Overcoming The Fear That Holds Us Back
I love being a parent, except for one thing — the amount of fear in my life. I’ve always been cautious, but not a worrier or one prone to catastrophizing. I’ve taken my share of risks in work and life, and even in some moments, been fearless. But enter two people whom I love more than 100 of my own lives, and there seems to be so much to be scared of for them and for our family. Heck, of life in general.
Yet I can’t ever let them see the depth of that fear. Because the last thing I want is for them to be governed by it.
Or not take their own risks.
But I also need them to be smart, and use appropriate caution. So I’m in a continuous, low-grade state of self-management to separate my fear from caution, assess true risk, and selectively take action that benefits them.
And in the many ways that parenting mirrors hard choices elsewhere, we often face that same tension in other parts of our lives, though with far murkier, less primal distinctions.
At any given moment, most of us have a big goal we’d like to shoot for that requires risk. It can be as straightforward as changing a job, or a farther reach like launching a new career. Many people would love to be entrepreneurs, relocate to another city, or change a personal relationship. The act doesn’t have to be major — even asking for a raise or a promotion can be risky.
Always the easiest move is to do nothing. The path of least resistance is well worn.
It’s when we decide to do something that things get trickier. It’s difficult to determine when we’re being cautious or being fearful. After all, we’re masters at rationalizing our fear into prudence.
Fear exists for a reason — protection. That same fight-or-flight response that prevented us from being eaten by tigers also warns us when our mental selves are in danger. Fear feels bad, and we want it alleviated. We can even develop a fear of fear, otherwise known as anxiety.
When we have big choices to make, fear plays an insidious role as it undermines our brain’s ability to process higher level, rational thoughts. When we’re acting out of fear, we can’t see the situation clearly or adequately assess risk scenarios.
If we want to make good decisions for ourselves, and live into our potential (as I wrote about here), we must be able to recognize fear for what it is, and proceed despite it. And we can do all of this while still being wise and cautious. Here are a few ways to illuminate the fear in any decision.
1. Write down a list of outcomes from taking the risk.
These should include the highest upside and the lowest down side. For example, if you’re launching a business you could be hugely successful or fail completely. Put all outcomes down on paper, and classify them as positive or negative.
2. Select the most likely scenarios from this list.
A friend once advised me that things are never as good or as bad as they seem. This is good to keep in mind as you look at your list. Consider what you know about the situation, and what others have faced in similar circumstances. What is your best guess for what outcomes will happen? Yes, they are all possible, but which ones are probable. Force yourself to call out the difference.
3. Take each likely scenario, and play it out. Answer: “How would I handle this?”
This is where you can really determine what’s motivating you, but you have to pay attention to your brain and your body. Go through each of the scenarios that are probable, and determine how you would handle that outcome. For example, if your new career failed, what would you do? What have you done in the past when you had to hustle? How could you leverage the new contacts and experience to create a softer landing?
On the other hand, how would you handle success? What would it mean to finally get what you want?
The reason to pay attention here is that caution is cerebral and logical, while fear is often felt in our bodies. Our guts clench, chest tightens, shoulders raise. As you go through these scenarios, if you’re feeling fear in your body, you know what’s going on. On the other hand, if you can play through the situations logically, then caution may indeed be your guide.
And you may even find, you can accept some fear, if your cautious mind can play out an outcome you can handle no matter if you fail — or succeed wildly.
Just like with parenting, we can learn to live with fear, caution, and risk-taking and still create amazing opportunities and fulfilled lives. We have the best chances when we stop and acknowledge if we’re guided by fear, or succeeding despite it.
As Mark Twain famously said, “Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it.”
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
(Image Credit: Ambro)
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