Get a Grip on Fear

Artists and warriors live and die by one primal emotion.


Fear stops us from beginning our work. Or carrying it forward in the face of adversity. Or completing it when we’re so, so close.

Fear of success.

Fear of failure.

Fear of exposure.

Fear of venturing from the known (our conscious mind, our state as it currently exists) to the unknown (our unconscious mind, our work as we could make it if we had the courage.)

About a year ago, my biz partner Shawn Coyne told me he was working, with neurosurgeon Mark McLaughlin, on a book about fear.

My nervous system perked up immediately.

Shawn gave me the thirty-second pitch.

Have you ever thought about the fear that a neurosurgeon faces when something goes wrong? While cutting open or delicately tweaking somebody’s brain? One false move and the surgeon can kill or permanently disable the innocent and helpless patient on the operating table—perhaps a young child. The surgeon, under life and death conditions (which may require critical decisions in microseconds), must act in the face of often-near-paralyzing uncertainty and fear.

How does one do this? Apparently it’s not a subject that’s taught in medical school.

The individual surgeon, Mark McLaughlin says, has to develop their own method.

That’s what Shawn and Mark’s book is about.

They call it Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-think Fear.

Cognitive meaning “of knowing … of awareness.” Dominance meaning “the capacity to act with deliberation and power … to ascertain the right response to an emergency and to implement it.”

What came out of Mark McLaughlin’s exploration of his own mental (and emotional) process in the face of fear is an entire life-encapsulating philosophy—and one that applies directly to you and me as writers and artists.

Fear is good.

Fear, Mark McLaughlin says, forces us to pay attention. It compels us to decide and to act in the face of extremity. Fear is a survival mechanism. Fear is primal, ancient, inescapable.

Cognitive Dominance is a Big Idea book wrapped inside of a memoir about a guy trying to get out from under a very traumatic event that threatened his career and very sanity.

Full disclosure: Cognitive Dominance can get a little wonky. Shawn and Mark get deep, deep into the weeds. I love that. The model of the universe that they evolve is as detailed as a Special Forces operational order and as profound as a treatise from the Kaballah. I recommend it at the five-star level.

Plus right now we are running a deal where you can get the paperback and the ebook at a discounted price.

Here’s the Black Irish link for more information.

Or from Amazon.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Rick Matz on February 5, 2020 at 6:00 am

    “The more you relax, the less you fear. The less you fear the more you can relax.” – Prof Cheng Man Ching, a Taijiquan master

    • Andy Dent on February 7, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      Prof Cheng Man Ching was my Sigung (Sifu’s Sifu) – truly that’s the essence of Tai Chi and you made me decide to get the book.

  2. Brian Nelson on February 5, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Do they plan to make an audio version as well? This sounds like another Black Irish production that will fall into an annual/semi-annual refresher. I just ‘Netflix binged’ Authentic Swing, War of Art, Turning Pro, Gates of Fire as a fortifying exercise. I need regular refreshers. I will order, but really do love having the audio as well. Then I can listen to Steve’s Rx for Resistance as I clean litter boxes.

  3. Jane on February 5, 2020 at 9:48 am

    How can I get my paperback version in the UK? It keeps blocking me!

  4. Skipper Hammond on February 5, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    Does anyone write about the entanglement of fear and guilt?

  5. Steve Borek on February 5, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    I purchased Cognitive Dissonance and it’s not formatting correctly on the Kindle download.

    I messaged your site regarding the problem and nobody has responded. Can you help? Thanks.

    • Steve Borek on February 5, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      I meant the book Cognitive Dominance.

  6. Ana Séveil on February 11, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    I am sorry to write this here, but I want to subscribe to the free course and the newsletter but the website is still on “waiting please”.
    Would do mind to add me to your list ?
    Thank you very much in advance,
    Warm regards

  7. Marina Goritskaia on February 16, 2020 at 2:23 am

    I can not read this book further than the prologue (besides the chapter one excerpt) as it is obviously an All is Lost moment. Where this actual moment has to be is instead an explanation of what an All is Lost moment in life is. Therefore, the book is impossible for me to relate to emotionally. You promote it as for everyone, but I might be the wrong audience.

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  10. Justine on February 24, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Wonder why we fear things that are good for us, like success. Just a thought.

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  17. slime rancher 2 on November 14, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Is there literature that addresses the intertwining of terror and shame?

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