If You Want to Be Successful, Don’t Use Willpower, Use Fear

“Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

George Addair

I hate Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It!”

It’s a crock of crap.

It’s a marketing slogan that doesn’t take reality into account.

They say it so that you feel bad about your life, then you’ll buy their stuff, hoping that you will feel better.

Pithy slogan, nothing more.

The fact of the matter is, you can’t just do it. And the research backs it up.

Willpower Is Not Enough

We all get exhausted sometimes.

We are all affected by what is called willpower depletion.

Sure, you’re full of willpower, spunk, and gumption when you’re rested, having clarity on what you need to do, and you don’t have other priorities screaming for your attention.

But what happens when you’re not clear-headed, rested, and full of piss and vinegar?

What happens when the daily grind of life is dragging you down?

Just do it? Do what?

The first thing to do is give yourself a break.

If you weren’t aware of the effect of willpower depletion, there’s a good chance you’ve been giving yourself a hard time about your lack of progress toward your goals.

The CDC states that almost 20% of people in the US have experienced some form of depression in the last 2 weeks. And globally, it’s better, but not by much at 10% worldwide.

This means, wherever you go, you gather a dozen people and one to two of them is struggling just to be happy, let alone be successful. But what is less understood is how the energy around you affects your own energy.

Those one to two people affect the people around them, making success even more difficult.

Willpower is not enough.

The Man in the Cave

Fear, on the other hand, is a powerful motivator.

Meg Jay, in her book, Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience, writes about the research behind successful people. The research found that 75% of 400 successful people studied, 75% of them experienced a traumatic childhood.

But somehow, for these sad upbringings, they were able to build strength, resilience, and focus to become successful later in life.

The fear of an unsafe environment drove them to create safety, autonomy, and success for themselves.

Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL commander, executive business coach, and popular podcaster, is famous for daily posting on Twitter of his watch at 4:30 in the morning as he begins his 2-hour morning workout.

What inspires a man after 20+ years of active service and is retired to still get up at 4 in the morning?

He’s already survived some of the deadliest combat in the most dangerous places in the world, what more does he have to prove?

Jocko talks about his secret for motivation that keeps him going, it’s his “man in the cave.” You can watch him talk about it in this short 7-minute clip.

Even a Navy SEAL veteran can still feel fear.

You Were Not Designed to Be Always “On”

You are biologically wired to be lazy.

You had to be ready in case something jumped out at you.

We are around today because our ancestors survived, pure and simple. They were vigilant to pay attention to their surroundings and lazy enough to be well-rested, just in case a tiger jumped out from behind a bush or a neighboring tribe decided to raid them.

You can’t be at 100% all of the time, for every exertion, you need time to rest and recover.

Source: http://bit.ly/3cFFb8e

That is why we love being in the comfort zone.

The comfort zone means we are safe, happy, and can feel secure to reproduce.

From a biological perspective, that’s the meaning of life.

The cards are stacked against you for success. And if you want to create some, you have to get in the Fear Zone, picture the man in the cave.

To be successful, you need to use fear to get you out of the comfort zone and into the learning and growth zones.

They say with a strong enough why, the how doesn’t matter.

If a bear is chasing me down a hill, it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m in shape, the fact that I have asthma, or that I’m in my 50s; I’m running down that hill until I’m either safe or dead.

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Building Rituals for Resilience

Fear gets you off your butt, but it’s resilience that keeps you going.

”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”


Success then isn’t a place you arrive at, it’s a daily habit you engage in.

Building resilience is no different.

First, use fear to get you into action.

What are the consequences if you don’t make a positive permanent change in your life?

Paint the picture.

Make it ugly.

Make it scary.

Make it so bad, that you absolutely need to take action.

Then pin it up on the wall, so you can see it every day before you head out.

Who is your man in the cave that gets you off your butt at 4 am?

Then take one action every day that scares you. It doesn’t have to be a big scare, but at the very least, it needs to make you uncomfortable.

This is a picture of me in ’94, I was part of the team that built the LAX control tower.

Believe it or not, back then, I was afraid of heights. When the boss said he was looking for volunteers to work on the lightning-protection system which would involve months of hanging off the side of the building, I raised my hand.

I didn’t know if I could do it but I knew I had to give it a shot.

I knew that if I let the fear of heights stop me from being able to do my job, there may be many situations where I wouldn’t have a job. So I needed to overcome this fear.

For 6 months, me and my apprentice, basically traversed the whole exterior of that building installing conduit and wire to give an alternate route for lightning strikes to travel through, rather than the building steel which could cause electrical spikes to the sensitive air-traffic control equipment.

The next time you fly into LA, you can see the work I did. You see those stainless-steel metal bands in the picture, they’re supporting the painted-plastic PVC conduit we were installing.

After 6 months hanging in a little spider-basket, I got over my fear of heights.

The point being, put yourself in situations that create a bit of fear in you each and every day.

Also, have a support team to help you. Besides my apprentice, whom I trusted with my life, literally. We had a third guy on our crew, a carpenter. Only the three of us were allowed to touch any of our equipment, I wouldn’t even let our supervisor near our stuff.

We only trusted each other with our safety in that situation. And we all made it out on the other side of fear.

So, find a fear.

Build a support system.

Find someone who can help you to move past your fear.

And every day, take action that creates a bit of fear in you.

Soon, you’ll have more success than you ever imagined.

“You must be willing to do the things today others won’t do, in order to have the things tomorrow others won’t have.”

Les Brown

Life-long learner and idea machine.