Episode 366: Harness Fear and Lead Your Most Courageous Life with Scott Simon

Episode Summary

You’ll hear about Scott’s fantastic story of resilience, the day he decided to face a 35-year-old fear he had been carrying, and the Facebook post that went viral and changed his life. Scott shares several golden nuggets on how to face our fears, how to turn them into our fuel, and why he believes courage is a muscle that can be trained, just as our gratitude muscle.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. We are so honored and delighted to have you listen in with us to be part of this podcast. Today, we have a special guest with us. I’ve been looking forward to visiting together with Scott. He is a happiness entrepreneur, founder of the Scare Your Soul courage movement, and the author of the book Scare Your Soul: 7 Powerful Principles to Harness Fear and Lead Your Most Courageous Life. He is dedicated to creating, curating, and leading opportunities for people around the world to be happier, empowered, and courageous in their own lives. Welcome, Scott Simon. 

Scott Simon: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, Scott, we’ve had the chance to visit briefly before we got going today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about him. Scott founded this movement in 2015, organically growing it from one Facebook post to a global movement with volunteer ambassadors worldwide. He has presented to groups around the world, appeared widely on TV and podcasts, given a TEDx Talk, and led retreats and mindfulness meditations in person and online. He just does great. He’s blessed a lot of people. He is a great coach. So, we’re going to focus on helping people find their passion and courage through their major life transitions, whatever those might look like. So, Scott, as we get in this today, tell us about your background, any turning points that you may have had, and how did you get to where you are today? 

Scott Simon: First of all, again, so great being with you. I love your energy and your passion and what you bring to these conversations. It’s funny, as you’re reading my bio, I’m thinking to myself, “If people knew me growing up, they would not believe any of these things were possible.” I was the shortest shyest kid you could probably imagine. Unfortunately, I was the victim of two bullies who would grab my arm and swing me around in circles, they dislocated my arm twice, and they would throw me off into the bushes or attack me with implements. It made my life, honestly, small and one that I wanted to be invisible in. A number of your listeners, I’m assuming have had times in their life when they just felt like nobody wanted to hear what they had to say and they probably didn’t have the confidence to say it to begin with — that was me. That was my life growing up. Even though I had a wonderful family, it was tough for me. And something happened to me in fourth grade. I’m telling you this for a reason. I’m not going to tell you the story of my whole life, don’t worry. But in fourth grade, I was preparing for a choir concert. And I was given a solo line by our choir instructor in a song the 76 Trombones from The Music Man, you may know that song. And each time it came around to me to sing my solo line, I got choked up, I couldn’t do it, I was nervous, I was afraid, and he would start over again each time. And finally, he stormed towards me and said, “You cannot sing. I think you should mouth the words for the rest of the year.” And I did not sing again for 35 years. 35 years I stayed silent when everybody else around me. Christmas carols, concerts, didn’t matter, I mouthed the words for 35 years. And then finally, I decided to confront that demon and I decided to take my guitar and go to a busy restaurant on a Sunday morning when the brunch crowd was bursting out of this restaurant. And I decided to sing in front of all of those people. And I assure you, I was terrible, my voice was awful. But I felt this incredible sense of joy, passion, and power in overcoming something that I was so afraid to do. And I, as you mentioned in the opening, wrote one Facebook post about my experience of overcoming this fear and that post went viral and was shared around the world, and people said, “Okay, what can I do next? What can I do to overcome a fear?” And that was the beginning of the Scare Your Soul courage movement. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s a great story. So, that’s quite the jump from a post on Facebook to writing a book and going all over the place and helping people overcome their fears. Thank you for sharing that background, it gives a lot of context to what we’re going to talk about today. 

Scott Simon: Yeah, I think the reason that this has grown has absolutely nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with the fact that we all have things in life that we’re afraid to do. We all, if we pay attention during our days, have moments of discomfort, moments where we’re given the opportunity to do something, that may mean having a tough conversation, it might mean trying something new, it might mean admitting something that we don’t know to others. You can think of hundreds of different things that can happen over the course of a day. So, what I do really, in Scare Your Soul and in this book, is to give people their power back. I really want people to know that they can step into those moments of discomfort. And it’s okay, they may fail. But nine times out of 10, they’re going to do something that opens them up to connection, love, or growth. I bring a background of positive psychology and data and science to this work, but at the end of the day, this is just us humans living a vibrant life that we all have the destiny and right to live. And if we can just get rid of that chattering voice in our heads that says, “I’m afraid to fail. I’m afraid of what people might think of me. I’m afraid that this might not go the way that I want it to.” We can do unbelievable things in this world. 

Steve Shallenberger: I sure believe that as well. Scott, from your perspective, what is the one thing that really holds most people back in life? 

Scott Simon: That’s such a great question because we have 80 ambassadors now and thousands of participants, and I asked them all, all the time, “What is that one thing that is holding you back?” And I will tell you this, if we could just eradicate the fear of what other people think of us, we would achieve tremendous things in this world. I oftentimes think of a sculpture that exists in a block of stone before the sculptor gets to it. There is this block of stone, and inside of it is the sculpture that already exists. And it’s the sculptor’s job to chip away at that stone to reveal this life that we have. I really believe that sculpture inside is this life that we all have — we all have this right to lead a vibrant life of service, passion, growth, and of connection. And we have this stone around it, and the stone is shame, fear, worry about what others are going to think about us, worry about rejection, worry about whether we’re going to be belonging to the groups that we care about. And I urge people to just move forward anyway, push through that fear. And when we do that, whether people are going to pay attention or not — in most cases, as you probably know, they’re not, they’re focused on their own stuff, not on us — we can achieve tremendous things in this world. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, this is a timely message because I’m not sure about our listeners, but my guess is most of us might have fears in one way or the other, we’re hesitant, we might hold back for whatever reason. What have you found, Scott, the science says about all this? How do our brains produce this fear? And how can we use that to our advantage? How do you break through all this so that you don’t feel fearful? 

Scott Simon: I’m going to amend that slightly by saying we are going to feel fearful. Fear is part of us. It is a primal emotion just like love. It is going to be within us. And I think your listeners, I’m sure if they’re paying attention or if they Google how to be fearless, they’ll see hundreds of millions of hits about how to crush fear and annihilate fear, and there’s this almost a militaristic feeling about fear. And honestly, I think it’s all crap. I don’t think that we should eradicate fear. What I want to do is I want to love fear. I want to dance with fear. I want fear beside me. I don’t want it to stop me, but I want it beside me. And I’ll tell you actually a little bit about science, and I think it’s really important to say this, it’s very simple. Because we could go into another full hour about the neurobiology of fear and how our fear response works, but I’ll just say this: Our brains are attuned to protect us. Fear is a protection mechanism at its core. Anybody who has a kid knows you have to teach them to be afraid of crossing the street, you have to, it’s critical that they stay safe. And our fear response works so quickly that oftentimes our bodies start reacting to fearful situations before we can even start to process it — our brains start creating sweat, butterflies in our stomachs, and our heart rate race. All of those feelings that your listeners I’m sure are in touch with. And my question is, can we slow down enough to pay attention to that fear and ask ourselves a very simple question: Is this fear serving us? Is it keeping us safe? Or is it holding us back from something we could be doing? And I think that is the essential question of our time: Can we be present in that moment, can we slow that reaction down enough to say, “Someone’s just invited me to sing in front of 20 people,” or “Get up and tell something in front of a group,” or “My significant other has invited me to have a tough conversation.” Can I, in that moment, say, “I’m feeling fearful, I’m feeling uncomfortable, but there’s an opportunity here.” And to step into that moment is to me stepping into growth, connection, and love. And that is essentially, in my mind, an act of courage. 

Steve Shallenberger: Scott, are you saying that our awareness of fear can be an important and positive thing in our life? 

Scott Simon: Yeah, I call myself a fear chaser, which is a funny title when you think about it — who actually chases fear? But to me, I find that if I’m feeling discomfort in the moment, if I’m feeling fearful about something, and I’ll give you an example, Scare Your Soul puts out a free challenge every week. It’s based on science and it encourages people to push their comfort zone. One of our classic top 10 challenges is to buy a cup of coffee for a stranger and to have a conversation with that stranger while you’re waiting for your coffee. Simple enough. And it sounds like, “Yeah, I could do that.” But when you’re in that moment, where there’s this sense of unease, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know this person, and you have to have this conversation with a stranger and then continue it on. There is this beautiful, delicious moment, where you have to step into courage, and you’re doing so in a sense of service, you’re doing something for somebody else, they’re receiving it, and you enter this moment where we don’t have control, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But if we do that consistently in our lives, where we approach those moments with gusto, with an openness, with almost welcoming those moments, just think about the possibility that we would have if we didn’t shy away from discomfort, but instead we welcomed it in. So yes, being aware of fear and not numbing it, not trying to avoid it, or certainly to crush it, but actually allowing it to sit next to us like a copilot and still fly that plane, still move forward; that to me is the beauty of this work. And that’s why I think we have all of these thousands of people who are willingly pushing their comfort zones every day and sharing their experiences with each other. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that’s great. As you think about this, Scott, what’s your experience? What are some tips that help you move from this fear and transform that into courageously moving into life, seizing upon it, and liberating yourself — kind of like buying a stranger a cup of coffee, moving into that scary zone, but now it’s courageous, and you have all these new things that are happening. But it could manifest itself in so many ways, going forward in a relationship, doing something like writing a book, there could be so many things, right? 

Scott Simon: Absolutely. I really view it like a muscle — you don’t deadlift 350 pounds your first day in the gym. It is a process of starting every single day, getting to the gym, lifting a little bit more each and every time, allowing a sense of recovery, and lifting again. So, to me, I view courage exactly the same way. And I’ll tell you, I think a mistake or a limiting belief that so many people have. When they hear the word courage, they think of something beyond themselves. They don’t think of themselves as a courageous person, they’re just somebody leading life and courage just, it seems like it’s meant for a paratrooper jumping out of a plane behind enemy lines, it’s something that’s too big for them. And what I like to do is to encourage people to actually approach courage in almost micro steps. As cliche as this may sound, and I can imagine some eyes rolling when I say this, but I really mean it: A post-it note on your mirror in the morning that says “do something today that scares you” is enough to get that intention going. It’s like anybody who has a gratitude practice — you spend your day looking for things to be grateful for, that’s a huge benefit of a gratitude practice. We study this in positive psychology, the impact of gratitude, and a lot of it is that you spend your day looking for gratitude. I view courage exactly the same way. Once you start spending your day looking for a moment to be courageous in, even in small ways, you start to build that muscle, you start to gain confidence, and you start to gain momentum. And then all of a sudden, when the bigger moments of life hit, you can adopt those with a sense of courage and zest because, you know what, you’ve changed your view of yourself, you’ve changed your identity. And again, there are people who identify themselves as marathon runners, they don’t do it on day one, they do it because they have been training for it. It’s something that they have worked at, and they gain this identity. I view, again, this work exactly the same. And while I think running a marathon is a wonderful goal and a wonderful activity, I think the goal of a courage practice is even greater; it’s about leading the most vibrant life that we can possibly lead. Starting companies, loving people deeply, being involved in a life of service, that’s what life is all about. And courage, in many ways, is the key to all of those activities. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, Scott, what you’re really talking about is a new habit here. You’re talking about taking this fear and turning it into a positive action, and that’s kind of a reprogramming of the mind. I think in your book, you call it positive reframing or a term similar to that. So, how do you do that? And how do you turn something like, for example, anxiety into excitement? How do we change our emotions and create this permanent change so it’s in a positive direction? Because like you said, starting with baby steps, but one day, it probably becomes a reflex that you get better and better at it. 

Scott Simon: I think you really do, and there are actually some wonderful studies out there. One by a woman named Elizabeth wood Brooks at Harvard, who had a terrific study about how to reframe excitement, fear out of excitement. Her study was encouraging a group of people to sing in front of a larger group of people, a third of the people were supposed to say, “I’m afraid.” A third of the people would say, “I’m calm.” And the third of the people said, “I’m excited.” It was the people who out loud said “I’m excited” that did better, performed better, liked the experience more, and she followed them and tracked them. And actually, the experience impacted them most positively for months afterwards. I look at thinkers and theologians, Stephen Covey being one of them, who encouraged us to sharpen the saw, but then focus on keeping the end in mind. To me keeping the end in mind is, “Can I do this thing with excitement?” And a lot of that, I’ll call it a hack or a methodology, is sometimes just saying to ourselves or saying out loud to a partner or friend, “I have to speak tomorrow in front of the company, and I’m nervous. But you know what, I’m also excited to do it.” Just by saying that shifts that experience for us, and the chances that we’re going to enjoy it and succeed at it are so much greater.  

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s a big deal. I’ve long felt that our bodies are very obedient and they will do exactly what we tell them to do. And if you say, “I am excited. I am excited to do this.” Your body actually releases endorphins and chemicals, and your physical state matches this mental state that you’re creating. Is that what you’re saying? 

Scott Simon: 100%. That is exactly it. I think coming out of the pandemic where so many people felt stuck and out of that zone of pushing comfort zones. All it takes are one or two experiences where we push our comfort zone and the book is full of stories, science, writing prompts, and experiences for people to push themselves in their daily lives. When we do that, we start to build what Alex Korb, a wonderful researcher, calls The Upward Spiral. The upward spiral from anxiety, depression, apathy, and into joy, freedom, passion, and excitement, and that requires action. We can think about these things all day long, we can talk about them, we can listen to them. But what I love about the Scare Your Soul movement and what I love about our participants and our volunteers is that, really, these are people who are taking small actions in their lives and creating an environment where people can get inspired. And as we all know, when somebody in our life starts being happier, when somebody in our life finds a passion, think about what that does to you. If you have a spouse or significant other, and all of a sudden, they start a hobby or they’re doing something that they love, it adds excitement and happiness throughout the entire household. So, in my view, when people get more courageous and more excited and more passionate about their own lives, it affects their entire family and it affects their community, and dare I say, it affects the entire world. This is really a movement. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for bringing this up. And just as a reminder to all of us and our wonderful listeners, your words are so important that they are positive, they’re upbeat, they lead you in the right direction, versus the opposite. So, choosing your thoughts and your words carefully have a huge impact. I’m just thinking about the blessing and the benefits of forgiveness, for example, why is it so hard for us to practice it sometimes? 

Scott Simon: I’m so happy that you brought up forgiveness because the book focuses on a number of different areas of life in which we can be more courageous: awe, curiosity, gratitude, and our work, our relationships. But I oftentimes find that forgiving others is one of the most courageous acts we can possibly tackle in our lives. And I think about it this way. And if you think about times in your life where somebody has wronged you, we all have the right to feel wronged. When somebody does something that transgresses us, it is natural for us to feel emotion around that. And there’s energy in that emotion, there’s energy and anger, there’s energy and bitterness. And a lot of times, we can sit with that energy and we don’t want to let go of it because it feels powerful to us. But it’s power in bitterness, and its power in frustration, and its power that could be used elsewhere in our life for service, for example, or for focusing on ourselves or for the people that we love. So, what I really encourage is, and the book details this in many, many ways, to work through a process of forgiveness, where we take that power back. And a lot of it is, as you said before, about reframing. When I think about forgiving people, and I have had a very powerful forgiveness practice in my own life where I have been wronged and I took the opportunity to wish that person well, there are meditations that allow for this, there are prayers that allow for this, but to really take the time and courageous effort to forgive that person in your heart. And in many cases, people don’t forgive because they feel like they have to contact that person and ask them out for coffee and sit there face to face and forgive them, and that can be an impediment. And what I say is you don’t need that person at all, where you’re forgiving is in your own heart. And if you can courageously take that time and free up that energy, say to that person, “You know what? You’re an imperfect person who was raised by other imperfect people. You’ve made mistakes, and one of those mistakes impacted me. But you know what, I’m going to forgive you. I’m going to take all of that energy that I’ve been expending on you, whether you know it or not, and I’m going to take it back. And I’m going to use that energy for good and I’m gonna use that energy for growth.” And to take up a new physical practice or to volunteer or something that takes that power back. I love that idea. And to me, that’s beautiful courage, that’s courage away from bitterness and towards positivity. 

Steve Shallenberger: Now, there’s a lot of love that makes that happen when you fill your heart with love and your mind with love, it makes you far more compassionate and allows you to see some of those things you just described and cut other people some slack. And when you feel that feeling of love, it helps and you just say, “You know what, not only do I forgive but please forgive me.” 

Scott Simon: And that’s absolutely true. In so much of this work, again, we think that courage is beyond us. We think that these acts sometimes are beyond us. But these are literally within our power. It just takes time, it takes attention, it takes intention, and we have to focus on it. But there is no greater reward, I think, in this world than freeing ourselves up from fear, anger, and bitterness, and focusing on love, service, growth, innovation, creativity, and all of the wonderful things. If you think about fear as this high garden wall, it seems imposing. But if we can, day by day, just climb a little bit more and we flip over to the other side, there is this garden of Eden on the other side that is full of connection, love, and growth, and that’s the life I want. I want that life and I want it for everybody else. 

Steve Shallenberger: Amen. A lot more fun and a lot happier. I think you have a resource, Scott, if I’m correct, that allows people, readers or those listeners, people that are in your community, but probably the world to privately reflect right out and track their courage process for free online. Is that what I understand? 

Scott Simon: Yeah. It’s so interesting, the book itself has lots of space for people to write in it, there are lines and there are spaces. And I really thought of this book very much like a conversation between me and the reader, and the reader and their own lives. So, it’s not like you’re reading something and you might forget it two days later, I want this book to literally sit by somebody’s bedside. But at the same time, I realized that people may get this from a library or they may not want to write in it, they may want to keep their thoughts private or to themselves. So we have this incredible way for people to log on, very simply and for free, do all of the exercises, and follow all of the challenges online. There’s a QR code right on the inside cover of the book and people can privately keep their own notes and track their own progress through this online, as I said, for free. The book just came out in December, and already, we’re seeing hundreds of people that are using this resource to track their own progress. Because, again, just like somebody who’s training for a triathlon, this is a practice, and I want to encourage people to can do it consistently, do it with love, do it with passion, and they can do it by writing in the book or they can certainly do it online. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, I’ve loved the stimulating thoughts and ideas that you’ve shared today. I love your spirit and the work that you’re doing, Scott. So wonderful. Congratulations. 

Scott Simon: Thank you so much. I love your passion, too. And I think what is so exciting about the work that you’re doing and the work that we’re doing at Scare Your Soul because it’s really all about inspiring each other. We are all in this together. And if we can just inspire each other to lead better and fuller lives, what a better world we’ll all be a part of. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners before we wrap it up today? 

Scott Simon: One very powerful step that most people can do immediately, and I know it’s hard. So, I’m not saying this is easy, but there’s probably a tough conversation that every single one of your listeners needs to have; they need to have it with a loved one, a boss, or a fellow employee; they need to have it with somebody in their life and they’re not having it. So, I would say, think about that, think about one conversation you need to have and then have it. Don’t wait, don’t put it off, don’t kick it under the rug; have that conversation. And I will tell you that from all of our ambassadors and all the hundreds and hundreds of people that have done our Scare Your Soul challenges over the years, this one creates the most momentum because it’s all about truth, it’s all about vulnerability, it’s all about courage, and you can start tonight. So, that’s what I encourage people to do — start tonight. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s a great challenge for everyone. So, Scott, how can people find out about what you’re doing? 

Scott Simon: The easiest place to go is, that has all of the information about our movement. People can sign up for free to receive all of our challenges, our weekly newsletter, and there’s information about the book as well. I’m thrilled about the impact that the book is already having on people’s lives. I feel so blessed and the energy and excitement around it are just palpable. So, is your one-stop shop to find out everything about us, and I encourage people to go there, and learn more, and really begin living a more courageous and more vibrant life. 

Steve Shallenberger: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Scott, for being on the show today. I cannot wait personally to read and listen to the book both. That’s my new practice I started in 2021; when I get a book, I get both the audible. Is yours on Audible, I hope? 

Scott Simon: It is, and I actually had to interview to be the narrator for my book, and luckily passed the test and spent many, many hours with a wonderful director. And I’m so thrilled to have recorded the audiobook. It is available on Amazon and Audible at this moment. 

Steve Shallenberger: Perfect. That’s great. Well, I get it both and it really enhances the whole experience. And we wish you all the best as you’re having a really wonderful impact in the world. 

Scott Simon: Oh, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. And to our listeners, we are privileged, we’re honored to have you join us today. We’re grateful for the spirit we feel from you. We definitely do that for your engagement. We wish you all the best as you are becoming your best today and always. This is Steve Shallenberger signing off, your host. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader.

Scott Simon

Author and Founder of The Scare Your Soul

Author, Speaker, Coach, Founder, TEDx Speaker

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