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This 1 Habit Is a Key to Warren Buffett's Success and It Will Work for You Too


Feb 18, 2023

If you ask Warren Buffett about the secret of his success, he may well credit the $100 Dale Carnegie speaking course he took many years ago. Developing good public speaking skills can increase your future earnings by 50 percent, Buffett once told a Columbia Business School audience.

I'm sure he's right about that, but there's an even more important part of that story that he doesn't always discuss--the reason that he signed up for that course in the first place. Before taking that course, Buffett was utterly terrified of public speaking. "Just the thought of it made me physically ill. I would literally throw up," he wrote in an essay for the book Getting There. He added that, in college, he carefully avoided any course that might require him to stand up in front of the class.

So by taking that Dale Carnegie course, Buffett was facing down his fear, something he's advised others to do as well. But how exactly do you do that? It really comes down to one simple habit--choosing to explore the things you're afraid of instead of avoiding them. That's what Buffett did with his fear of public speaking, and how you can use this approach as well.

1. Start with curiosity.

Many people simply won't do the things that frighten them. A few people deliberately throw themselves into the deep end--for example, Will Smith conquered his fear of heights by bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon. That kind of approach can be effective, if it doesn't get you into too much trouble.

But for many of us, the best way to face down fear is with curiosity. Start by learning whatever you can about the thing you're afraid of. That's what Buffett did. Instead of just putting himself in a situation where he'd have to stand up in front of a microphone and hoping for the best, he set out to learn the skill of public speaking. He correctly guessed that the process of learning how to do it well would make him less afraid.

2. Take a small step outside your comfort zone.

Even signing up for the course was a struggle for Buffett. The first time around he wrote a check for the $100 tuition--and then turned around and stopped payment on the check. But he still knew he needed to face his fear and so some time later, when he saw the ad for the course a second time, he signed up again--and this time he paid the instructor in cash. "I knew if I gave him the cash, I'd show up," he wrote.

By signing up for the course and committing to be there, Buffett took a small step outside his comfort zone, which is one of the best gifts you can give yourself to keep growing throughout your career, and throughout your life. Every small step you take toward something that frightens you makes it easier to take the next small step.

3. And then repeat.

After the 12-week course was over, Buffett did one more very smart thing. He went to the University of Omaha and told them he wanted to teach a course. He knew that if he didn't keep doing public speaking, he could go right back to being frightened of it.

As Buffett understood, repetition is a powerful tool for turning something from terrifying to not-so-frightening. (Just imagine two people sitting on an airplane. One flies every couple of weeks for work, the other is on the first flight of their life. They're in exactly the same amount of danger, but which of them do you think is more frightened?)

In Buffett's case the skills he learned in the Dale Carnegie course combined with the repetition he got from the teaching gig were enough to completely overcome his fear of public speaking. "I just kept doing it and now you can't stop me from talking," he writes.What if you used these three tactics to explore the things that frighten you instead of running away from them? What could you achieve?

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