May 17


Fear of the Unknown is Natural But Don’t Let It Control You

By Harry Heijligers

May 17, 2021

fear of the unknown, Procrastination

Fear of the Unknown is the tendency for people to be afraid when they don't have any information about an upcoming situation.

It's a natural reaction. It's not the same as being irrationally scared of something that is actually harmless.

You're hiking in a forest and you know there are bears around but haven't seen one yet. You might feel some anxiety, without even knowing whether or not there really is a bear nearby.

Fear of the Unknown can quickly escalate into intolerance of uncertainty.


Fear of the Unknown is a major cause for people to procrastinate. I wrote about this in my book The Anti-Procrastination Mindset (page 11).

Do you fear what might happen?

Don't you know how to take the next step to achieve your dream?

Is your fear holding you back from achieving success?

Then this article is for you!


What are examples of Fear of the Unknown?

You have to do your taxes before the end of this month, but you can't remember how exactly. It's already a year ago when it was the last time you did your taxes. So, now, you are faced with the Fear that you don't know what you need to do to get your income tax forms ready. How do you cope with this Fear? You start to procrastinate.

Your most extensive interview is in two days, and you haven't put together any notes for it yet. You feel uneasy because you can't prepare well for that interview no matter how hard you try. So, now, you start to find ways to postpone the interview. Or even better, skip the interview.

You have a blind date this evening, and you are worried because you don't know what to expect. Early or late arrival is not a good idea. You are afraid that if you show up too early, your date might not be ready yet, and if you show up too late, your date would have been waiting for so long already that he or she might have given up hope of meeting you. So, now, you start to back out of the date.

You are about to walk into a meeting where you have no idea who will be there. You don't know the setting or the mood, and you're scared about what might happen in that meeting without understanding why and how you are feeling that way. So, now, you become hesitant to take action and enter the meeting when your boss asks you to do so because your Fear of not knowing what's going on in that meeting prevents you from doing so.

Is Fear of the Unknown the greatest Fear of all?

Probably yes.

If you fear spiders, for example, then at least you know what you're up to.

But if you fear the unknown, you fear everything strange. You might be scared of walking into a new city or riding on a train for the first time. Most people rather hear that they are diagnosed with cancer than head into the unknown.

The Biggest Fear of all is actually the Fear of not knowing what's going to happen. This is an infinite fear! So, if you're afraid of the unknown, you've already given up, and this is an endless cycle. Of course, most people don't wish that they would die or anything else bad for that matter.

But this kind of Fear causes a lot of procrastination, and unnecessary worries about a situation that might have no impact on us at all or might even not occur at all.

Is Fear of the Unknown learned behavior?

No. Fear of the unknown is not learned behavior.

People typically react in this way when they are unaware of a situation. Unknowns frighten us all. Although we were raised by parents who told us not to be afraid of the unknown. It's just a natural reaction that we can't avoid. This Fear is caused by our Reptilian Brain, which wants us to remain safe and alive.

You can learn to cope with the Fear of the unknown by learning to control your reptilian brain.

What causes Fear of the Unknown?

The two leading causes for Fear of the Unknown are lack of predictability and lack of control.

If you feel that you don't have enough information about a situation, you might fear not knowing what will happen. This is how our Reptilian Brain works. It's a survival mechanism that forces us to be afraid of the unknown to stay safe and alive. That's why we fear uncertainty so much.

The second thing that contributes to Fear of the Unknown is lack of control. If you feel that you don't have enough control over a situation, you might fear not controlling what will happen in that situation.

More on how to counteract these two causes in a minute...

Why you want to conquer the Fear of the Unknown

The main reasons why you will want to conquer your Fear of the Unknown are:

  • It's a useless waste of your time.
  • It causes you to procrastinate on things that are important to you.
  • It causes you to avoid situations that could have been very worthwhile to you.
  • You will miss out on opportunities that won't happen again.
  • It causes you not to commit to things in your life that are important to you.
  • It's the biggest reason why most people don't live their life to the fullest.
  • It causes you to feel stuck and stop living your life because you are afraid of what might happen.
  • It is preventing you from developing courage and having the right frame of mind.
  • It is preventing you from taking the necessary steps to achieve your dreams and goals.
  • You cannot enjoy the present and just be happy.
  • It's preventing you from reaching real peace and inner joy.
  • It's preventing you from living the true and complete life that you deserve.
  • It's preventing you from achieving the outer results of inner peace, joy, and love for your life.

To start your own business or become an entrepreneur, you must release your Fear and commit to what you want. If you don't take the necessary steps towards achieving your goals, then nothing will happen. It's possible to never be afraid of what will happen in life.

You will never know until you try.

After that, it becomes so much easier to live life daily without Fear of the unknown.

How to conquer the Fear of the Unknown?

As you have read above, the two major causes for your Fear of the unknown are:

  1. Lack of predictability.
  2. Lack of control.

To conquer Fear of the unknown, you will want to attack these two problems.

Let's find out how...

Counteract the Lack of Predictability

A goal-oriented approach can help you overcome a lack of predictability.

If you know the outcome of your actions, it reduces your anxiety because you feel in control.

Another way is to prepare yourself mentally for what's about to come.

If you have a sales meeting with a new client, think about the questions that person might have for you beforehand and formulate your answers. By spending time thinking about every detail, you'll be prepared and have less to worry about.

Furthermore, you can visualize the meeting beforehand. Visualize the discussion going very well. Now, when you step into that meeting, it will not be unfamiliar anymore because you already experienced it in your head.

Counteract your Lack of Predictability following these 3 steps:

  • PLAN
  • Plan your day in advance to know what you will need to do.
  •  This helps you to detect the things you feel anxious about.
  • Predict what could go wrong with your plan.
  • This allows you to prepare yourself for the difficulties that are bound to come up.
  • Prepare yourself mentally so that you won't be taken off guard.
  • This allows you to reduce your anxiety because you are prepared for the unknown.
  • If you have a public speaking engagement soon, take time to practice it beforehand and visualize how it would go.

Counteract your Lack of Control

Reclaim your sense of control when you need to do something new or new-ish.

These steps will enable you to finish the task without procrastinating:

  • Focus on the steps you take: When facing a new task that requires new knowledge, focus on the steps you have to take. Just think about what you can do at the moment and try to execute one of those steps. You'll feel more accomplished and be able to look back on your work.
  • Break it down into simple steps: When facing a big task, break it down into little tasks that are easier and more manageable. Focusing on small moments of success will help you gain momentum and motivation while working towards completing the job as a whole.
  • Use rituals to feel more in control: Many people feel in control by repeating a particular task or sequence of actions. Maybe they follow the same path every day to get to work or listen to the same song before they go on stage. When you know what to expect, it can help you feel more at ease and calm. Even when you need to do something totally new, you can create (at least in your head) a series of steps that are familiar to you. For example, you will interview a totally new client in a totally new area. Imagine how you will enter the room. What mini-steps will you take? Now repeat those steps a couple of times in your head to make it a familiar ritual. Now, entering the room will feel familiar to you. And that's already a good start for a good interview, don't you think?
  • Take ownership of the situation: find out how much control you really have. Acknowledge that there are things out of your control. Try to convince yourself that there are things within your power as well. Acknowledge that you can't know what will happen, but you can decide how you react to whatever happens. Try to think about the situation in a different way. Even if it's not going the way you hoped for, there is always something good to be found in every case.

As you can read on page 11 of my book The Anti-Procrastination Mindset, sometimes all it takes for you to take control of the situation is to say, "I am excited".
Say to yourself, "I am excited to start this new task," instead of saying that you are nervous or afraid. Even if you don't know exactly how to attack a particular task or project, telling yourself that you are excited to take on the new journey will help you feel more passionate about it.

When I have to start a new task like "publish this blog post", and I am not in the mood to start, I say to myself, "I am excited," and then everything starts to flow better.


How do I overcome my fear of the unknown?

A journey to overcome the fear of the unknown never ends.

The main thing that matters is to start taking action.

Set goals and take the necessary steps towards achieving your goals.

The more progress you make, the better you'll feel about yourself.

What is Xenophobia?

The term xenophobia refers to attitudes and beliefs about others that are irrational.

They perceive it as strange or foreign. If you have those kinds of thoughts and feelings about other people, it will prevent you from living a fulfilled and happy life.

What is Fear?

Humans are prone to fear, so it is not surprising to experience fear when stepping into the unknown.

You will feel fear when you commit to something that you have never done before. You will feel fear when you are facing a decision.

The important thing is to acknowledge those feelings of anxiety and then try not to let them control your life or actions.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is another emotion that occurs when you are not prepared to deal with a new or frightening situation or task.

It can also happen when you make significant changes in your life for the first time in a long time or even ever.

What's the best way to deal with uncertainty?

If you really want to deal with it, follow these 3 steps:

1. Concentrate on the things that you have control over and what you actually can do.

2. Don't be afraid of uncertainty. There is a lot to learn in those moments. Just embrace the uncertainty!

3. Make use of your imagination. Imagine how things will go.

What are the risks of taking action?

Any time we take action with some uncertainty of outcome, we are taking a risk.

The risk is higher when we have no training in a field and are not used to doing something.


Our natural animal instinct is to fear the unknown.

We are taught to not fear the unknown, but it's an instinct that we must learn to cope with and understand.

The Fear of the Unknown is caused by a lack of predictability and a lack of control. These can be countered by setting goals and visualizing or rehearsing steps in advance.

There are many more tactics to counteract your fear of the unknown, as you have read in this article.

If you are fearful of the unknown, please let me know how you cope in the comment section below!

Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here:
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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