Fear is the bane of many people’s existence. Fear manifests itself as sickness, broken relationships, opportunities missed and regrets. It doesn’t have to be that way and there are strategies you can use to kick fear where it hurts.
Recently, I read the book Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing by Bernadette Jiwa. I liked it so much, I read her two of her other books, Marketing: A Love Story and Meaningful: Stories of Ideas That Fly. After that, I corresponded with Bernadette on Twitter, she responded and asked me what my one, big takeaway was from her books. I couldn’t give her one thing because I really enjoyed reading her work. Her question did, however, inspire me to write this post.
Perhaps like you, I grapple with fear every day. Not overtly, it’s just there. I feel when the tide is rising and these are the questions I’ve developed to put fear in its place, move forward and enjoy a life lived well. I hope you find them useful in helping you to do that “thing” you fear.
Why Are You Afraid?
This seems simple but it’s not. Fear can be a foe with many faces. Is it pride, greed or social influence that’s making you afraid? The first step to solving an equation is identifying variables. Get clear on what you fear as quickly as you can because isolating these elements is the first step in your solution.
Is there something you lack? Examine the situation and make sure you have all of the data. What’s happening, is there a force you don’t understand? Is incomplete information causing a wriggling sense of doom, causing you to think that you won’t know the answer to a question and then you’ll look stupid? It’s okay, that happens to me once in a while. Especially when access to accurate and timely data is challenging and becomes a confidence blocker.
Is there a financial risk you’re fearing? You’ve heard the saying that rate of return is commensurate with the risk and I believe this is true. You may, however, do your work to understand the variables, gather information and use data to make an informed decision, create boundary conditions and move forward with a plan. Or, decide not to go forward, too. In either case, you’ve worked through your fear and made a decision. That’s progress!
What’s Good About This Fear?
Your fears come from inside you. And they are based on the sum of your experiences and the way you’re seeing the situation. I’ve read that FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s good and I like it because it implies options.
The human mind is equipped with an amazing capacity to process information, create likely outcome scenarios and devise resultant strategies. Have you ever had one of those nights where you wake up, start running through all sorts of scenarios, break into sweats, eventually fall back to sleep, wake up and none of those horrible scenarios ever came true? I’ve had many of those nights. In fact, too many to admit, really.
This is the basis for the oft-cited “Fight or Flight” response to fear. Fight or Flight is basal, firmly anchored in our brains and easily overcome with a commitment to self-awareness. After all, this response took hold many years ago when humans had to rapidly determine if the imminent threat was going to kill them or not. As a result, they either stayed and fought or ran away. It’s rare today that any situation is life or death. It may feel like it sometimes…
For me, remembering to breathe in these situations is important. Breathing creates a moment for the biochemistry in my brain to stabilize and I respond instead of reacting. This is a small, but important distinction. When looking back on a bad outcome, a lack of breathing is the inflection point.
Once you get past the initial moment, think about what’s good. It’s hard to do, especially in real time. This is about gratitude and the situation doesn’t matter. Think about it, there is no scenario or interaction where a focus on gratitude does not make it better. Don’t you believe me? Give it a try the next time you have a disagreement with someone. Thank them for something, anything, before you start your discussion. I guarantee things will go better.
Gratitude heals and is a potent antidote to fear. Looking for the good is the application of gratitude focused thinking and responding.
What Are You Protecting With Fear?
As mentioned earlier, from back in the Caveman days, fear evolved as a protection mechanism. That’s still true today, it’s no longer life or death, though. Now it’s, “He won’t love me anymore.” Or, “I’ll get fired, lose all of my money, go into default on my mortgage and my wife and kids will be living on the street.” Our creative, scenario creating lizard brains can go to some dark places quickly. Well, mine can anyway…
Protecting ourselves from looking stupid, uninformed or unprepared is a pervasive fear and this stems from ego (pride). Sometimes the “fight” part of the Caveman response manifests itself in social situations as the guy who knows everything and refuses to yield to another point of view when facts suggest such an option. The desire and ability to protect the ego are well entrenched in most of us – certainly with me, anyway.
Ryan Holiday wrote a good book about this called, “Ego is the Enemy.”
If it’s financial risk, for me, that’s the easiest fear to punch right in the gut. When I can afford to lose it, I go forward. If I can’t, understanding the downside conditions and exploring options make opportunities more clear and the fear subsides.
As an example, let’s pick on people’s most common fear outside of death: public speaking. It’s real, I still get some stomach butterflies before I do it and I do it a lot. I’ve tried the tactics of imagining the crowd as being in their underwear or comprised of only family and friends, etc. Maybe you’ve tried these, too?
Fantasy scenarios don’t work for me, though, and I don’t recommend them for you. The best antidote to overcome your fear of public speaking is to understand your topic, keep it short and prepare. The saying, “Practice makes perfect,” applies to public speaking. After all, what are you afraid of? If you know your topic, have a tight, focused outline and practice a lot, I guarantee you will be okay. Start slow, build your rhythm and remember to breathe.
There’s that breathing thing again.
What’s the Worst Outcome and Will it Break You?
Years ago, when I was a Product Manager for Storz Instrument Company n St. Louis, MO, I worked for a guy who told me how he deals with fear. Peter McLane told me, “I think about the worst possible outcome, decide if I can live with that, and if I can, I move on. If not, I don’t do it or look for possible adjustments.”
I’ve struggled with this strategy over the years and maybe you will, too? What makes it hard for me is that I don’t like to go to the dingy place where the worst possible outcome lives. Going here, though, can be liberating for you because it will help you establish boundary conditions. Once you have those, you may decide to no longer fear what you’re seeing and instead make an informed “go” or “no-go” decision.
The “Will it break you?” part is complex, too. Resiliency is getting a lot of press these days and it’s about time! The ability to take a punch and get up is what separates winning fighters from losers. After all, getting knocked down is part of life, most times out of our control and part of life. Not getting up from a fall can be a conscious decision to quit. Not always – sometimes the adage “He who fights and walks away lives to fight another day,” is true. As long as you’ve faced your fear and taken action, you’re making progress!
Who Will Still Love You No Matter What?
When you face your fear, a good question to ask is, “Who will still love me no matter what happens here?” You must have someone in your life who will love you even if you’re fired, delivered a public speech to snickers or answered a question incorrectly. Thinking about these people in your life can be an easy way to change your state of mind enough to do that thing making you afraid.
Think about it, even if it’s your mom, dad, brother or sister. Someone loves you and they always will!
Think Back, How Many of Your Fears Came True?
My Grandma told me, “Most of the things we spend our time worrying about never come to pass, Joel, so don’t waste your time worrying.” She was right and I am grateful she gave me this good advice.
Here’s the flip-side to this deal, too. Earl Nightingale wrote in “The Strangest Secret” about a quote from the Roman Emporer, Marcus Aurelius, “A man becomes what he thinks about all day long.” This quote drives many of my actions to this day and I first heard it April of 1991 riding in around in my Ford Taurus in my first year as Medical Device Sales Representative in Ophthalmology.
I made the choice in those early days to spend my drive time listening to tapes with ideas and motivational thoughts instead of the radio. I still do it to this day when I exercise and the opportunities for audiobooks and podcasts to influence your thoughts are amazing to me.
The point to this is that if you spend your time thinking about the bad things that may happen, you’ve made a choice. And it’s a bad choice because it’s just as easy to think about good things. Then if your bad thing does happen, you haven’t already wasted hours thinking about it. You can deal with is using the above questions and move forward with your life.
What Will You Miss by Allowing Fear to Influence Your Actions?
There is a saying is attributed to many athletes (I love hockey so I’ll give the credit to Wayne Gretzky): “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
This is the most insidious byproduct of fear. If fear keeps you from asking the question to gain understanding, you lose. If fear keeps you from telling someone you love something that is bothering you, you lose. If fear keeps you from asking your boss for a raise you believe you’ve earned, you lose.
Why do you lose? Because none of these situations will kill you! You’re only missing out on the upside of the good that may happen with the interaction. Here are a few selling strategies to help you.
Make the second half of 2017 your time to kick fear where it hurts and do that big, hairy thing you’ve been waiting to do. It doesn’t matter what it is and it won’t kill you if you fail. You will look back and be happy you tried. – That, I guarantee!
In 2016, I wrote about crushing your goals in a post.
If you’re like me, you gain inspiration from stories of other people’s successes. Please share in the comments below a story where you overcame fear and how you did it. It doesn’t matter if you won or lost, you took action! How do you start your day?
And if you’d like a good book to read about this, check out a book by Jon Acuff called: Start.: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters
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