Fear, anxiety, worry—these things produce negative energy and can prevent us from accomplishing our goals. All too often when we are faced with things that cause us unease, we allow our minds to get mired down, dwelling on the “what ifs”. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are other, more positive ways to channel our fear and worry. We can use these “negative” emotions to help us reach achieve the results we want.
Fear Exists for a Reason
Fear comes in many forms and has been always part of our psyche. It’s a “Fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence.” In other words, it’s something that we—and other species—feel and react to.
For the purposes of this blog, let’s think about fear in one of two categories. The first of fear is survival based—it’s there to keep us safe from harm. In this case, fear is a good thing. We sense something dangerous is coming after us and our flight or fight reaction kicks in. It’s the knowledge that if we touch a hot stove we’ll burn ourselves or makes us run from a tiger in the woods. This kind of fear is productive! When presented with dangerous stimuli it’s what helps us make the smart choice and run away.
The other type of fear we have tends to revolve around vulnerability of another kind: emotional vulnerability. While it means well, this type of fear can actually hinder us. When we’re afraid to be vulnerable, we’ll do whatever we can to mitigate taking risks. Instead of sharing our honest feelings, our talents, or our joys—we hide them away. We choose to stay safe and comfortable instead of pushing ourselves, because we don’t want to experience the vulnerability of failure or rejection. But this reaction, this fear, is not actually useful in the long term. After all, if we never feel uncomfortable, we aren’t likely to grow.
As writer Elisa Boxer notes, the best way to determine what type of fear you’re dealing with is to ask yourself the following: “Are you here to keep me safe, or to keep me small?” Then, once we know if what we’re feeling is trying to physically or emotionally protect us, we can proactively respond to the fear in an appropriate way, either by reacting to the danger or by recognizing that our fear might not be necessary.
Name the Fear
When fear exists to protect us from a feeling rather than a physical danger, it can hold us back. But there are ways to prevent this from happening. One key way is to name our fear. In other words, to acknowledge it exists. Label it. Researchers have long believed that putting feelings into words “help manage negative emotional experiences.” And this is the case with fear too.
By being honest with ourselves about what we are feeling and why, we can change the path we are on from avoiding the fear to conquering it. Let’s say, for instance, that we are afraid of public speaking (at least 25 percent of the population reports being afraid of it). But if we avoid all public speaking because of this fear, we will never take the actions we need to overcome it.
Instead, we must name it for what it is. “I’m afraid of speaking in front of a group.” We must uncover the emotional vulnerability that we are seeking to avoid and whether or not it is truly something that threatens our well being. In this case, speaking in public isn’t the same sort of danger as the forest-prowling tiger we discussed earlier. Rather, this fear might protect you from the embarrassment and discomfort you feel when you’re in front of a group. The reality is that in a worst case scenario, you might flub a line or two. But that’s really about it as far as major consequences go. But the consequences of letting the fear of vulnerability determine your actions can be more dire. What if you’re hoping for a promotion and it turns out that in your new role you’d need to speak in front of executives or other leaders? Your fear of public speaking might keep you from embarrassment, but it would also keep you from your goal.
Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean that you are stuck with the fear forever. In fact, you can make conquering this fear its own goal. As the author of “This 2 Step Process Can Move You Out of Fear and Into Action” explains, “Once you acknowledge what your fear is trying to protect you from, you can use that insight to make a conscious decision to no longer stay small.” From here the process is familiar, taking the principles of Goal Setting to the Now, you can work backward from the fear and determine the dominoes you can knock down to help yourself face it. Start small. Maybe you’ll decide to deliver some new information face-to-face to a small group. Once you conquer that, maybe you’ll give yourself a goal of speaking up once in your team’s weekly Zoom call. Whatever you decide to do, with your fear named, acknowledged, and interpreted, you’ll be able to move forward to achieve extraordinary things with fear no longer in the way.
What fears have you named on your growth journey? Head to our Facebook page to share your tricks for acknowledging them and preventing them from hindering your path ahead!