Fear is a powerful instinct, one that colors many of our decisions whether we’re aware of it or not. Think about it: how often are you influenced, or even paralyzed, by your fears of what could go wrong? Yet some people have figured out how to use fear to their advantage, to harness fear’s energy to help them get things done. How can you be one of those people? Below are five ideas to help you move away from fear and toward action.
1 - Reframe. What’s important is not what happens to you, but how you view it. Frequently our fears are based not on reality, but on a story we’ve made up about something that happened in the past. You had an unpleasant experience, you drew some conclusions about it, and now you have a negative belief about that event. Any time a similar situation comes up, you automatically shrink from it. What if you look for other possible ways to tell that story? Or even re-tell the story and have it end with a positive outcome?
2 - Remove the unknown. Fear was causing my client Maxine, an environmental consultant, to drag her feet on getting an important proposal out the door. During our coaching meeting, I asked her, "What’s the worst that could happen?" Maxine thought for a moment. "Well, the worst would be that after putting all this work into the proposal, the prospect rejects it." And the best thing that could happen? "The company agrees to the proposal, and I get to work on a project I’ve wanted for years!" Looking at the potential upsides and downsides made Maxine realize the possible rewards for getting her proposal finished far outweighed the risks.
3 - Record it. Stefan woke at 2:30 a.m. racked with anxiety about a problem with the month’s financial numbers. As he watched the clock turn to 3 a.m., he remembered what I’d told him to do whenever his mind starts going on endless loop. He turned on the light, picked up pen and paper, and wrote down all the thoughts in his head. When he was done, he fell asleep knowing he had some good ideas about how to fix the situation (and that he’d remember them!). Writing down your worries lets you quit traveling the same mental pathways over and over and take control of the situation.
4 - Reposition yourself. Instead of slumping and making yourself appear smaller, stand up straight, hold your head up, and look people in the eye. Believe it or not, placing yourself in a posture of confidence and power can actually affect your body chemistry and give you the boost you need to break out of your fear. Click here to watch a Ted talk on this subject by social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
5 - Remember to breathe. You’re standing at the podium and the butterflies in your stomach have just transformed into boulders. What do you do? According to communication expert Cheryl Dolan, deep belly breathing is the most powerful antidote to stage fright — or any other situation you perceive as threatening. "It slows your heart rate, focuses your mind, and instantly interrupts the fight-or-flight chemicals in your central nervous system, allowing you to be calm and responsive vs. reactive and anxious," Dolan says.
Lastly, take a minute to consider how fear might spur you to become even more successful in your business. In a recent Success magazine interview, inventor and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil noted that some people are so afraid of failure that they don’t even try. He prefers to see failure as only a setback, part of a growth process that can then be built upon. He even has a special term for failure: success deferred.
Nice reframe, Ray!