Taking Small Steps to Do the Thing That Scares You

“Take that first step. Bravely overcoming one small fear gives you the courage to take on the next.” ~Daisaku Ikeda

When I was younger I loved to climb trees, but I was always too scared to get myself down. Somehow, when standing at the base of a massive Oak, I’d forget how terrified I’d feel at the top.

So I’d climb away, trying to prove to the neighborhood boys that I was fearless, and then stay up there, clutching the bark and crying, until someone helped me get safely to the ground.

I knew who I wanted to be—a daredevil Tomboy who was adventurous and tough—but I was deathly afraid of feeling out of control and getting hurt.

You can probably imagine how terrified I felt when I went skydiving several years ago. I would have sooner put hot pokers into my ocular cavities then let go and free fall from 10,000 feet in the sky.

It was a lot higher than the tree branches—making the rise to the top a lot more terrifying.

Still, I wanted to do it. I had a whole list of reasons:

  • I wanted to prove I could.
  • I wanted to feel alive.
  • I wanted to face a fear.
  • I wanted to impress and inspire myself.
  • I wanted to impress my boyfriend, who’d invited me for our second date.

It would have been easy to psych myself out of going. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and even slightly paralyzed. It didn’t help matters that someone tweeted me a link to skydiving fatalities an hour before my boyfriend showed up.

In that moment, it seemed far more reasonable to back out. I knew it was unlikely I’d plummet to my death, but even the slightest risk seemed too big to take.

As I read through the various stories of things that had gone wrong for others, wrestling with my fear of facing a similar fate, I reminded myself that the part of me that wanted to do it was greater than the part of me that was afraid.

I realized the only way I’d follow through was to stop thinking and focus on doing. I had to start moving toward it, one inch at a time.

So I told myself that all I had to do was get in the car at 10:00 AM. At that moment, none of the other steps mattered. I didn’t have to deal with those fears right then; I just had to deal with the task in front of me.

After that, all I had to do was walk to the entrance—just one foot in front of the other. Then all I had to do is get into my harness.

I didn’t have to fill any of those moments with the fear of falling. I didn’t have to concern myself with how I’d feel in moments to come. I just had to be in the present, doing the simple tasks it required.

Eventually I got to the point when all I had to do was board the plane.

That’s when I started crying. Full on tears, on a second date, in front of a group of strangers who didn’t seem even slightly nervous.

Yes, I felt emotion. Yes, I expressed it visibly. No, it did not stop me. OK, it almost did.

After my boyfriend barreled out excitedly, like a kid doing a cannonball in a pool, my tandem diver pushed me to the open door. I could almost feel the bark under my fingernails as I clutched the sides for safety. That was the moment I hadn’t thought about through all the tiny steps that led me there.

The sheer terror I felt right then was what I had feared the most. I likely wouldn’t have gotten to that point if I’d started feeling it far sooner than necessary.

I’d focused on each tiny step until I got face-to-face with the most frightening one, and then, with nothing left to do, I took a deep breath and jumped—and landed, panting, laughing, crying, and feeling more alive than ever before.

This, I have realized, is one of the most effective ways to do anything that scares us: focus on one step at a time without dreading how we’ll feel later in the process.

If you put too much attention on things that could go wrong later, you limit your effectiveness right now. That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan to avoid potential problems. It’s just that if you function in a state of constant anxiety, it will eventually cripple you. 

Whatever it is you want to do, it doesn’t need to be this massive, overwhelming goal. Instead, think of it as a series of steps, some simpler than others, and commit to completing some every day.

Absorb yourself completely in each phase of the process, giving them your full attention, as if nothing else matters but what you’re doing right now—as if showing up for each part of the journey is in itself the goal.

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a hard path. It doesn’t matter if the odds are against you. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t making progress as quickly as someone else would.

All that matters is that you take a step, and keep taking them, even if you don’t know where they’re leading.

Jumping into something new can be terrifying. You never know for certain where you’re going to land until you get there. And it’s hard to silence your fears about just where that may be.

It’s okay to feel scared. Just know it doesn’t have to control you—not if you choose to focus on where you are, and put your heart into the step of this moment.

For years I told myself I wasn’t who I wanted to be because I felt so scared. I’ve since realized it’s not my fear of falling that defines me. It’s the fact that I’m willing to make the climb in spite of all the feelings it brings up.

What small, manageable step can you take today toward that thing you want that scares you?

Photo by alwaysmnky

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Mike Linn

    What a great post. I felt scared just reading about you jumping out of a plane. I know personally on the occassions when I have faced my fears, I have rarely regretted taking those chances. I may have regretted the outcome or the details of how I handled the situation, but never regretted the fact I rolled the dice.

  • Irving Podolsky

    loved your story, Lori. I have one of my own. It’s long for a comment. Hope
    it’s okay.

    I had just turned thirty and was three years into marriage, having left behind
    a risky but adventurous life. Those
    thrilling “wild rides” would never return and I wanted just one more – one more
    scary thing that would push me past my settled existence. I guess what I really
    wanted, was to feel single again and free of the responsibility for another

    So I asked that Other Soul, my wife, permission to jump out of an airplane. It
    would be my last goodbye to youth.

    me go.

    year old T-Bird Johnson was our Jump Master out at Lake Elsinore. Back then, in
    1981, there were no tandem jumps with parafoil square sails. We had to make solo
    static line drops under old army MC-1 round canopies that could barely be
    steered or slowed down.

    never forget T-Bird’s opening statement. “People, you’re not going to die. At
    least not today. But you could screw yourself up pretty bad if you don’t listen
    to every word I say.”

    listened, and for three and a half hours we trained on how to save our lives if
    the chute didn’t open. And then there was something about a PLF when reaching
    the ground. A PLF is shorthand for saying a “parachute landing fall” which is
    another way of saying, “DON’T LAND WITH YOUR LEGS STRAIGHT! You’ll break them! Bend
    your knees and land on your hip.”

    old double prop DC3 with a filthy plywood floor and open windows carried us to
    jump altitude. I had already determined that the walkie-talkie tied onto my
    reserve chute didn’t work, not that it would help me in free fall as I groped
    to find the second rip chord.

    was sitting on my butt as we all were, third from the open hatch, deciding how
    I should be feeling as the first jumper pushed his legs into the gusts of
    pounding sky. The decision came fast: FEAR WAS NOT AN OPTION, followed by a
    second realization: my hands were really dirty and needed a thorough scrubbing.

    made more sense than worrying about dying. The reality check gave me control. Or the illusion of it.

    moved to the hatch and pushed my feet into the prop blast, thinking of nothing
    more than the ten-count and pulling my reserve rip chord if I were still in
    free fall.

    I dropped
    fast, spiraling in the air as my chute opened with braided lines tightening above my head.
    I looked up. Wow! My canopy was only half open! But I knew what to do. I pulled
    apart the shroud lines and swiveled under my chute like a child in a swing. The
    canopy opened fully.

    I could now relax and enjoy the view.

    never forget it. I was enveloped by a bubble of bliss and the calm of having
    more tranquil space than I ever imagined. My entire existence fell into a
    soothing peace, even as winds quietly carried me a mile past the drop zone.

    later, the Earth was approaching fast. I looked ahead and saw serious trouble.
    It was a barbed wire fence, and I could tell, based on my speed, I was going to
    hit it.

    Do I
    slow down by turning into the wind or try to get past it? I calculated my rate
    of decent. I had to get past it and hoped the gusts would help with that. They
    did, barely. Had I landed five feet ahead of where I did, I would have been
    sliced to shreds crashing into rusted prongs.

    hit the dirt hard, only to get dragged twenty feet through dried cow patties until
    hitting a stump. I didn’t mind. I was okay, and I had taken my last wild ride with another day
    waiting for me in the future.

    sometimes wonder, having been so brave so long ago, why I’m still afraid of
    running out of money.

  • Awesome post, Lori!

    It brought me back to my own moment of truth. It came many years ago when I was an aspiring recording engineer working at a top studio in New York. People like Kiss, Bowie and The Rolling Stones were coming through. I was next in line to move up to assistant engineer.

    Problem was that no one was leaving because those kind of artists were always coming through. It was really frustrating. Finally, the band Foreigner came through and made their album, Agent Provocateur, which contained their only Number One hit, I Want To Know What Love Is. This was cool. Their song, Feels Like The First Time was one of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar. I got to know them over the time they were there.

    In a shocking moment as they were leaving after eight months there, they asked if I wanted to come on the road with them as a guitar technician on their world tour. I was 23. I asked what I would have to do and they said quit your job today. We leave in two weeks. You have a lot to learn.

    Holy S#!t but…I had been there three years. This was that open door looking at the sky and feeling that wind.

    I was scared to death but knew this would be the adventure of a lifetime. So I held my breath and took the leap. I quit that day and travelled around the world with them. I learned more than all my years in school and had the time of my life.

    Now I am transitioning to becoming a full time writer. What small step can I take that scares me? I can send you a guest post idea tomorrow on your submission day. That scares me. But I’m doing it Nonetheless. Thank you for reminding me about feeling alive!

  • Jeet

    Lori, this is great – I hope it helps others overcome their personal inhibitions as well. Also, congratulations on your skydive. It is one of the best things one can try to overcome their fear. I have done it four times, and will do as many more times as I can “afford” to. What is interesting about facing one’s fears is that it lends credence to “Practice makes perfect”. The more one does things that push him/her to the limit, the easier it seems to get, and the more one wants to push these limits. There is no end, if one is willing.

  • Sherry

    This was such a great story, thanks for sharing it! I can’t imagine what it would be like to see that barbed wire getting closer!

  • DannySCR

    Once again, another great post by you Lori! I hope to one day sky-dive but until then its a step by step process. My mother has taught me to not worry about a problem until I’m face to face with it and thats how I try going about my life!

  • I’m the same way Mike! It’s like that saying–we tend to regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did. I try to remember that if I start feeling overwhelmed by worries–I will never regret trying and putting myself out there.

  • Thanks so much Jeet. Wow–four times! I honestly don’t know if I could/would do it again. I was glad once I did it, and I remember thinking, “Now I can cross that off my bucket list!” I guess I tackled the fear in that I did it, but I think I’d be equally terrified if I did it again. But you’re right–pushing the limits definitely stretches them!

  • Thanks so much Danny! Your mother sounds like a wise woman. =)

  • Wow what an amazing experience and adventure! I bet it was scary taking that leap, but how exciting you got to tour the world with them! I look forward to reading your post. =)

  • Wow! That must have been terrifying. That’s great you were able to think quickly and land safely (albeit still roughly). I think the fear of running out of money can be almost as strong as the fear of bodily harm. It’s all about survival in the end–and money is a huge part of that.

  • Andrea

    I like your last sentence here…and good for you to have gone through with the skydive…scary!:)

  • Andrea

    I like your last sentence here….and good for you to go through with the skydive…scary!:)

  • Thanks Andrea. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!

  • Judy

    Three weeks ago my teenage daughter and I started R.A.D. self defense training classes. As we sat in our first class, which is lead by two local police officers, I became pretty nervous and intimidated. We were going to learn how to physically defend ourselves – kicks, punches, elbows, escape moves – anything we could use. In the final class we’ll go through a attack simulation. We’ll go through a few scenarios and defend ourselves using what we’ve learned (we and our attackers will be well padded). I’m a very non-confrontational person. I’ll do anything to avoid face to face conflict so to say this is beyond my comfort zone is putting it mildly. We just had our third class last night and I’m pretty impressed with how far my daughter and I have both come (she’s shy like me). Our simulation class is in two weeks and I feel less nervous than I did three weeks ago. It’s not to say I’m not afraid, but I know once I’m placed in the situation I’ll be kicking some serious a**. I just pray I never have to actually use it in real life.

  • The part where you wrote “If you put too much attention on things that could go wrong later, you limit your effectiveness right now. — if you function in a state of constant anxiety, it will eventually cripple you” is well said!

  • Thanks Nicole!

  • That’s wonderful you two took this class together! I’m a non-confrontational person as well, so I can absolutely relate to that. I bet it feels really empowering to learn to defend yourself, should you ever need to do it!

  • Nat

    Very inspiring story! I came across this whilst looking for articles on facing fears or disconnecting from a bad experience… I suppose it’s all the same. Being completely in the present and shutting out Monkey Mind… My question is, how do you strengthen your mind to focus on the present and block out such intense thoughts?

  • Thanks Nat! The best way I know to strengthen the mind is meditation (or yoga, deep breathing, or other forms of activity that create mental stillness).

  • nathan C

    So the more you meditate, the stronger your mind gets? Being new to meditation, it’s really hard to believe that meditation can block out such strong mental chatter. Everything you have expressed in this story resonates with me and has definitely inspired me to take on my fears. You rock!

  • Nat

    Sorry, you are speaking to the same person. (Stupid auto-type).

  • In my experience, meditation hasn’t completely blocked out mental chatter, but I can tell a big difference when I meditate regularly and when I don’t. It helps a great deal! (And thank so much!)

  • Shaggy Dog

    Thank you so much for this article. I recently graduated from college so every thing I want to do in the near future scares me due to the uncertainty that comes with it. Reading this made me realize that I have been using this mentality of tackling things one step at a time, sometimes, and those are the times when I have actually been able to overcome my fears and get to the point that I wanted to. I all makes so much sense now. Excited about the days to come and the doing the things that I have been fearing to do.

  • Kara Colada Smollen

    This. What beautiful words. I needed to read this. I’ve traveled across the us back to the Midwest to see my dad after over a year. During my previous travels i realized how much he hurt me in the past and how much his abuse affected me. I literally dont know what im going to say to him (my stepmom and three siblings). Now I’m in a town only an hour and a half away and it feels terrifying, not unlike what you described jumping out of a plane! But its elegant, practical advice. Im going to take it. Ive come too far to turn tail now!