I was just going to shoot Todd and email about one, but I though I would introduce it for discussion to see if it sparked any thoughts. I think this might also make a good blog post at some point.
The idea is fairly simple. I have heard about people conquering fears of, say, spiders, by incrementally exposing themselves to their fear in a controlled setting. Over time even really terrified people can get to the point where they can let taurantulas climb on them. So that's the first layer, incrementally facing fears to become less afraid of them -- a perfect example of hormesis. But I took it one step further in my mind today. What if conquering one fear could build up ones resistence to not just that fear, but all fears? This could have some interesting applications. Say perhaps that I have two fears: a fear of dogs and fear of public speaking. I don't like public speaking and I don't get the chance to try it very often. I am too embarrassed to give myself more chances. So instead I go down to the SPCA (or a friend's house, whatever) a few times a week, and slowly work through my fear of dogs. By conquering that fear, I could become less afraid of public speaking.
What do you think?
Great topic, shadowfoot. There is actually a well-known type of cognitive behavioral therapy for overcoming anxieties, phobias and obsessions, based upon progressive exposure to provoking situation or object. One prominent version of this is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy based upon Albert Bandura's concepts of "self-efficacy" and "guided mastery". Here is a good summary of the method, written by my friend Lloyd Williams, himself a student of Bandura's:http://www.apa.org/divisions/div12/rev_est/gmt_phobia.html
From my understanding, this method has a very high success rate.
Your thinking is right on that this is a good example of Hormetism. The key is to proceed gradually and progressively, mastering the fear in stages, and allowing time to consolidate progress. Your examples of conquering fears of spiders, dogs, and public speaking are good ones.
I actually had the occasion to work on conquering one of my own fears a week ago. For the last 4 months I've been doing some indoor rock climbing at a climbing gym with an old college buddy. Something inspired me to try rock climbing again, for the first time in 35 years! I used to be a so-so climber in college and stopped progressing due to a fear of falling. I've progressed quite a bit with indoor climbing, but last Sunday it was time to go out and do some real climbing up a fairly steep pitch for me -- rated 5.8. I can climb a 5.9 or 5.10 indoors, but 5.8 outdoors was not only harder due to the lack of "markings" but the rock pitch was also quite high up. Despite having good protection, it's psychologically much more exposed. Half way up the climb I felt some terror shooting through me. My thought was: "Indoor climbing is fine, but I can't do this. I should just quit". But I swallowed the thought and resolved to press on and conquer my fear. I had a similar fear doing my first rappel down the face, but it turned out not to be bad at all. I was proud of myself and now I'm looking forward to the next outing. But at one point, I was very close to just giving up.