A topic that came up often these past few weeks with coaching clients is fear, one of our six universally recognized emotions (in addition to love, joy, surprise, anger, and sadness). Dictionary.com defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” I’ve highlighted a key component of this definition – the part that gives us access to making the changes we want, in spite of our fear.
At the most basic level, the #1 job of our brain is to keep us safe, that is, alive! If you are reading this right now, thank your brain for doing an excellent job so far. With this very important responsibility in mind (so to speak), our brains are not interested in ANY action it believes might put you at risk (real or perceived). If you think about a life long goal that remains incomplete for you, there is likely some element of fear keeping you from accomplishing it, or even taking a first step. Commonly shared fears you may relate to include fear of failure, fear of not having enough (money, time, energy, etc.), fear of being embarrassed, getting hurt, or not having adequate skill/ability. You may have noticed that when we are in a state of fear, not much happens (think deer in the headlights). And so the status quo lives another day at the cost of our goals and fulfillment. The pay off is we stay safe (= successful brain).
As an example, a client told me how her current job was making her miserable, but that she was afraid to leave. I asked her “If you had no fear, what would you do?” She responded clearly and immediately that she would quit her job and start her own venture. Fear was holding her hostage, and it was showing up in other areas of her life as well. As a first step in getting comfortable with fear, I challenged her to do one thing that frightened her. She agreed to sign up for a trapeze class (a long time dream). Upon committing, she felt “nervous and excited” or put another way – ALIVE.
To make this jump, we first identified ways to reduce her fear of flying on a trapeze (start slow, attend an introductory class, keep an awareness of the net, sign up with a friend). Moving to her potential career change, it was important to reduce her anxiety and fear by getting in reality around the impact of leaving her current job – actions to take included reviewing her finances, creating an extended personal budget, and reviewing her current employment contract. We then identified ideas and back-up strategies that provided a “safety net.” Possible actions included: sell her house, get a loan, take odd jobs to make ends meet, go back to current profession if need be. With real information and a plan, her fear subsided enough that she was able to take action.
As you think about your current personal or professional life, or your business, where is fear stopping you from going for what you want? Here are 6 steps to take to move with your fear to get results:
- Acknowledge your fear. It’s a normal emotion we experience as a human being – be careful not to judge yourself harshly for having it. Practice noticing it (“Wow, my mouth is dry and my heart is really racing – how interesting!”).
- Identify what’s scaring you. Be specific (e.g. fear of being fired, fear of humiliation).
- Watch where your mind goes. What is the absolute worst thing that could happen? Is it a thought from your brain scaring you, or a real possibility? As an example, when starting my business, my brain told me I could end up alone, homeless, penniless, shoeless, and drunk living under a route 93 bridge – not helpful, or likely!
- Minimize your fear/risk. Write down ways to reduce your fear. This could mean preparing a budget, speaking with someone who has done what you want to do, getting support from a friend or mentor, or developing a back-up plan.
- Fear can be a powerful motivator – use it to your advantage. Example: Nervous about an upcoming presentation? Leverage that fear as a driving force to spend extra time preparing.
- TAKE ACTION. Commit to one action that has a level of fear that is tolerable, and moves you towards your goal.
It’s ok to have fear when facing a new challenge or goal – just don’t let it stop you.