How To Harness The Power of Fear

 “Great achievers are driven, not so much by the pursuit of success, but by the fear of failure.”

-Larry Ellison

On April 11 (or April 29) 711 AD, an army of 7,000 soldiers under the command of an aged, 75 year old Berber general named Tariq bin Ziyad, crossed the straits of Gibraltar to land at Mons Calpe, with the help of Julian, a Spanish nobleman who was the Count of Ceuta.

Little did Tariq know that he was destined to be the general responsible for leading the Arab conquest of Visigoth Hispania, and that his name would be etched forever as one of the most important military commanders in Iberian history. Tariq bin Ziyad is known in Spanish history and legend as Taric el Tuerto—Taric the oneeyed—a defect he supposedly made up for by being ambidextrous.

According to legend, Julian’s daughter Florinda had been raped by Roderick–the Visigoth ruler of Spain–after she was customarily sent to Roderick’s court to receive an education after he came to power. Julian was so incensed that he resolved to have the Arabs bring down the Visigoth kingdom. Accordingly he entered into a treaty with Tariq, to secretly convey the Arab army across the Straits of Gibraltar, as he owned a number of merchant ships and had his own forts on the Spanish mainland.

Tariq had recently been appointed as the governor of Tangiers by Musa bin Nusayr, the Arab governor of North Africa of that time. Julian further encouraged Musa to invade Iberia, telling him of the people’s sufferings and the injustice of Roderick, while giving him a cause for conquest by apprising him of the innumerable riches, palaces, gardens and beauties of Hispania that would be found (while secretly being incensed for Roderick’s rape of his daughter). Julian even supplied guides for Tariq’s army.

After landing his army, Tariq concentrated his troops onto the hill of Mons Calpe, now known as Gibraltar – a Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jebel Tariq meaning “Mountain of Tariq”.

the-rock-of-gibraltar

According to legend, he ordered the burning of the ships that had brought his troops from Africa.  Tariq remained unmoved by the appeals of his soldiers who wondered as to how they would return.

In reply, he gave an inspirational historic speech to his soldiers to motivate them for battle, from which below is an excerpt:

“Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy. If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams, and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you. Here is a splendid opportunity to defeat him, if you will consent to expose yourselves freely to death. Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. In the attack I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least.”

This emboldened his soldiers enough to rout a more sophisticated and bigger Visigoth force  in the Battle of Guadalete, opening the way for the subsequent capture of the Visigoth capital of Toledo by Tariq’s irrepressible forces, and the rest is history.

The battle of Guadelete

An example replicated through history

Tariq’s example had been replicated before and after him by a lot of famous generals to successfully motivate their soldiers to often achieve battle greatness in human history.

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great flamboyantly burned his ships upon arriving in Persia. As his few thousand troops were facing a few hundred thousand of the enemy, one of his commanders asked, “How will we get home?” Alexander replied laconically, “We’ll use their ships.”

Similarly, in February 1519, Hernán Cortés, already a wealthy Conquistador,  accompanied by about 11 ships, 500 men, 13 horses and a small number of cannons, landed in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mayan territory (modern-day Mexico). He wanted to accomplish something that one man could not—to conquer the vast treasures of the Aztec empire.

Cortes

By landing in Veracruz (modern-day Mexico) with his men, Cortés acted in defiance to the Governor of Cuba of that time (Velazquez), and put himself under the direct command of King Charles of Castile. So single-minded and focused was he on his objective to conquer the Aztec empire, that unfazed by the scarce supplies and rampant disease his men were facing, he uttered three historic words to his men after landing on the shores of Veracruz: “Burn your boats”.

Cortes scuttling his ships

Two years later, in August 1521, Cortés led a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Indian warriors and captured the Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc (Guatemozin) and Tenochtitlan—the capital of the Aztec Empire—to annex the Aztec Empire to Spanish suzerainty.

Survival of the fittest

What was their secret of success? These great men simply used the power of fear as motivation.

Everyone wants to be free of fear. To be free from fear, one must return back to one’s comfort zone. The definition of a comfort zone varies for each person. But the most primal of comfort zones for every living being is the security of life.

And the most primal of fears every living being has is the fear of death—a fact well explored by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan.

Fear generates the adrenaline response of “flight or fight”. Eliminate the option of flight, and the only option left is to fight. Whether it may be in the wild or in the domestic world, all creatures struggle the hardest when it comes to their basic survival. Humans are no different, for the desperation and urgency brought by the fear of death, or the will to live, is what often compels humans into superhuman acts of courage, strength and achievement due to the desperation created by that fear. Desperate circumstances call for desperate actions, for one is out of one’s comfort zone.

lion chasing

CONQUER, OR DIE. EAT, OR BE EATEN.

Tariq and Cortes pushed their soldiers to their limits, to reject failure, to make them struggle to return back to their comfort zones. What was better than the fear of death without an option of retreat, so as to rid their soldiers of complacency or mutiny, to awaken their spirit of self-preservation which would force them to fight till the very end? By burning their ships, they made it sure to their soldiers that there was only one way to go— to fight to win, to survive.

Fear can create Power

“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.”

-Rumi

The transmutation of fear into drive and courage often yields success, power and achievement.

Great entrepreneurs have always used fear as a motivation to smash through obstacles, to drive through the wall which prevented them from achieving success, to motivate their employees similarly like Tariq and Cortes, ultimately creating power and success.

The fear of failure, the fear of living an ordinary complacent life, and the fear of not living up to one’s true desires, potential or ideals have all been the motivators for ordinary people to come out of their comfort zones to push themselves beyond their own limits. The fear of losing power, after having achieved it can also create an unstoppable drive to retain it. Motivation without fear often leads to a lack of commitment, ultimately yielding mediocrity.

You cannot toe-dip if you want to achieve success in any endeavor

toe dip

Face your fears

One of the reasons for the greatness of the human species is its adaptability to uninhabitable, fearsome conditions by using its intelligence (the highest amongst all species on this planet). Yet the numbing fear of such circumstances has not prevented mankind from successfully adapting to them, and has also led mankind to transmute those fears to not only conquer this earth, but also penetrate into regions of deep oceans and outer space. Mankind could not have discovered the immense hidden power within itself had it chosen to cower in face of those fears.

We’ve all come a long way, and we’ve still got a long way to go. On that path full of challenges, it’s up to you to rise up to your fears, realize your potential, and eventually achieve greatness.

Read More: Mike Tyson On Fear Part II

72 thoughts on “How To Harness The Power of Fear”

  1. All fears devolve to the fear of death, egotistical or
    physical. The ego believes it’s death is the actual
    death of the person. It is not.
    We must learn to differeniate between “Killing Me
    Softly With His Song,” and literial physical death.
    The death of the ego leads to the actual life of the
    person.

    1. Well if you are a white guy living in the USA – I dont think youre gonna have any problem with your ego dying.

        1. It means a fat feminist that heard about this site on NPR decided to visit. The only thing she has to make herself feel better is to cling to what she learned in Women’s Studies. She needs to feel that white men are in decline, because she is hoping that one will eventually fall to her level, so she can have a mate.
          What she does not realize is that white men, black men, brown men …. none of us that have value have any interest in a fat woman with a bad attitude. We do not even see her.

      1. Quite right too.
        A man without a healthy ego might as well not have a penis.
        The meek may eventually inherit the earth, but in the meantime, it sucks to be them.
        White men, black men, brown men, whatever colour of man… we’re all men, and should conduct ourselves like kings rather than like meek little girls.

        1. The meek dosent refer to shy or downtrodden. He is referring to the diligent and the determined.

        2. Meekness gets a bad rap these days. It is NOT castration. It is another word for discipline. It is defined from the greek term prautes referring to a mighty horse who spirit is wild yet unbroken but put under the control and discipline of the rider.

    2. The ego is the illusion of your identity, you can’t actually “destroy” your own ego.. Your ego is non existent when you’re sleeping, so long as the consciousness is running, the ego is on. The word ego comes from the word egg, because it grows ideas into large concepts. Renouncing the ego is impossible because you’d be using your ego to “renounce” itself, Which does not make sense. All thought is ego consciousness. What they mean by “renouncing the ego” in the east is just acknowledging that the objective and subjective world are connected and the same. But you need to ego itself to grasp this concept, since it is the illusion generator to begin with.

      1. interesting – yours is an ‘eastern’ perspective? there is some of this in the huxley’s perennial philosophy as far as I can remember (which attempts to synthesise common themes in mysticism / world religion).
        A problem though is that the above is not goal directed, let alone directed towards the achievement of great feats. You probably don’t want the men in your army, or for that matter you yourself if you are your army, thinking “the objective and subjective world are connected and the same” at the point of battle where the “fight or flight” chemicals would ordinarily kick in. Cortes was not interested in communing at a spiritual level with his Aztec opponents, and if he were there’d probably be a good chance that his head would have ended up rolling down the steps of an Aztec pyramid not long after.

    3. This is a silly Kabbalah teaching.
      Smart people are in tune with their egos at key moments. But no man accomplishes much without a healthy and strong ego. In fact, a man’s ego is the driving force that pushes him through fear in order to achieve his goals.
      Feminists love Kabbalah nonsense. They want all men – especially white men – to “check” their so called privilege. What that means is “check your ego,” let go of your ego, and let yourself be lowered several notches below that which you have earned.
      I have an ego. I earned it. I remember when I was 23 and had very little money. I had a job that used some of the things I learned in college, but my earning power was miniscule at that point. I had no savings. My parents were not supporting me, not with one tiny thing. The idea of being on my parents’ health care coverage until I am 26 – that seems utterly foreign to me. Childlike dependency. In fact, at 23 was living in a city and in a world that my parents knew little about and could not help guide me.
      I learned powerful lessons in those years. The only car I could afford without putting myself deep into debt (relative to my income at the time) was old and ugly as hell. I had put it together from 3 different cars and couldn’t afford to have it painted; not that paint would have made it look much better. That car served one purpose, which was to get me to work in the morning and take me home at night.
      I learned that few women would get into that car. The few that did only did so when we were not going to be driving anywhere near where people they knew might see them. I was a stud in those years, strong and healthy and aspiring, but those women could not see past that car and the embarrassment they felt getting into it. Most could not look at me and see the potential. There were a few that could and tried hard to hang onto me – those were women of value. But I knew that in 10-15 years, I would have many more options available to me and did not allow myself to be tied down.
      Since then, I have made a fortune. I can buy any car I want, though I don’t because I have not unlearned what those difficult years taught me: Never waste money. Still, I have a couple of nice cars. Nice enough that women love to be seen in them. I am sitting in a house (one of two that I own) that I own entirely as a result of my hard work. I temporarily gain and loose in single day stock market fluctuations more money than the median household income.
      My ego told me where I wanted to be in life. Fear of not getting there drove me.
      “Get past my ego.” I am my ego.
      “Check my privilege”? Fuck you. I earned my privileged.
      Settle for the degradation of American culture? Not a chance. Half my time and one of my houses is in another country. I’ll never let the US and its decline pull me down.

      1. Inspirational. Nonsense and pseudo-intellectual garbage is apparently the hallmark of this generation. Thank you for your story,

      2. “Ego” literally means “self”. Few know that this is the word Freud when writing in his original language. (German: Selbst)

    4. Iunno man… that sounds really nice and all but I aint betting on reincarnation or anything like that… Buddhists claim to be all about “non-attachment” and yet they’re still attached to this idea of immortality in one way or another…
      If you stop and really meditate on the fact that you will die one day… and I’m betting you will… you’ll get off your ass and take a risk to better your life.
      In fact just writing that is putting things into perspective…

  2. I enjoyed this article. You can not willing put yourself in the positions of the soldiers who didn’t have the choice of flight so they conquered their fear (thinking). Because what you call ‘yourself’ is fear. The ‘you’ is born out of fear; it lives in fear, functions in fear and dies in fear.

  3. Good article. I think that, in a sense, we’ve come to be in the same position as the soldiers whose ships were burned. We’re here, in this society. And, in all actuality, retreat is no longer a viable option. Sure, one could expatriate (from these US of A), and perhaps things would feel better…for a time. But how long until globalization has spread our social ills to the rest of the world? In large part, it’s already happened. Unless someone makes a stand, it will continue until every unique culture in the world is overrun by feminism and consumerism.
    Standing up for yourself is scary. There will always be a majority of weak-minded individuals who will jump at the chance to bring down someone who stands out among the crowd–what king has no enemies? It’s much like the “painted bird” study (sorry, no citation here, it’s something I remember from studying anthropology in college). In that study, an anthropologist took a blackbird and painted his wings a different color. When he reintroduced the bird to its flock, they attacked it viciously. That, simply because the painted bird stood out from the crowd. Humans aren’t really that different.
    In any case, with retreat no longer being an option, we have no choice but to fight. I feel that the manosphere embodies that principle. Of course, we have to bear the attacks of the larger culture, of feminists and manginas, of social manipulators and of garden-variety asshats. I’m sure that most of us would rather just live our own lives. But when one is set upon from all sides, what option do we have but to get aggressive?

    1. @Infosinobi
      Standing up for yourself is not enough. One must also be strong and wise enough to stand up to the escalation of conflict otherwise all you can count on is being beaten down even harder. A weak person simply does not just hit back he will just be crushed even more, but rather he learns how to fight and works out until he is ready.

    2. Good point, however, when we fight and after we correct things, it will be the next generation to benefit, not us. And the new generation who are handed a new patriarchy and sane society will not understand the shit we now are going through. Much like the baby boomers who had the greatest country handed to them on a silver platter and subsequently flushed in down the toilet by introducing feminism, we could see the same thing happen by a privileged generation that could do the same thing not realizing what they are doing

      1. “And the new generation who are handed a new patriarchy and sane society will not understand the shit we now are going through.”
        Not only are we therefore to preserve this history and archive it but we must invent ways to ensure that they understand the shit we are going through, could a VR experience of history fix that?

  4. Tariq bin Ziyad was one bad ass. Fucking 75 years old, and he fought and led the battle from front!
    Same goes to Cortes. That dude had cash, he didn’t need to fight, he had luxuries.
    But he had unquenchable ambition. Young men today would fucking be scared to achieve what they did.

    1. Liked the Dark Knight Rises video though. That is the most powerful scene in that movie, or possibly any superhero movie.

      1. That has nothing to do with the premise of the article.
        The article deals about Cortes’s daring and courage.

        1. There is a folk legend that the Muslims had friends in the ghetto of Visigothic Spain too. The Visigoths had just expelled the ghetto dwellers, so they sent in the Jihad to repo.

        2. The article itself states that Julian, a Spanish nobleman helped the Arabs to cross over and helped them with war preparations.

        3. Emphasis on chicanery is always a positive point.
          It’s like accounts of ww2 without reference to Enigma.
          Julian wasn’t a ghetto dweller btw.

        4. that’s interesting. But would have have done that if his daughter hadn’t been raped

        5. You do realize that the narrative is a Braveheart like simplification, right?
          I’m much more impressed by Pelayo. Or Ferdinand. He took his country back.

        6. Wikipedia says he was christian not Jewish. Ill check out the other worthies you mention

        7. here is the synopsis of the west end musical cava, no idea how accurate this is.
          Florinda Espatorias is the daughter of the Spanish general who is governor of Ceuta in North Africa in the early 8th century. When the colony is threatened by Moorish invasion, she is sent away to be schooled in the womanly arts in the court of King Roderic inToledo, Spain. This takes her away from her childhood sweetheart and secret lover, Somal, the son of a Moorish rebel leader. She has also been promised in marriage to an army officer.
          King Roderic has shunned his queen, Exilona, because of her apparent infidelity while he was away at war. He is attracted to Florinda immediately upon meeting her. Florinda’s lover is killed, almost accidentally, by Roderic’s soldiers. Florinda, heart-broken, is spurred on by Exilona’s loyal servant Agon to seek revenge by accusing Roderic of rape. Slowly, however, Roderic wins her heart, and she discovers that she is carrying his child. In regret, she tries to send a messenger to redact her claim. The messenger is killed, however, and her father joins with the Moorish army to defend her honor, and massive bloodshed ensues.

        8. I’m not talking about Julian (apocryphal character).
          Here is a note of causing about burning one’s boats and acting. Irrationally.
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_disasters
          Additionally the Muslims were raiding the entire Med including Hispania long before Tariq killed Roderick at Guadelette.
          These speeches made in front of the army are almost all made up after the fact. In Tariq’s case decades and centuries later.

        9. Roderic was an exile. Wittizia who he assassinated had killed Roderic’s father. Roderic had been hiding out in Rome and Lombardy biding his time and had Italian support in his coup. After he seized power he pacified the Basques and while there had news from the south that the Arabs had landed.
          There was no rape. That’s Islamic horseshit.
          Pretty Lies should die. Wittizia is accused of being a collaborator with Arabs btw. To this day Sons of Wittizia is something of a collaborationist accusation.

        10. Contemporary sources tend to be imaginative especially when it comes to speeches but im not sure what the point is of an article detailing military failures. The article is arguing for the effectiveness of a psychology that admits only the possibility of moving forward. Focus on anything else like failure and failure supplants success as your object of attention. Is this what you want?

        11. Yes I’ve read that the rape allegation seems to have been an act of revenge or was otherwise apocryphal

        12. It’s good to argue about history.
          I’m not opposed to the pedagogical nature of myth but it’s always good to get history dry and unmixed with the intellectual Coca Cola that myographers spew up.

  5. There are a large number of examples of “burning the ships” or “burning the bridge” scenarios that didn’t work.
    The reality in war is that you’ve often won before you start shooting if you:
    Have spies in the enemy camp willing to throw the doors open
    Have thoroughly suborned the leadership cadres of your enemy
    Are able to read the communications of your opponent almost as fast as your enemy.
    But by all means act with celerity and audacity.

  6. SOME TRAVELERS, journeying along the seashore, climbed to the summit of a tall cliff, and looking over the sea, saw in the distance what they thought was a large ship. They waited in the hope of seeing it enter the harbor, but as the object on which they looked was driven nearer to shore by the wind, they found that it could at the most be a small boat, and not a ship. When however it reached the beach, they discovered that it was only a large faggot of sticks, and one of them said to his companions, “We have waited for no purpose, for after all there is nothing to see but a load of wood.”
    Our mere anticipations of life outrun its realities. -Aesop

  7. The destruction of a woman’s honor (Florinda) led to the destruction of an empire (Visigoth Spain).
    Today’s women on the other hand, casually hand it over on a platter in their teens. Who’d fight for their ‘honor’? “white knights” perhaps.

  8. Cortez had indeed scuttled his ships. A reference to it is in the 33 strategems of war by Robert Greene.
    Superb article though. Inspiring read.

  9. I was noting the three references within this article itself to Larry Ellison.
    One quote, and two hyperlinks. Seems to be the author has a Larry Ellison fixation.

    1. Larry Ellison’s example is of fearless entrepreneurship.
      He’s taken on Microsoft singlehandedly, and his own example is of fearlessness (yatch racing, etc). A lot to be learned for laymen, business owners, and entrepreneurs. He built a fortune out of nothing.

      1. A lot to be learned for laymen, business owners, and entrepreneurs.
        I’d not be so sure – Ellison has been married and divorced four times.

  10. Better to say it is the conquest of fear. Indeed, With the End of the Fear of Death, Begins the Death of Fear. Once you face your own mortality, then nothing will hold you back again. The men who rose again and again, to take Mt. Suribachi on Iwo? The Rangers who clawed their way up the cliffs at Normandy? The Russians who defended St. Petersburg and Stalingrad? Or Joshua Chamberlain, in command of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg who, out of bullets and outnumbered more than 2 to 1, ordered his men to fix their bayonets and charge? They took their fear and they skull-fucked it.
    À bientôt,
    Mistral

    1. Better examples. Good.
      Chamberlain in particular. My highlight reel would have to involve Chard and Bromhead at Roarkes Drift.
      I like the Green Devils at Eban Emael. The Crusaders who blundered into Jerusalem. Nelson at Trafalgar. Bastogne. Agincourt. Austerlitz. Célère et Audax.

  11. When I saw the Dark Knight Rises image, I knew this article would showcase that video.
    Perfect implementation of that powerful scene into the inspiring message of this article.
    I could watch that scene again and again just to motivate myself, and the chants ‘Deshay Bashara’ (RISE) sums the message very well, and pumps up the mood to fight.
    Powerful scene, inspiring message, wonderful article. Thank you for posting this RoK and Oracle Z.

    1. Bruce Wayne grows a pair thanks to the prison doctor.
      Thus, he is the Batman, of Bruce Wayne’s Batman.

  12. Great post Oracle & well articulated. I love these topics. the deeper meaning shit!!
    I especially liked the 2nd to last closing paragraph:
    “The fear of failure, the fear of living an ordinary complacent life, and the fear of not living up to one’s true desires, potential or ideals have all been the motivators for ordinary people to come out of their comfort zones to push themselves beyond their own limits. The fear of losing power, after having achieved it can also create an unstoppable drive to retain it. Motivation without fear often leads to a lack of commitment, ultimately yielding mediocrity.”
    It reminded me of another…
    “Always listen to yourself. It is better to be wrong than to listen to convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and will grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step towards a fulfilling life.”
    -Hagakure
    Fear of life. The fear of living as you desire is actually the fear of oneself. Know yourself. Master the fears & doubts you have about yourself so that you can begin to live as you would like. Until then, you’re just “going with the flow.”
    I’m working on it every damn day…

  13. Thanks for the article, I had been impressed by the Conquistadores burning of their ships, but didn’t realize it had such a long history.

  14. One thing I’ve learned recently is not to fight fear. It only gets you further inside your own head which is what you don’t want. Accept it, know it is usually based on a faulty perception, and reframe it as excitement.

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