Fear is Just a Chemical

This is Pure Fear. Not quite as scary as you imagined, is it?

This is Pure Fear. Not quite as scary as you imagined, is it?

I had a pretty scary dream the other night.

My son and I were sitting on the floor in our basement, building a fort out of interlocking foam squares. Except in this dream version of our basement, I had built the house just a little bit out into the ocean, and the foundation out of sheets of thick glass so you could see the whales and fish swimming around you whenever you were down there.

Except there had been a flaw in the design and at this moment we heard a deep, sickening Cracking Glass sound, followed by the immediate rush of thousands of tonnes of water rushing in to the basement and filling it up. I looked into my son’s frightened eyes as he looked into mine, and grabbed him to get ready to swim. But even then I knew there was a good chance we were about to drown together.

Thankfully I woke up right at that moment. My heart was pounding and I was still as scared as hell.

My foot was poking out of the bottom of the blanket. Danger! Anything out there could bite your foot off!” I pulled it in for safety.

My upper body was still out of the blankets. “Danger! That part of you is exposed to predators as well! Make no sudden moves, and slowly cover yourself up.”

By this point, I had been awake for a few seconds and was starting to come to my senses.

“Ok, idiot. Relax. You just had a dream. Look! You’re safe in bed and more importantly little MM is still sleeping like an angel in his own bed down the hall.” I felt a rush of joy realizing that everything was still fine.

But my heart was still going hard, and I suddenly found myself worrying about the strangest things.

“It’s raining outside. Is the roof going to leak? Did I leave anything outside? Is the rental house OK? Did I forget to do anything important that is now overdue? Am I really prepared for that Ecuador trip in a few weeks?”

As the minutes passed and I thought about what was going on, I realized something profound and useful: that fear and worry are really just chemical responses. Here I was, intellectually aware that everything was just fine, prosperous and safe. But at the same time, my emotions were screaming out in fear and worry as I laid in bed for those first few minutes.

If you have ever done any casual reading on health and wellness, you probably already know this – for various reasons, your body will sometimes decide to squeeze the ol’ Cortisol and Adrenaline bottles into the blood stream. It’s the Fight or Flight stuff that happens to all of us animals. But only by feeling it on such a visceral level and watching myself turn into a cowering crazy man under the blankets, did I realize how powerful it is, and how much it affects us in even in daily life.

The revelation was even more apparent as the hormones cleaned themselves up from my bloodstream and I was able to smile again and fall back asleep. And the next time I woke up, I had the opposite feeling about life in general.

The sun was peeking through the shutters, birds were singing in the trees around my bedroom window, and it was start of another grand day with no alarm clock or mandatory work.

“Wow, beautiful morning out there. I am sure glad we got that rain last night, the gardens will love it. And look at this fine house, is it really mine? What!? I just realized I also have a rental house that is happily taking care of itself. And I sure am looking forward to that Ecuador trip.. what a blast. What an amazing life!”

My whole perspective of the exact same set of life details had completely changed within the span of a few hours, from standard happiness, to extreme worry, and back to gratitude. Just because of the secretion of a microscopic quantity of some damned hormones I didn’t even ask for in the first place.

There’s a lot to be gained in life by thinking about this, and reminding yourself at every moment possible.

Are you scared to apply for a new job, switch careers, or search for a new house in a better location? That’s not because it’s a truly scary thing to do. It’s because there is a drop of liquid about as big as a flea that has been squirted in to your blood stream and is making you just slightly scared. And it’s not helping you.

About 100 people wrote me comments and emails asking me hysterically why I was seen on Yahoo wearing a fishing hat instead of a crash helmet when biking around my quiet neighborhood. The reason is because those little fear chemical bottles don’t squirt for me when I ride a bike. Because, like most things in life, it’s not worth being afraid of.

I have recently heard from people who are afraid to invest their cash or use it to pay off a mortgage, afraid to take it out of the “safety” of a guaranteed-loss-after-inflation 1% savings account. Other people are afraid to quit or even scale down their jobs, despite having several times the savings needed to live forever off of the passive returns. Afraid to try new things, afraid to make the stretch to invite a new friend over for dinner, afraid of the imaginary doom and gloom that will be brought down upon us by this government or the next one.

Your assignment, then, is to notice and remind yourself that all fear, unless it involves rapidly moving weapons, teeth, or claws, is actually bullshit. All fear can be cured. You can attack it with the mind, by imagining those little squirty bottles located right above the kidneys, laughing at them, and shutting them off.

And you can attack it with the body, by just doing what you’re afraid of. And suddenly, it won’t be scary, and you’ll laugh at your wimpy past self. Because oddly enough, Action Cures Fear. 

It’s one of the most useful things you can learn as early as possible in life, and I wish this had been drilled into me as a young child. It’s more important than arithmetic or chemistry class or calculus. So that’s your assignment for this weekend – cure one of your own fears, and come back on Monday a bit richer.

Update: in the comments section below, it looks like we have spawned yet another bike helmet safety debate. While this in itself is a little off-topic, I am always was especially intrigued by the inevitable comments that come in with graphic descriptions of head injuries. “In the newspaper, they said there was blood all over the pavement!”, “my aunt works in the ER..” and other such entertainment.

This is the perfect illustration of fear as it should NOT be applied to decision making. Scary stories are of no use to youonly scientific studies of large groups have any hope of helping you decide what activities are actually dangerous. And thus, I tend to delete irrelevant scary stories from this comments section, just as I avoid them in real life, because they are not helping. My apologies and remember that your own blog awaits as a place for all the scariest stories you can muster!

  • Franco August 23, 2013, 10:53 am

    Action cures depression too, at least for me. I like this post. But I am curious, is love just a chemical too?

    • Franco August 23, 2013, 10:55 am

      And oh yes, I was so gratified to see you not wearing a helmet while riding your bike. For some reason, it felt like a triumph to me.

      • Carolina on My Mind August 23, 2013, 11:59 am

        Same here, Franco!

        On a related note, here’s my story of conquering fear: when I started riding a bike five years ago, I dutifully slapped a helmet on my head, and I wore it faithfully every time I rode. Because everyone knows that you need a helmet to protect your brain when you ride a bike, right?

        A few months later, I randomly came across an article on the Web criticizing bike helmets. I was genuinely shocked that anybody would take that position in this day and age. I figured the article couldn’t possibly be right, so I went on to read everything I could find about the effectiveness of bike helmets. And when I was done educating myself on the subject, I ditched the helmet and haven’t worn it since (except twice for organized rides where it was mandatory).

        When I stopped wearing a helmet, I wasn’t afraid of hurting my head; I was afraid of drawing attention to myself, which I generally try to avoid, and of feeling self-conscious for being different. I was afraid that I would be badgered and lectured by everyone I came across. And in the beginning I was, and it was unnerving: I’ve had strangers yell at me from the sidewalk as I ride past them. It would have been easier just to wear the helmet, like everyone else. But I stuck to my guns and grew a thicker skin, and in the end that felt pretty good.

        • Jon August 23, 2013, 12:07 pm

          Carolina, would you mind sharing the links to what you’ve read about bike helmet safety? Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that it is safer to wear a bike helmet than not, such as this: http://depts.washington.edu/hiprc/practices/topic/bicycles/helmeteffect.html

          • Carolina on My Mind August 25, 2013, 5:37 pm

            Sure thing — I don’t remember exactly what I read way back then, but the comment from “ed,” below, is a great overview and covers most of the substance of what I read. There’s some good info at this link:


            The Wikipedia page is also pretty good on the subject and has lots of links:


            And this is an interesting recent development. In response to a petition filed under the federal Data Quality Act by our local bike advocacy group, WABA, the federal government has stopped citing the longstanding (but scientifically unsound) claim that bike helmets prevent 85% of head injuries:


            • LMaS August 27, 2013, 4:14 pm

              If I’m reading these correctly… a selection from http://cyclehelmets.org/ : you have a a study that shows that for adults helmets are actually safer http://cyclehelmets.org/1250.html, and repetitious studies showing that helmet injury statistics are skewed by the fact that riskier bikers (mountain, racers) are more likely to wear helmets regardless of helmet laws. Then from wikipedia statistics that show helmets decrease the likelihood of brain injury in an accident, and more statistics that show risky behavior increases with helmet wearing. And finally http://www.waba.org/blog/2013/06/feds-withdraw-claim-that-bike-helmets-are-85-percent-effective/ shows that helmets might not prevent quite 85% of brain injuries, but do in fact prevent some decent percentage. So to summarize I would take away that in the event of an accident a helmet provides protection, but some of the benefit of said protection is negated if you use the helmet as an excuse to ride more dangerously. I don’t see how this leads to the conclusion you shouldn’t wear a helmet, if anything it says wear a helmet and ride safely.

            • Doppler June 9, 2016, 10:36 am

              I think helmets for urban riding is more about opinions than safety. When you practice sports, it is good to wear helmets because of high speeds and obstacles. In urban contexts helmets do provide marginal safety while you ride, as much as it would add if you use them also while walking or running. It is comparable to helmets in cars. For F1 and Rally is ok, but would you use it going downtown?
              Check this opinion article: http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/

          • Lamont Cranston April 22, 2015, 6:55 pm

            It should be clear to everyone, no one should ride a bike, you could fall over. Also we should outlaw any homes that have stairs in them, people fall and hurt themselves. When I was in school a kid get hit with a baseball bat, it was an accident, but still we probably shouldn’t have then anywhere near humans. Oh, don’t forget the baseballs, very dangerous. As kid we played football in the vacant lot near our house, one time someone broke a leg. There ought to be a law. And sledding down steep hills in the snow, forget it!
            Better just give up, life is dangerous.
            Wait, I’m 60, I made it through an awful lot, even those dangerous school playgrounds of the 1960s.

        • Sarah Morrison August 23, 2013, 1:56 pm

          Sure, not wearing a helmet isn’t that big a deal when you’re tooling around town. When doing something like mountain biking though, it can save your life. Going 30mph, I crashed and landed first on my head followed by my left shoulder. Ended up with a compression fracture of my T12 vertebra, and a few cracked teeth. Looking at my helmet, there are at least 20 cracks where it was crushed from the crash. I’ll wear my helmet with no problem when doing that, but I’m not afraid to go without when on a leisure ride.

          • ed August 25, 2013, 6:03 am

            I also have cracked bicycle helmets (three to be exact) and continue to wear one. That does not prove anything other than helmets crack. I would never insist that anyone else wear one and not even think of promoting them. I did the research years ago and concluded that helmets are at best worthless and probably bad. The studies that convinced me were both done by governments who measured effect of helmet on fatality rates before and after mandatory helmets laws were passed. Australia and Canada were the countries. The result in both cases was an increase in fatalities. The reason is believed to be a combination of two factors. The first is an increase in brain rotation and neck injuries due to the helmet causing more torque being applied to the skull. Why this happens is that the helmet holds the skull more securely while without a helmet the skin of the head moves removing some the force. BTW a brain rotation injury is due to the brain rotating relative to the skull. Another factor is that the force absorbed by the helmet is very small. There is also some evidence that folks wearing helmets have a false sense of security and engage in more risky behavior. I suspect that the helmet making the head larger is a factor as well. The impact occurs earlier in the event with a helmet. The natural reaction is to protect your head and you have less time to do so before the impact occurs. In other words the head impact is harder because of the helmet. The reason I continue to wear one is peer pressure. My bike club required them. On the few occasions that I was foolish enough to question the efficacy of the things, I was roundly booed and there were some who got plain angry about it. Sort of like questionings one’s religion or politics.

            The helmet companies certainly know or are in denial. What is unfortunate is that they don’t actually design effective helmets. A tight fitting thin helmet might work better.

          • David June 24, 2016, 4:47 pm

            Twice as a child in the 1970s I had stitches in my scalp from bicycle accidents. There were no brain or other head injuries. A helmet would have prevented two trips to the ER to be stitched up but nobody wore one back then. I hadn’t heard of a bicycle helmet until long after that. They didn’t become common until. the 1990s. I wear one now but I don’t expect it to protect my head from serious injury. I do expect it to protect me from non life threatening injuries that can be annoying, expensive and painful.

        • Noble Anarchist August 23, 2013, 3:51 pm

          This is one of my all time favorite Ted talks on the subject:


          TEDxCopenhagen – Mikael Colville-Andersen – Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet

          Uploaded on Dec 16, 2010
          Copenhagen’s bicycle ambassador talks about how important the bicycle is for liveable cities and how bicycle helmets are threatening bicycle culture.

          • Brenden August 24, 2013, 6:07 pm

            That video was well worth the time to watch. My favorite part was the thought about adding the stickers from cigarettes to cars.

          • Slofty September 5, 2013, 5:19 am

            This recent article in Bicycling Magazine is along similar lines:


            Won’t go into details of my personal experience (may be taken/come off as a “scary” story) but FWIW I don’t feel compelled to wear a helmet anymore. Fausto Coppi’s mantra whilst racing: “Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike…” Painfully simple, non-glorified–and at times I wish we would collectively treat our interpretation of data (not to mention our lives in general) in a similar fashion.

        • phred August 23, 2013, 6:11 pm

          I once read that most cycling fatalities are due to chest compression and not head injuries. I guess we should all campaign to get MMM to wear an airbag under his jacket

        • dweebyhawkeyes August 23, 2013, 10:31 pm

          Even though I’m pretty accident-prone I’d really like to abandon the helmet. Unfortunately it’s illegal to ride without one where I am and I’m not willing to see how well-enforced that law is.

    • Debt Blag August 23, 2013, 11:21 am

      Yes, exactly! I think it cures fear too. It also cures the helplessness that fear creates

    • Jaketucson August 23, 2013, 12:22 pm

      I don’t know the chemistry behind love (serotonin maybe?), but as with fear we either choose to love or not love. The same sentiments in this post apply I think.

    • Free Money Minute August 23, 2013, 1:58 pm

      I think love is more than just a chemical. I continue to love long after the first attraction is made. Love is a wonderful thing!

      • Whitefox August 23, 2013, 4:19 pm

        Love, like all emotions, is a combination of chemicals. But unlike some sort of acute fight-or-flight response, love is long-lasting because you start out with some nice, soothing serotonin and then oxytocin helps strengthen the pair-bond association between interacting with a person and feeling great. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a complex process, but of course it’s all controlled by hormones.

      • ApplePi August 27, 2013, 12:52 pm

        English only has one word for love. The greeks had at least four: philia, storge, eros and agape, which roughly mean (friendship love, family love, physical love and principled/unrequited love).

        Of those, the first three are somewhat selfish, requiring that love to be returned… otherwise eventually you stop showing them (to that person).

        The fourth, agape is the most powerful and difficult form to show as it doesn’t require any return. It’s reflected in the actions you would show to someone you don’t know because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the “love your enemy” love, because he’s human, it’s the love that takes years to cultivate and it’s usually found in successful long-lasting marriages.

        In English, love is a feeling, not a condition that demands action. It’s romantic, it’s warm and fuzzy, not logical and reasoning. It’s one of the great deficiencies in the language, if you ask me. You don’t love your bike helmet the same way as you love your spouse or kids.

        It’s pretty much the opposite of what video talks about, ruling by the culture of fear. For the past 12 years, this world has been in a heightened state of fear and I worry where we’re going.

        Is worry and anxiety just another chemical? Probably. Doesn’t make it less real, though.

    • Rachel Ruhlen November 20, 2013, 2:26 pm

      Yes, love is just chemicals too. Dopamine (passion, or when you fall in love), oxytocin (produced after childbirth and after orgasm!), and serotonin. Does that make our daily expressions of love any less meaningful, that they are just chemicals? Maybe so, but in my house we don’t care. :)

    • Ellen May 8, 2015, 7:09 pm

      No LUST is a chemical…love happens over time.

  • Alicia August 23, 2013, 10:54 am

    Great post. I’m a worrier and a bit of a scaredy-pants, so I find it hard to take that step, but once it’s done I’m usually okay. But to make that first step… it sometimes requires deep-breathing exercises.

    I have to say as a chemist I got way too excited about your chemical structure up there.

    And also, the description of you covering yourself up in bed. Yeah, I end up doing that every night – no part of bodies can be exposed to the monsters. :)

    • Debt Blag August 23, 2013, 11:23 am

      Yes, I find that crushing fear has to do with doing as well. Once something becomes less of an unknown, you can’t help but be less afraid of it

    • Kenoryn August 23, 2013, 2:25 pm

      Ha, hi fellow chemist! Me too. I starting trying to name it, then realized I wouldn’t know what it was by its chemical name anyway.

  • No Waste August 23, 2013, 10:54 am

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    Dammit I wish that was my quote.


  • Kraig August 23, 2013, 10:56 am

    Agreed, MMM. I had this fear too of doing something big, something better than what I was doing with my most productive 40 hours every week. Then after building a money mustache, it just didn’t make sense to keep listening to that fear.

    Now, every day I have to train myself to ignore that crap and think positive. You’re right, unless it’s life threatening, it’s complete bullshit. I’ve begun to realize that. Screw fear.

  • CityGirlCountryBloke August 23, 2013, 11:04 am

    I fear things but not overly. My fear of everyday, mundane things perished the second I stepped off the plane in Afghanistan with a gun strapped to my body because I was in a place where people wanted to kill me. Fear gets compartmentalized during situations like that because its just something you have to deal with later. When I got home, I was no longer fearful of things that once held me prisoner. Instead, I embraced life and was happy to live in a country as free and as wonderful as this one is. I left my fear in Afghanistan and came home to live free. Life will happen as its suppose to. Make your choices as smartly and as informed as you can then just go with what ever the end result may be. Do not live in fear of what may happen! As always, excellent post MMM!

    • Susan Hall October 9, 2013, 10:25 am

      I stepped off the airplane at Kabul airport (2005 and 2007) not with a gun but a camera. I was curious. Who are these folks that the government asserts ‘want to do us harm?’ I took taxis, ate kabobs, visited the shopping district Chicken Street, went to a bookstore, went to the National Museum, bought a carpet, visited the ICRC, learned about de-mining, took a day trip to Istalif, a village famous for it’s pottery. Afghan hospitality is second to none. Interestingly I wasn’t afraid at all. Possibly because of the warm welcome and genuine concern for my well being by everyone I encountered. Global Exchange does ‘reality tours’ to Afghanistan. http://www.susanmhall for photos.

  • Christine August 23, 2013, 11:11 am

    So is fear controlled partly in our DNA? Do you think some people have great difficulty overcoming fear because they tend to get afraid of more things? Just wondering if anyone knows.

    Definitely a person can reduce their fears by doing what you are afraid of – over and over and over again. And if needed in baby steps ;)

    • Elizabeth August 23, 2013, 12:29 pm

      Yes fear is, in part, controlled by DNA, though there is also a conditioning factor. When your fear response is too much higher than the normal setting it becomes a mental illness. For example I have Generalized and Social Anxiety disorder. That means that in social situations I will have irrational levels of fear. Practice does help, but so far (23 years into my life) it doesn’t get rid of it. You just learn to function in spite of it.

      • Christine August 23, 2013, 12:48 pm

        Thanks Elizabeth for sharing and answering my question!

        Yeah that’s what I thought. A little more complicated for some than just remembering to turn off that fear! I have to say that sometimes when I read too many things about staying positive and pushing yourself I wonder about.. well my own limits set by my body. I’ve even watched a good TED video talking about how only people with a specific gene has ever climbed an 8000 meter peak – the gene needed to breath the thin air!


        Not to say that nothing can be done for anxiety – its not the same as the gene needed to breath thin air.. but certainly I keep in mind that we have different starting points for these type of things.

        • Elizabeth August 23, 2013, 1:34 pm

          I have to admit when I first saw the title my immediate reaction was “most kids think that adults are a different species.” : – )

          Ok, more seriously. Our genes are powerful contributors but they are only the set point of many things that we do. They may make things harder or easier but rarely do they stop us in our tracks.

          • Christine August 23, 2013, 1:41 pm

            Haha yes exactly! Most genes luckily aren’t as set as that oxygen gene. Its more like taking that knowledge and working with it. I have anxiety? Okay then I do. I won’t beat myself up because this dude doesn’t. I just know that I have some more work in this area than other people may. Its like remembering to be fair to ourselves, respect our differences :) …Wasn’t suggesting changing the human species like the title of that links suggests! LOL

            • Jenn August 24, 2013, 4:45 pm

              I have generalized anxiety, too, and I really like the way you put that: “I just know I have some more work in this area than other people may.” I spend a lot of energy working on this myself, because it’s something I can clearly see is holding me back in some key areas in my life.

              It’s always helpful to know I’m not alone in the fight. :-)

  • Mrs PoP August 23, 2013, 11:11 am

    “Action cures fear”, but we might have different action responses that will cure said fears. It’s about figuring out a balance between the two.

    My current situation requires me using my brain to produce an income, so the mild level of fear from crashing my bike leads me to protect said brain while riding a bike with a marginally inconvenient device (helmet) that requires combing my hair when I get to my destination. Not really a big deal. But it’s a different action than MMM’s in the same situation because we each have a slightly different personal calculus.

    Figuring out your personal calculus, and keeping it reasonable and rational, is the part that can be the biggest challenge.

  • Ms. Must-stash August 23, 2013, 11:18 am

    “Make not your thoughts your prison.” Shakespeare

    A powerful sentiment that applies equally well to fear, anger, hate, frustration. My personal approach is to plaster on a smile and figure out what positive steps I can take to resolve a situation. Although it often starts as a forced smile, the smile is key – it’s part of convincing yourself that everything’s OK, and there really is something to smile about.


  • Debt Blag August 23, 2013, 11:19 am

    Oh my! That does sound like a pretty scary dream!

    To get the fear out of investing, I find that the best way is to gain a lot of knowledge about it. We’re afraid f what we don’t know, after all

  • retirebyforty August 23, 2013, 11:21 am

    I haven’t had a nightmare in such a long time. I think living a relatively stress free life really made a difference.
    Action definitely cure fear. When I went bungy jumping for the the first time (and only) it was pretty easy to just go. If I dilly dally around, I’d probably back out. Just keep moving and the fear will diminish. A lot of it is just in your head.

    Of course some fear is valid and you need to figure that out too.

  • EL August 23, 2013, 11:21 am

    Fear begets more fear so it is best to take them on head on and don’t over think things. I aim to remove all fear before the fear sets in, by thinking how can I solve what I’m feeling? This usually works for me.

  • Done by Forty August 23, 2013, 11:21 am

    What a great post — I love reading about the tricks our own minds play on us. Fear is a biggie, especially for me as I am risk averse (a nice way of saying that fear plays a systematic role in our decisions).

    I, too, have some anxiety about our Ecuador and Peru trip coming up in November. I am scared of so many little things, like losing my luggage, getting sick from the water or food, getting mugged, being held for ransom…

    But it’s a really helpful tip you’ve offered. I should recognize the most ancient & primitive parts of my brain are just releasing chemicals because they are not yet accustomed to going to South America, and the newness of it sends it into flight mode. No big deal though. The action of actually going will cure me of that, and next time I will fear less, or not at all. Thanks, MMM!

    • theFIREstarter August 25, 2013, 9:17 am

      I learned a good phrase from the locals when I went to Ecuador about five years ago which seems quite pertinent for this post:

      “Si se puede” – basically just means “You can do it!”

      It seemed to help a lot when we were on long treks etc. You can use this one for free if you want, it’s on me :)

      To put your mind at rest Mr done by forty, Ecuador is a beautiful country, the people are very friendly, and we even felt safe in the big bad capital city of Quito, just wandering around wherever we felt. I believe I read you are staying near Cuenca(? not sure now thinking about it), which is also a lovely town/city.

      I’ve been to quite a few towns/cities in the USA (e.g. Chicago) before and taken a few wrong turnings and I did not feel that same safeness…. let me tell ya!!! :)

      • Done by Forty August 26, 2013, 10:28 pm

        Thanks for the comment back, Firestarter. I agree that some US cities probably are more dangerous than any place I’m likely to visit in Cuenca. That’s a good way of getting over your fear: comparing the unknown to something known and not feared. Thanks!

        • theFIREstarter August 29, 2013, 2:45 pm

          No probs mate, just wish I was coming along as it sounds like a bloody good meet up!

  • CALL 911 August 23, 2013, 11:23 am

    The physiologic response to extreme excitement is also due to the same set of hormones. The rush of paying off a debt is just a smaller shot of adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. I guess we should seek out situations that release those hormones. But chronic cortisol exposure shortens life expectancy, so there’s that.

  • Insourcelife August 23, 2013, 11:24 am

    It’s not just your fears you have to overcome, it’s other people’s as well, which is why I like your bicycle example. Other people are telling you that it’s dangerous not to wear a helmet so you have to explain yourself over and over again. I’ve accepted the risk of motorcycle riding but the first thing other (non-rider) people say when they find out that I have a bike is “isn’t it dangerous?”. No shit it is, so is walking as this crazy example illustrates: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/cab-jumps-curb-midtown-hits-woman-reports-article-1.1431690

    Back to bicycles – my son is 1 years old and he loves to ride on my bike in a WeeRide seat that mounts between me and the handlebars. We rode around the community sans helmets and people were giving us looks and I even heard some comments. I am probably going to end up getting him a helmet just because every single kid and parent here wears one and I don’t want to deal with all the bs. No helmet when riding a bicycle for me though. I am sure Helmet Police will chime in!

    • Kruidig Meisje August 26, 2013, 7:32 am

      You could tell them you went Dutch. Nobody in NL wears helmets (unless they do mountain biking, which is difficult in our country).
      Our bikers union even has an article about helmets (in dutch only). Summary: it far more dangerous not to cycle, than to cycle without a helmet (daly wise comparison). And because mandatory helmets make people cycle less, it is not wise for a government to insist on helmets. Spend money on good infrastructure in stead of ticketing agents.
      Bicycledutch has an english blog with video’s (please note the obesity rate in NL) and statistics, that explain how dangerous cycling is. That is, if you want facts.

      • insourcelife August 28, 2013, 5:36 pm

        I agree 100%. The video linked in MMMs post argues the same points as well. The only difference is that NL has much better bike infrastructure than where I live and also an expectation that bikes will share the road with cars. I’ve been there and it’s night and day. When i bike with my son i ride on sidewalks whenever possible – no one uses them anyway.

  • Pretired Nick August 23, 2013, 11:27 am

    Good call! It’s really important in life to make fear your bitch. Fear is critical to keeping you alive, but it is also a dangerous trap, holding you back. I personally try to face it head-on whenever possible. I went skydiving on my 30th birthday for one reason only: it terrified me. Turns out I loved it! I’m still afraid of scuba diving so that’s still on my list to do, but since it takes classes, I haven’t gotten to that one yet.
    PS: Your dream would have sent me running for dream interpretation web sites to see what my subconscious was thinking. Yikes!

    • Mike September 16, 2013, 7:09 am

      Go for those scuba lessons, you won’t regret it!

      I tried scuba diving for the same reason you tried sky-diving — the thought of it terrified me! The hard part is to convince your body to keep breathing as it slips under the water that first time, but once you get there the fear slips away just as easily. Then the awe and wonder kick in and you forget you ever were scared.

      My second reason for taking the lessons was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef – I wasn’t about to miss seeing that up close and personal just because I was terrified.

  • Ree Klein August 23, 2013, 11:27 am

    I love this post. I reminds me of the truth about anger… years ago I realized that you can make yourself angry just by thinking of a past event and the way it made you feel then. BAM, you’re angry now. (Or sad or depressed…)

    We have far more control over our emotions that we realize. Even when you do realize it, it takes practice to push the fear, anger, whatever, down and move past it…to choose adventure, growth and happiness.

    I try to remind myself of that every time I think I can’t or get scared or bummed about something. Life is what we make of it.

  • CincyCat August 23, 2013, 11:32 am

    Dream chemicals are crazy things. On more than one occasion, poor Mr. CincyCat has been on the receiving end of my dream-induced wrath when he has been caught in a compromising position with some dream skank in my head. LOL!

  • Jacob August 23, 2013, 11:33 am

    Fear seems to always lead ti inaction for me. Agreed on “getting over it” and taking action. I think I need to survive a zombie apocalypse to really get myself moving, because inaction in that case ends up with my guts all over the parking lot.

    Also, I think most people keep themselves covered by their kevlar-like sheets at night to ensure protection. I mean really, sheets aren’t just for warmth, but can stop most any attack….(at least, that’s what our brains tell us)

    Edit: Also, just read your policy. Feel free to remove my blog name from my “name” above. :)

  • Jon August 23, 2013, 11:38 am

    I’m all for not living in fear, but I don’t see how that relates to wearing a bike helmet. When I drive in my car, I put on my seat belt not out of fear, but just because it’s the logical thing to do.

    Wearing a seat belt is easy and proven to add safety to my life.

    Likewise, I’d wear a bike helmet. Not because someone forced me to or because I’m deeply afraid that my head is going to get smashed. I do it because it’s easy and proven to add safety to my life:



    • Mr. 1500 August 23, 2013, 12:27 pm

      I have to agree with you. While I don’t think anyone should be forced to wear a helmet, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t wear one. My sister has worked with lots of people with traumatic brain injuries. From reading about these accidents, I’d have to believe that many of these folks would have been better with a helmet on (none wore a helmet).

      MMM talked about how he owned a Honda VFR motorcycle in a recent post. I wonder if he wore a helmet then?

      • Mr. 1500 August 23, 2013, 12:50 pm

        I admit to posting the previous comment before watching the Ted Talk. However, I just watched it and I do wish he would have given some references for his claims that helmets are more dangerous. He seems to throw out some conspiracy theories (insurance companies being afraid of people switching to bicycles at the [10 minute mark]), so that makes me question his credibility.

        I do like the first part about what he said about safety though. A good example are car commercials. They all talk about how the car has 87 airbags and earned such and such results in blah blah blah safety test. They convince people that they have to buy a $60,000 vehicle to be safe. It’s 99,999% bullshit.

        Perhaps I’m skewed towards bike and motorcycle helmets because I’ve sailed over my handlebars at least 5 times and the helmet has saved my noggin on 2 of those occasions. For me, its the opposite of the Escalade tradeoff. Instead of spending 60K on a ridiculous hunk of metal to be .0001% safer, I’m spending $40 on a piece of foam to prevent a traumatic brain injury.

        Forgetting helmets, the main point of the article is a good one. If you’re not careful, fear will hold you back in a variety of ways. You’ll buy more crap and take less chances. You’re life will drone on and you’ll look back when you’re 80 and wish you had been a little less scared.

        • Jon August 23, 2013, 1:18 pm

          Yeah, I’d like to see his references too, because here are 70+ references that say wearing a helmet is a good idea: http://depts.washington.edu/hiprc/practices/topic/bicycles/refs.html

          • Franco August 23, 2013, 11:41 pm

            Wearing a helmet may be much safer than not wearing one, it may not be. Not the point I was trying to make.

            MMM not wearing a helmet on a highly visible video felt like a triumph to me; not over fear, but a triumph over all the nagging, annoying safety police who work really hard to take all the pizazz out of life by making more rules and creating safety gadgets that are so irritating (like home smoke alarms that are set off by a slightest breeze or insect whizzing by when you leave the window open in your bedroom at night) they get turned off anyway.

            It was a triumph over certain school administrators whose solution to making playgrounds safer is to outlaw running. This is not a joke. It happened at my younger siblings’ public school. No running at recess. It is too dangerous.

            Safety is a good thing. Being smart is a good thing. But actually doing things is also good.

            An interesting observation: my wife and I let our kids do a lot of climbing, rough-housing and shenanigans that many other parents would consider to be too dangerous for kids. But I predict that in the long run it will make our kids safer. We watch them carefully and do intervene when things get a bit too dicey.

            But, in general, the more non-lethal bumps and scrapes they experience, the more chickens, hogs and dogs they wrassle, the tougher they will be and the better their balance and judgement will be as they grow up. Nothing wrong with a helmet, I’m sure a helmet has saved a life now and then. My kids wear helmets when riding much of the time. But overall toughness has probably saved more lives in history than all the protective gear ever invented.

            • Kristina August 25, 2013, 9:18 am

              I wholeheartedly agree that action reduces fear, and that helicopter parents aren’t doing their kids any favors (just indulging their own anxieties perhaps).

              Check out this article from the WSJ

              Playing It Too Safe?
              New Playground Gear Promotes Risk-Taking to Boost Fitness And Brain Development


  • Mother Frugal August 23, 2013, 11:41 am

    I remember being afraid to pay off our mortgage, because our savings would no longer cover us for over a year… just in case. I even asked for a HELOC application to fill out… just in case. Logic finally took over and we paid that thing off.

    Guess what? Nothing horrible happened. No job loss, unexpected emergencies, alien invasion or zombie apocalypse. We’re doing fine.

    Sometimes we overthink things just to put ourselves in a tizzy.

    • Neil August 23, 2013, 1:06 pm

      What’s more, if an emergency had arisen, you could have taken out a heloc when you needed it.

  • Frank August 23, 2013, 11:49 am

    Yup.. Exactly right MMM,

    I have decided to retire next April….But why not now?.. I have enough, I have skills by the bucketful.

    My boss is seriously ticking me off as we get to what should be the pinnacle of my career and turning what should be a really fun but challenging assignment into a freaking nightmare because he basically doesn’t trust me.

    So I’m now being micro managed.

    So why do I need to earn those last few sheckles between now and April?.. Fear, thats all it is.


  • FI Pilgrim August 23, 2013, 11:54 am

    Action cures fear, I agree. I also think that experience (a history of action) encourages more action. Keep conquering your fear and it gets easier and easier!

  • mary w August 23, 2013, 11:58 am

    Yeah, I didn’t use to wear a bike helmet around my neighborhood either. Safe, 25 mph roads, with mostly nice drivers. Until the day I hit a bit of gravel, fell off my bike and broke my wrist. Two surgeries later (one to put the plate in, another 6 months later to take it out) with a bit of physical therapy in between I realized that even in my safe neighborhood accidents can happen. My orthopedic doc said riding a bike was okay, but “no more falling”. My compromise is always wearing helmet.
    I’m being picky, of course, to your larger correct point of not being a fraidy cat about life and finances.

  • thegreenworkbench August 23, 2013, 12:02 pm

    The same goes for DIY projects as well. People have a huge fear of screwing up or not doing something perfectly, so they never try. Sometimes you gotta dive in, do your best, learn from your mistakes, and then make it right (see the full rant on my blog). True failure is never trying, so maybe that is something we should actually fear.

    • CincyCat August 23, 2013, 12:18 pm

      I agree with you completely about home improvement projects. I know people who will pay good money to hire an electrician to change a light switch, when it is a piece of cake to do it yourself (usually in less than 15 minutes). This is because of fear of being electrocuted, which is extremely remote if you have cut the power at the circuit box before you get started. And, if you accidentally mix up the black & white, guess what will happen? The switch won’t work when you restore power. That’s it. Your house will not immediately explode. You will not spontaneously combust. All you do is flip the circuit back off, switch the wires, and voila! You have just installed a light switch.

  • EVLee August 23, 2013, 12:22 pm

    I quite enjoy your blog, MMM, and always read the responses to each post to gauge what others thought and glean any new ideas. But this time around, I noticed a lack of response about your actual dream, so thought I’d chime in.

    WATER in dreams often represents emotions (an ocean is pretty massive); a HOUSE can often represent our life. I would interpret your dream to mean you are delighted with the creative life you have provided and can share with your son (the glass bottomed house to see all the cool fish), BUT there’s a part of you that fears (the floor of your house cracking) you may place your son in a situation where you can’t protect him (massive ocean swirling in).

    Or maybe the dream was simply due to indigestion.

  • Sally August 23, 2013, 12:23 pm

    This weekend I am going to face my fear of riding my bike with my new clipless pedals. I will be wearing a helmet. Not knocking those who don’t, but there’s too much good stuff going on in this hat rack of mine and I need to protect it.

  • Elizabeth August 23, 2013, 12:24 pm

    It is rare that I find myself in disagreement with MMM, but in this case I would have to say that this is a rather simplistic view of fear. While fear is a hormone based response it does have very real, and sometimes very serious, physical, emotional, psychological, and even social impacts. I am a huge fan and believer of positive thinking, but I also have Generalized and Social Anxiety disorder. The reality is no matte how many happy thought I have I will never be able to control the “little squirty bottles right above my kidneys.” The reality is that they will always be putting out 10 to 100 times the “normal” amount of the fear hormone. It is up to me to manage how my fear affects me and my life. And I won’t keep going on about philosophy because that would take much too long.

    • Stephen August 23, 2013, 1:02 pm

      While I do not have an anxiety disorder, I have had a few anxiety attacks, so I know in some part what you’re talking about.

      MMM usually speaks to the general population and asks that his readers fill in the special cases. Lots of people who don’t have a disorder do still have irrational fears, without the medical conditions that make it even harder to deal with. Fear and anxiety are definitely complex, but many, many people still benefit from the encouragement to take action.

      • Elizabeth August 23, 2013, 1:30 pm

        Very true that taking action is of benefit. I am a strong believer that confronting fear is how you become courageous. I guess my biggest protest (if you will pardon the poet side of me) is that MMM makes fear sound like killing a dragon, you go, do battle with it, defeat it, and then go looking for the next dragon to slay. For some (or many, I’ve never actually done a head count) fear is like holding on to a bucking horse. You just have to grit your teeth and ride because there’s no getting off.

        • CL August 23, 2013, 5:34 pm

          You are certainly not alone. Ten percent of the American population experiences some kind of anxiety in their life, from phobias like claustrophobia to stuff like GAD.

          While medical concerns are totally valid, Mr. Money Mustache has spoken about his own struggles – emotional/mental states that impacted his physical wellbeing.


          I don’t think that he’s belittling you or anybody who has anxiety; I think (more than anything) he’s pointing his Optimism Gun. Please don’t be judgmental.

          • Elizabeth August 23, 2013, 5:57 pm

            I do not feel belittled (thanks for checking in on my emotional health though!) I do feel that the advice that he gives: “Your assignment, then, is to notice and remind yourself that all fear, unless it involves rapidly moving weapons, teeth, or claws, is actually bullshit” is not necessarily good advice for certain percentages of the population even if they don’t have a mental health diagnosis.

            I don’t feel that I am being judgemental, I simply disagree with how he portrays fear in this article and have expressed my own views. However, MMM, if you do feel judged in any way I offer my most heart felt apologies.

  • rjack August 23, 2013, 12:28 pm

    I think most people have a natural bias of being an optimist versus a pessimist. A pessimist fears more things because he focuses on things that can go wrong. An optimist sees more opportunities and as a result has fewer fears.

    Studies show that optimism is better and healthier most of the time. MMM is clearly an optimist. I wish I was the same.

    I naturally tend to be more of a pessimist with fears about how to minimize loss instead of maximizing gain. I have learned to move toward the more optimistic end of the spectrum by practicing Zen Buddhism, reading books like The Magic of Thinking Big, and reading blogs like this one. If I can do it, so can anyone else that tries.

  • Edward August 23, 2013, 12:42 pm

    I hadn’t felt fear in a long time and I’d forgotten what it was like until I learned how to fast horseback ride at a ranch in Arizona a few years ago. When that horse took off at full gallop, I was terrified. Which is hilarious, because the idea of death doesn’t even really frighten me. The rings on my fingers left bruises from me grabbing the reigns and pommel so tight. Took a few hours to get the hang of it, but once I did I laughed my head off at the exhilaration when we galloped.

    What I find odd is how the mind can actually surprise us in our own dreams. I had a dream a few months ago (on one of those days where the world was supposed to end) that I was in a park at night with a whole bunch of people for one of those “End of the World” parties. We were all having a great time and I said something to my sister like, “Once again the apocalypse fails to appear.” Just as those words had left my lips the moon EXPLODED. Holy crappola!! Let me tell you something, the moon exploding is a very, very scary thing. Chaos ensued at the park with everyone running for their cars. But what I want to know is how did my own mind come up with that? And how can it come up with a surprise that I’m not even aware is coming? I understand how someone can jump out from behind a door and scare you, but how can your own brain brew up a storyline in the background that you don’t see coming down the pipe? Is there an area of my mind that’s got its own storywriters that it keeps separate from the me that thinks it knows its own thoughts?

    • Uncephalized August 26, 2013, 10:22 am

      There is one theory–and I don’t know that it’s true–that dreams are at least partly formed because at night, your brain “tunes down” the inputs from your senses, which makes the electrical noise coming from the brain stem and other parts much louder to your sensory cortexes. These centers aren’t shut off during dreams–they’re responsible for producing the images you see and feel and hear. But since they’re trying to make sense of nonsense input, you get all the bizarre-but-familiar stuff that dreams are well known for. A similar idea (maybe) explains why you often feel as though you can’t run or move properly in dreams; because your muscles and nerves are blocked from full-volume communications from your motor center and thus you don’t get any kinesthetic feedback of motion from your limbs when your brain shouts at them to move, and you thus have the sensation of paralysis or being stuck in molasses.

      That’s in addition to the supposed “point” of dreaming at all, which may be to solidify memories and experiences while throwing out unimportant or useless brain-clutter, which is probably why you often dream about mundane things that happened during the previous day or two as well as the weird stuff.

      But to try to answer the question of how your brain can surprise itself–easy. One part of the brain doesn’t know what the other part is doing, most of the time. You certainly do have many little corners of your brain that can send surprises to the conscious monitor-brain that is actually having the experience. And when your senses are working with nonsense inputs, nearly anything can happen.

    • Mark Schreiner November 10, 2021, 7:48 am

      Great point. I have long wondered about a similar dream question, which is: “When other people in my dreams speak in foreign languages (or even in my native language, for that matter), where do their thoughts/words come from, especially when they are speaking the foreign language much better than I myself can speak it?”

  • MandyM August 23, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Well timed post. I’m about to sell a house that I have downsized from and after the closing I will be able to go parttime at my job while still enjoying a healthy savings rate. I’ve started to panic a bit about discussing this option with my boss. I need to push forward, take action, and remember that I’m not letting anyone down by reducing my hours.

  • GamingYourFinances August 23, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Personally I enjoy a bit of fear. Makes you feel alive! It also makes you prepared for the worst. A bit of fear is a very practical thing. Someone with no fear scares me a little bit because they clearly don’t understand all the risks we face in our day to day lives.

  • Alexandra August 23, 2013, 1:05 pm

    My yoga teacher used to comment about the unfortunate side affects (effects? can’t remember which is which) of “fear based decision making”. I have always remembered that and try to realize when I’m frightened, I’m often not making the best choices or decisions.

    In a yoga practice, one is trying to quiet the mind. As another poster pointed out, we do not have to be slaves to our emotions. Many of us are as we put so much emphasis in our culture on our feelings.

    The Bhagavad Gita talks of the warrior Arjuna and that his horses are his emotions which must be reined in to keep control of the body and mind.

    A good lesson and good practice. And it does take practice.

    I too do not wear a bike helmet.

    • Kay in Mpls May 4, 2015, 9:35 pm

      A wonderful teacher once told me that “fear is excitement without breath.” The chemistry is the same for both…breathing changes your perception about what you are experiencing.

  • FloridaStache August 23, 2013, 1:07 pm

    MMM- great article, and great timing, as today marked my personal MOST MUSTACHIAN DAY EVER- by taking steps to conquer long-held fears that were holding me and my family back. Today we:

    1. Closed our short sale of a rental condo (used to be our primary residence) that had been giving us negative cash flow for three years since we moved out.

    2. Decided to sell our 2nd car that we now rarely use because

    3. We now ride bikes everywhere possible- our kids ride bikes to school, and I am a full-time work bike commuter, logging 80-100 miles per week.

    4. After 10+ years I let go of my fear of managing my own money and, after extensive research (including reading some MMM-recommended literature) we opened Vanguard accounts to roll over our actively-managed, high-fee IRAs and take control of our own money through indexing.

    It is amazing how much lighter, and more in control of our future we feel, all by letting go of fear, resolving to expand our skills, take some risks, and take control. Thanks for providing us with the inspiration to do these things!

    p.s. We just got back from a bike trip to the library, 3.5 miles away, my wife and I on bikes and our 3yo in the bike trailer. In honor of this article I rolled out MMM style, in a fishing hat and deck sandals.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 23, 2013, 5:46 pm


      Congratulations, FloridaStache.. but I’m a little confused. Do you really live in Florida, and ride a bike in the SUMMER!? Because I’ve received at least 1000 complaints from people in the past indicating that this cannot possibly done in any circumstances anywhere South of New York City (and even then it is a stretch for most).

      This news could change Everything!

      • FloridaStache August 23, 2013, 6:25 pm

        Hehe- yes! We ride our bikes all summer long here in ridiculously hot and humid Central FL! It is the only way to generate a breeze. I do get a good chuckle out of the “can’t bike in the heat” whiners, especially because I have also been training for a marathon all summer. Typical morning- wake up at 5AM, run 5-10 miles in 78 degrees/100% humidity, then jump on the bike for the 10 mile commute to work.

        Of course I get the predictable (yet well intentioned) lectures from friends and family about how dangerous this all is.

        You can do just about anything if you set aside fear/wussypants internal dialogue.

        • Mrs. PoP August 23, 2013, 7:48 pm

          FloridaStache, my habits are pretty similar from the wake up time to the running, to the commute. Though my commute is 9 miles and we’re a ways further south of you on the peninsula. =)
          Since MMM’s anti-car post, I’ve been biking almost exclusively to/from work even though I had my doubts before I started.

  • Rob August 23, 2013, 1:29 pm

    This is almost exactly the topic of much of the literature around proper meditation practice; I found that my ability to make rational decisions (and to save $$$) skyrocketed once I began meditative stillness training and learned to be watchful of my own reactions. I was spending a LOT more time than I thought reacting emotionally to things in my environment and making decisions based on those emotions instead of logic.

  • GayleRN August 23, 2013, 2:13 pm

    In many ways we have become a society ruled by fear, particularly in regard to our children. We are so afraid of “something bad” happening that we confine our children to our homes and schools and actively inculcate a fear of strangers, drugs, and lack of supervision. In my own childhood of the fifties, I was only bounded by how far my legs and bike could carry me and be home for supper. Bike helmets, seat belts, and car safety seats were nonexistent. Now you seldom see a child outdoors at all much less without adult supervision. Instead of hours of free style outdoor play, we herd them into organized teams for a few hours a week and then wonder why they are fat and out of shape. All of this protection has bred a generation of fearful and timid children who will grow up to be fearful and timid adults perfectly suited to be employed by large companies and the government. No mustaches allowed.

    • Jen August 23, 2013, 9:21 pm

      You actually can’t let your kids have much freedom these days because other people freak out about it. My five year old daughter really wanted to go talk to the old lady next door the other day so I let her go over there alone. She went in and said hi for about five minutes. A few days later the lady stopped me and apologized for letting my daughter in her house, she was all like “I’m so sorry I let her in I should have just talked to her outside, you never know these days!” I felt bad that she had to feel so self-conscious that she was being friendly to my daughter! When I was a kid, I used to go say hi to our neighbors all the time alone and go in and visit and it wasn’t an issue. I am convinced the 24 hour news cycle has made us all paranoid.

      • Mr. Money Mustache August 24, 2013, 10:31 am

        You’re definitely right about the nonsense on the TV news – which is why one of the biggest rules I try to enforce around here is that you absolutely NEVER watch it.

        Even if you do work for the State Department, and thus need up-to-the minute information on every last political development, you will get this information better in written memos and articles, rather than short advertising-driven snippets boiled down to a sixth-grade comprehension level!

        • Frugal in DC August 24, 2013, 1:42 pm

          We stopped watching TV news back when my son was in middle school and he asked why infotainment shows were called news shows when it was “just a bunch of loud people giving their opinions” (his exact words). Someone once told me that the majority of TV shows, including news/infotainment, mostly feature stories and themes related to the seven deadly sins. In the same vein, I would add that mindless consumption of TV featuring lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, and envy contributes to excess consumption and overspending.

          • Glen August 27, 2016, 6:53 pm

            The day that TV died in my house was about 9 years ago while watching a baseball game with my daughters, the steady barrage of boner pill ads:
            “For a more satisfying sexual experience…”
            “If you have an erection that lasts more than 4 hours..”
            But the final straw was:
            “Now on dvd… ‘Zach and Miri Make a Porno!'”
            And my 8 year old says, “Dad, what’s a porno?”

      • EmEmEm August 24, 2013, 8:20 pm

        Highly recommend http://www.freerangekids.com for more on this… the lady who writes it let her 9 year old son make his way home from Bloomingdales on his own with only a subway pass & a roll of quarters in case he needed to use a pay phone. Now she advocates against “helicopter parenting” and freaking out about the worst possible (but usually least likely to actually happen) scenario, like most parents do these days. And advocates for letting our kids have some good old fashioned fun and learning a lot about life in the process.

  • AmAnda August 23, 2013, 2:19 pm


    Did anyone else think of the movie After Earth. I haven’t watched it but the trailer has a great line about fear.

  • Biliruben August 23, 2013, 2:26 pm

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    ― Frank Herbert, Dune

    • Clint August 23, 2013, 8:25 pm

      Thanks for that. I hadn’t thought about that litany against fear in years.

  • Tony O. August 23, 2013, 3:03 pm

    This is a timely article for me, since I’ve been battling some fears of my own lately after getting laid off from my job back in early July.

    When I first heard that I’d be out of a job, I definitely became fearful… the thoughts that ran through my head were fast & furious: do we have enough savings? If we do have enough savings how can we keep building our savings like before to achieve early retirement? What’s going to happen if I end up with a gap in my work experience? What will family and friends think about my getting laid off… it’s kind of embarrassing.

    But after stepping back and bringing out my cool and collected self, I realized that all those worries wouldn’t help me improve my situation unless I took action to mitigate and make the most out of my situation. So as a family we became even more aware of our spending habits, continued to save just like before, applied for unemployment benefits in CA, started networking and getting a healthy amount of interviews (and I’m being picky about what opportunities to pursue), and instead of being controlled by embarrassment, I decided to “let it all out” and start my own blog over at survivethevalley.com detailing my experiences – which I never had the time to do when I was employed full time (thanks MMM for the inspiration!).

    I’m not yet 100% there in curing my layoff fears, but I am actively addressing the situation and the last thing I’ll do is stand idly by whimpering for a lucky save.

  • Mr. 1500 August 23, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Wait, wait, I can’t believe that I didn’t think of this before! The main question for me now surrounding the post is this: Why is there no MMM TED Talk? Wouldn’t that be an awesome stage to spread the message from?!?

    • Mr. 1500 August 23, 2013, 6:10 pm

      OK, so TED has a nomination form. MMM (if he wants to) really needs to speak there.

      MMM, dunno if you have the slightest bit of interest in this, but I found that people can be nominated. However, it requires that the nominator supply personal information about the nominee. So, I have no idea if this would work out, but it sure would be cool to see MMM at TED: http://www.ted.com/nominate/speaker

      • Mr. Money Mustache August 24, 2013, 10:40 am

        Thanks, Mr. 1500.. I am honored, but also No Thanks. I know a couple of the organizers of these talks and also had the honor of turning down their invitations recently. I’ll do one of those someday, but for the next year I have all the fun stuff planned that I can handle. To be properly retired (for me) means not booking up all your leisure time to become a spokesman.

  • stellamarina August 23, 2013, 3:52 pm

    A few months ago there was a really good article in the AARP magazine about anxiety. It recommended saying the following mantra out aloud when you feel that chemical flowing.

    “If it happens, I’ll handle it.
    I always land on my feet.
    But right now there IS no problem except the worry of the mind.”

  • Annamal August 23, 2013, 4:00 pm

    Maybe add natural disasters to the rapidly moving weapons, claws etc?

    We’ve just had a spate of 6+ earthquakes down here and using fear to motivate yourself into getting your emergency kit, water supply and tsunami evacuation plans together is a fairly healthy response.

    the massive involuntary dose of stimulants that kicks in at trucks going past is perhaps less healthy but pretty darn human

  • Che Banana August 23, 2013, 4:20 pm

    Citing studies about efficacy of bicycle helmets largely misses the point of the “culture of fear.” There are inherent trade-offs of safety and risk in every activity. Case in point: current bicycle helmets are designed with super light materials and large ventilation slots to increase comfort. This is almost certainly less safe than, say, a motorcycle helmet. So, in opting for the traditional road bike helmet over a motorcycle helmet you’ve made a trade-off of safety for comfort. Wearing no helmet is essentially an extension of that logic (and I’m unsure why it is a worse trade-off than a bike helmet over a motorcycle helmet!) This happens constantly in life. Why aren’t you wearing a helmet as a pedestrian since head injuries are incurred by pedestrians quite often? Why not wear a head restraint a la NASCAR safety standards when driving? Answer: it makes these activities less desirable to the point where people would do them less.

    When applied to cycling the push for the helmet causes the activity to seem dangerous, it is uncomfortable (admit it, the helmet sucks), and so discourages participation. Pro-bicycle helmet norms have helped make people sedentary, obese, fossil fuel consumers. To that end, I don’t see any of the pseudo-science on helmet safety doing the cost benefit analysis of more helmet, less cycling anywhere…and really that’s the nub of the matter.

    (aside, it would be damned hard to get a study showing no helmet efficacy published since failure to reject null hypotheses is a great way to get an article rejected, aka the file drawer problem)

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 23, 2013, 5:40 pm

      I don’t have a strong opinion about how much safer a bike helmet makes you. I just know that even with NO helmet, biking is acceptably safe for me, and thus any teeny tiny increase in safety would be smaller than the small inconvenience of me putting it on for the 1-mile ride down to the library or the Indian Buffet. Because I like my fishin’ hat quite a bit. On the other hand, I did wear a helmet for the higher-speed 30-mile roundtrip to another town I took yesterday.

      An interesting point in that TED talk is that car companies are some of the biggest proponents of bike helmets.. and yet they are mysteriously very strongly against helmets for car drivers. With the bizarre fear rants I get from US residents occasionally about bike riding supposedly being dangerous, I can’t help wondering if the car companies’ strategy has been working: tricking people into thinking cars are the safer choice.

      Because as I’ve found myself, once you discover how useful bikes are, you’re pretty much done buying cars for life. Which would be pretty hazardous to the auto industry in its current form.

      • Boris August 24, 2013, 8:18 am

        I wasn’t aware of car companies promoting helmets, but it reminds me of the history of jaywalking. Before 1910, no one had heard of it. When an automobile hit a pedestrian, the driver was considered negligent (and charged with manslaughter if the victim died); highways were for people, and some were skeptical that cars could use them safely.

        Car companies promoted the idea of “jaywalking” heavily throughout the 1910s and 1920s. They managed to convince the public (and lawmakers) that pedestrians don’t belong on streets. Anyone walking on a street outside of a crosswalk is just being reckless, and a driver can hardly be blamed for hitting them–highways exist for cars, after all, and pedestrians are a dangerous nuisance.

        • theFIREstarter August 25, 2013, 8:38 am

          Jay walking certainly is a crazy sounding law from an outsiders point of view (writing from the UK here). And I amazed to hear it is such an old law as well… I thought people had more common sense back then :) – Also did people used to sue each other over such things back then, I thought that was more of a recent phenomenon?

          I’d have thought the best line of thought would be it is the pedestrians responsibility to determine the best place to cross the road and get across safely, while the drivers responsibility is to keep alert, watch the effing road and not run anyone over.

      • Boris August 24, 2013, 8:39 am

        While it’s trivial to find people–cyclists, but also pedestrians and drivers–who might have survived a traffic accident had they been wearing a helmet, it doesn’t necessarily imply that everyone should be wearing one. (There’s no consideration of statistics, for one thing; people are known to overestimate rare or spectacular risks, and underestimate common ones.)

        I think people focus on helmets because it’s so easy. It’s obvious when someone’s not wearing a helmet; by contrast, it would probably take at least a few minutes of observation to determine whether they’re cycling safely, and teaching them how to do so would be harder than yelling “wear a helmet”. But saying “always stay out of the door zone” would be a good start.

    • ella August 24, 2013, 7:43 am

      “I don’t see any of the pseudo-science on helmet safety doing the cost benefit analysis of more helmet, less cycling anywhere […] it would be damned hard to get a study showing no helmet efficacy published”

      I found this paper with a quick search:

      “This article seeks to answer the question whether mandatory bicycle helmet laws deliver a net societal health benefit. The question is addressed using a simple model. The model recognizes a single health benefit – reduced head injuries – and a single health cost – increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling. Using estimates suggested in the literature on the effectiveness of helmets, the health benefits of cycling, head injury rates, and reductions in cycling leads to the following conclusions. In jurisdictions where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact. In jurisdictions where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer and a helmet law, under relatively extreme assumptions, may make a small positive contribution to net societal health. The model serves to focus the mandatory bicycle helmet law debate on overall health.”

    • Kruidig Meisje August 26, 2013, 7:42 am

      studies on cost benefit analysis of helmet laws have been done. In Denmark and NL, with little translations.
      MMM used the findings in his biking blogs: 1 km traveled by cars costs (to the population) ca. 1 eurocent. 1 km traveled by bike costs (to the populations) gains ca. 1 eurocent. Because of less obesity, more (and more healthy) life years, producivity per person is up and health costs are less. Insurance also less (less cars on the road that make accidents. Accidents by bikers are not as expensivily damaging as cars do)

  • Micro August 23, 2013, 5:46 pm

    I think a big component of taking action against your fear is the confidence it builds. You train your brain to put away the fear because you have past experience to relate to. It’s like watching a toddler climb down from a chair. The first time, they are super cautious because of fear. Once they build up some confidence, they will fly off in no time because they trust their body’s abilities.

  • Evan Lynch August 23, 2013, 6:03 pm

    I think you’re spot on about most things, except I wouldn’t be advocating against bike helmets. I have mixed feelings about bike helmets. I’d probably wear them all the time if I biked around here, I live in a place with some serious hills and if I hit my head after a bike accident without a helmet, there’s a pretty good chance I’d end up with serious brain damage.

    On the other hand, if you live in place that’s fairly flat, I can understand going without bike helmets. Mostly because of the study I saw that said that drivers generally give bicyclists without helmets more space than they do bicyclists with helmets. If you happen to be hit by a car going 30 – 40 MPH, even if you are wearing a helmet, you’re almost certain to get pretty badly damaged as a result. (I’m excluding the 50+ MPH streets on purpose because I think it’s nuts to bike on streets where cars are going that fast unless it’s a REALLY short distance.)

  • anonymouse August 23, 2013, 7:09 pm

    I used to have pet rats, and when I first got them, one of them was quite scared of me, not really happy to be picked up. So what I did was pick her up and keep her on my shoulder for about 20 minutes. The rat’s brain just plain runs out of fear hormones at that point and the rat starts being able to actually think logically, realizes that there’s not anything to be afraid of, and stop being quite so scared. I suspect the general principle can work for humans too.

  • Clint August 23, 2013, 8:30 pm

    For some reason I thought the chemical compound for fear would’ve had a couple of SHITs tagged onto those OHs.

  • Johnny Utah August 23, 2013, 11:51 pm

    “Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”

  • Flo August 24, 2013, 3:10 am

    Thanks for this great post, as usual. I left you a tip on http://tiptheweb.org/ that I recently discovered thanks to Jacob from ERE. Maybe you already know about this one ?!
    Anyway, you are doing a great job by writing this blog and helping people the best way you can. You are an inspiration source.

  • Trevor August 24, 2013, 7:49 am

    Enjoyed your article MMM. The wonderful Vermont Street Bridge for walking and biking, a people bridge in San Diego has various quotes artfully incorporated into it’s structure. My favorite is:

    “You must do the thing that you think you cannot do.”
    Eleanor Roosevelt.

    Due to space limitations the full quote is not displayed.
    The full quote speaks to the fear you just wrote about and is:

    “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each
    experience in which we really stop to look fear
    in the face… We must do that which we think we cannot.”
    Eleanor Roosevelt

    Looking forward to your next article.

  • babysteps August 24, 2013, 8:44 am

    Aside – old movie along these lines, Albert Brooks “Defending Your Life” with Meryl Streep – a version of the afterlife where a review board watches footage from your life to find out how courageous (heaven) or fearful (hell) you were. But it’s really a romantic comedy.


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