear is based on conjecture and ignorance. The more information you obtain, the less afraid you become.

    Caution grows weaker in the light of rational inquiry; fear is completely disarmed by it. Almost all fears fade when they're dragged out of the darkness- and the very act of confronting them allows you to do this. Whenever I hear a strange noise at night, I nearly always go down to discover what it was. I know that usually it is nothing, but I go down purposely in order to confront my fear. If I sit in the bedroom, my imagination gets the better of me, and I can imagine ghosts, robbers, or something truly frightening-mice! When I confront my fear, I am empowered and in control.

    In response to the economic slowdown, a television commercial showed a man running away from his brokerage statement. It's not really funny: I've spoken to any number of people who genuinely can't face the financial reversal they've suffered during the last few years. Indeed, I have run many times myself. Unfortunately, running away doesn't make it better. In fact, running away from the feeling of dread you get when you see the envelope magnifies those fears instead of allaying them. The unopened envelope looms larger and larger in your nightmares, and your poor investments keep losing money as the months pass. The solution, of course, is to confront your fears and then do something about them. If you can take a deep breath, pour yourself a small drink, and sit down with the statement, you put yourself back in the driver's seat. It's often not easy. You sometimes have to force yourself to walk over to the envelope, convince yourself you're going to do it, close your eyes, and just open it.

    In confronting fear, the initial steps are always the hardest.

    After you get over that hump, the job becomes easier. You can figure out the exact state of your financial affairs and call your broker in order to come up with a plan to stop the damage before it gets any worse. You'll notice that a miraculous thing happens: you feel less afraid. You won't spend the month tossing and turning, wondering how bad it's gotten. You'll feel liberated, as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You'll feel proud of yourself- the kind of pride that follows every victory and personal triumph-and you'll be fortified to find a way to do better next year. Next month, when you see that familiar return address, you'll open the statement with fortitude, not apprehension, because you know that you've taken steps to remedy the situation. Besides, is a shabby piece of paper going to make you afraid? You've taken control, and that means you don't have to live at the mercy of an unopened envelope.

    Beating fear involves converting an unconscious process to a conscious one and an irrational disposition to a rational one.

    Don't let your thoughts and fears run away with you. Grab them with the hand of your mind. Hold them in your palm and examine each and every one. Pay attention to those moments when you feel fear's icy-cold grip tighten around your throat and pledge to yourself today that you will not permit a single one of these fears to stand unchallenged. You're going to drag them out into the harsh light of day, and you're going to make an action plan for eliminating them from your life. If your insecurities are causing you to procrastinate about making a phone call ("He doesn't want to hear from someone like me," or, "I know that all I'm going to get is bad news"), you're going to make that call today.

    If you're terrified of your credit card debt, promise yourself that you will sit down and figure out how much you owe. If you're afraid of the water, sign up for beginner swimming classes at the Y. Fear stops here and now.

    more from beliefnet and our partners
    Close Ad