David Strittmatter

A habit that changed my life

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear – Nelson Mandela


  • Habits are not only easily implemented but also incredibly powerful
  • Every habit consists of 3 essential parts: (1) Trigger (2) Behavior (3) Reward
  • The goal of developing and implementing a habit is to do it as consistently as possible so that after some time you do it automatically

Practical advice:

  • Our self-confidence is rarely related to our actual abilities but mostly based on our perceptions
  • Micro-risks allow us to get used to inconvenient situations, enhancing our self-worth, skills, and abilities
  • Make it a habit to take micro-risks to live a better life

Dear friend,

This week, I enjoyed my vacation in Palma de Mallorca and went together with my loved friends to Berlin for the weekend. Palma greatly exceeded my expectations. From what I had heard and seen before, Palma was more like a cheap and dirty party oasis for European party tourists, but my girlfriend and I were proven the opposite: Clean beaches, a beautiful old town, relaxed and modest tourists, great day-time activities, and a great and broad choice of restaurants. Surely, that wasn’t our last trip to Palma.

During our trip, we went to a large waterpark in Magaluf (a little town next to Palma). There were various water slides: from little slides for toddlers to gigantic slides like “the Beast” for real action lovers. When I first saw the latter – a 30-meter tall free-fall slide – my body cringed in fear. I’m afraid of heights. This fear, though, didn’t stop me to ride it.

I developed my very own “overcome-my-fear”-habit: Whenever I feel afraid of something, e.g. riding a monstrous slide or asking a stranger a question, I force myself to do it. It took a great amount of willpower and time to climb the stairs – I felt so sick and got so slow when I had to take the last few steps on the scaffold of the slide. And I asked at least 5 times the safety instructor whether I’ll be safe – he literally laughed at me because I was so feared. Yet, eventually, I just rode the slide. Even though it was a real pain, I felt indescribably happy afterward. Once again, I overcame my fear and didn’t let it prevent me from living my life to the fullest.

In today’s blog article, I’m going to write about how I came up with the idea to develop such a habit, how I make sure to never let my fear limit myself, how it helped me to become more self-confident and hence changed my life, and how you can become more self-confident, too.

How habits work

4 years ago, when I first read the well-known book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, I was strongly convinced to make more “conscious” use of this concept. Duhigg greatly illustrates why habits are not only easily implemented but also incredibly powerful – in almost any area of life.

Basically, every habit consists of 3 essential parts: (1) Trigger (2) Behavior (3) Reward. The (1) trigger can be everything as long as it is consistent: A certain time (6 pm), event (waking up), place (your bed), behavior (your dog barking), etc. The (2) behavior is the actual habit, such as brushing your teeth, reading a book, working out, watching the news, etc. The (3) reward can also be everything as long as it is consistent: You treat yourself with some candy (after a study session), you get a boost of dopamine (after overcoming your fear), you feel energized (after a nap), you feel clean (after showering), etc.

The goal of developing and implementing a habit is to do it as consistently as possible so that after some time you do it automatically like brushing your teeth. In order to achieve this level where no more conscious effort is required, we’ve to invest willpower first. In the beginning, it can be really tough, but it will take less and less mental energy until the habit is successfully implemented.

The overcome-fear habit

As always when I finished reading a book, I wrote down to-dos – the “so-what” next actions – after completing the Power of Habit. One task was to develop a new habit with the knowledge acquired through this book. Thereby, I came up with this idea of the overcome-fear habit.

Fear is not something generally bad, it’s essential for our survival. Yet, too often we’re limited by this inconvenient feeling, particularly when we’re faced with “social anxiety”. In these situations, we’re not in danger, but rather our brain distorts reality and comes up with various thoughts that make us feel afraid of a situation, such as talking to our crush or giving a presentation.

Overcoming our fear in these situations is not easy but highly rewarding. Most often, we obtain a temporary happiness boost, e.g. when we ask someone for his/her number and receive it. Sometimes, though, it can literally change our lives, e.g. giving a speech or asking someone for a date.

Given this importance and impact potential, I decided that I want to develop this overcome-fear habit so that I’ll never let my fears prevent me from living my life to the fullest. Hence, I needed to define (1) trigger (2) habit (3) reward. In this case, I wrote down: (1) trigger: Whenever I feel afraid of something (2) habit: I have to do it as fast as possible (3) so that I’ll never regret it and obtain a temporary happiness boost.

As you can imagine, it’s really difficult in the beginning to perform this habit. Whether I approached strangers, asked seemingly stupid questions in a lecture, wanted to present first when we had to present something in university, raised my voice when we had to bring up arguments in a discussion or drove with the freefall tower when went to a funfair and there’s one. It took some time, but my consistency paid off. Today, I don’t feel the same fear anymore and most of the things I feared in the past, I either don’t fear anymore or fear less.

For instance, in Palma, we purchased an umbrella, which I wanted to sell at the end of our vacation there. Before I had implemented this habit, it would’ve taken me a lot to overcome myself to talk to strangers sitting at the beach and ask them whether they want to buy our umbrella. Nowadays, that’s rather a fun event.

As described in the title, this habit literally changed my life. In so many situations, it helped me to do something I was really feared but also was really important for my today’s life. For example, when I first saw my girlfriend, her appearance was so impressive that it made me feel anxious as when you want to talk to your high school crush and start to think about the conversation in your head. This anxiety was the trigger for my overcome-fear habit. I knew I have to talk to her. I was unbelievably nervous, and it took me so much to convince myself to actually do it. When I talked to her, I was freaking insecure. Like in a movie, I stuttered, talked awkwardly, and got massively sweaty palms. Luckily, she was rather overwhelmed by the situation, why she didn’t notice all the awkwardness. Even though I really f*cked up this situation, I was incredibly happy that I had overcome my fear. After my workout (I approached her in one of my exercise breaks as I wanted to act as fast as possible to prevent my brain from making up excuses not to talk to her), I went to her again. Since all the initial pressure was released and I wanted to excuse my weird behavior, I could now very easily talk to her. Luckily, this conversation went really well because, today, I cannot live without this person anymore.

How to become more self-confident

As you can imagine, the overcome-fear habit greatly helped me to attain strong self-confidence. Our self-confidence is rarely related to our actual abilities but is mostly based on our perceptions. My perceptions greatly changed when I started to not let my fear prevent me from doing something. Yes, I often failed but these failures made me even stronger and happier.

“Artificial fear”, such as social anxiety, is just in our head, just based on our perceptions. By regularly challenging these perceptions, we can change them and, suddenly, we attain stronger self-confidence.

Therefore, a great technique for increasing our self-confidence is to regularly take “micro-risks”. Those are situations with the probability of a minor negative outcome. For example, you talk to a person you don’t know. In this case, the very worst outcome is that this person insults you and says something like “piss off”. Even in the worst case, though, you’re not really affected negatively. On the other side, these situations allow us to challenge ourselves and, most often, we’re rewarded (1) with a good outcome (the person is actually nice to us) (2) with a new experience, boosting our self-confidence.

Micro-risks allow us to get used to inconvenient situations, enhancing our self-worth, skills, and abilities. You don’t have to implement a habit as I did and take every risk as fast as you can, but making it a habit to take micro-risks can greatly help you to live a better life. For example, you can make it a habit to (1) talk to a stranger at least once a week (2) be kind to another person at least once per day (3) never hesitate to ask a question no matter how dumb you think it is.

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