Everyone knows Franklin Roosevelt’s famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” but for much of Michelle Poler’s life, she had precisely 100 things to fear. From big dogs to roller coasters, from wearing patterned clothing to dancing in public, Michelle was afraid of mostly everything. Yet, when this 26 year old art director relocated from Venezuela to New York City to pursue her Masters degree, she soon realized that she couldn’t move forward in her life if she continued living with her fears.
The 100 Days Without Fear blog details Michelle’s journey as she tackles one of her many fears each day. Michelle videotapes the process of facing her fears then describes why it caused her fear in the first place. While this project has become an internet sensation, her approach has roots in a common therapeutic technique. Many mental health professionals use exposure therapy to help patients with anxiety or specific phobias. This technique systematically introduces the patient to a variety of fear-inducing stimuli by instructing the patient write out a list of fears and ranking them on how much anxiety, worry or fear the stimuli will cause them. The most common form of this therapy is to start with the “easiest” fear and then work their way up the list. An equally effective approach introduces the patient to their biggest fear right off the bat. The results generated by these two approaches are similar but the gradual approach is preferred by both patients and therapist. Michelle does rate her fears but she doesn’t gradually introduce herself to her fears. For someone who lived with so much worry she is courageous enough to dive in head-first to some of her biggest fears.
The 100 Days Without Fears Project sheds light on why people might become paralyzed by fear and what it’s like to break free from it. Her 100 fears can be broken down into two categories: physical and emotional/social. A large amount of her fears do involve something physical like fear of falling (sky diving), getting hurt (wearing very high heels) or getting sick (eating seafood) but it seems like the severest of her fears involve an emotional or social consequence. One of her most daring entries, “Say Cheese” shows Michelle taking selfies with 10 people she admires in her industry. While there is very little physical danger involved, many people would find this challenge particularly nerve-raking for fear of being judged or rejected by the people they respect. By facing her fears, Michelle shows us that it’s only human to be concerned about physical safety and social acceptance.
Michelle proves that the worse-care scenario we envision when faced with a fearful situation usually doesn’t happen in reality. One of her most popular entries, “Dance Like No One is Watching” shows Michelle boldly dancing in front of thousands of strangers in Times Square. Instead of being laughed at or ignored, Michelle was joined by dozens of people in her one-person flash mob. Those who didn’t dance with her seemed to be delighted just to watch. Michelle was greeted with social acceptance and an altogether enjoyable experience instead of painful embarrassment she expected. This project is proof that while a healthy degree of fear can keep us safe, we shouldn’t give fear the power to restrict us from enjoying the best parts of life.
What are you afraid of? And are you going to face your fears? Comment below!
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