I saw this post on Simple Tom’s Blog. In it, he quotes Vincent Van Gogh: “The Key to Success is for you to make a habit throughout your life of doing the things you fear.” When I saw the quote, I immediately wondered whether I do this in my business dealings, or whether I play it safe?
I know of course that facing your fear is the route to success. However, fear is a natural and constructive mechanism that prevents us from getting hurt. It sets off an alarm in our body that precipitates an instant change; our minds and bodies become instantly alert, so that our body is prepared and ready to act. Our hearts beat faster, we might feel sick or develop a stomach ache, we feel clammy and there is a natural instinct to run away and hide until the thing we fear has passed. In fact, fear is an evolutionary response, it ensures our self-preservation, however we can also hide behind fear, frightened of taking the next step, of challenging someone in authority. We imagine the worst possible outcome and although the grass may be greener, it’s not quite green enough to risk change. How can we then, turn fear into an opportunity for development, moving onto a successful outcome?
We first need to understand fear
Franklin Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- Fear is exhausting. When you are frightened, your body produces adrenaline to put you on high alert. The concentrated mental energy required to respond to fear takes a toll on your energy levels, leaving you tired and demotivated. You can even lose sight of your goals as you divert your attention away to deal with your fears.
- Fear can become a conditioned response. This is when the fear is generated without a specific threat. If you are frightened of what might happen for example. Taken to this extent, your fear becomes artificial and destructive and can cause panic, distrust and anxiety.
- Fear can be generalised. This is when fear becomes your general method of dealing with life. It saps your strength, and your potential for growth is neglected. When habitual, it becomes much harder to deal with.
Fear has started to take over your life if you are convinced that you will:
- Hate the outcome
- Get hurt
- Suffer embarrassment
I’ve done several team building events over the years. One of my favourites is an outdoor activity. While wearing a harness, you have to jump from a ledge. Once you jump, your team mates holding the rope attached to your harness keep you from falling. You have to trust that your team mates will not let you down. It’s a most exhilarating feeling being suspended in the air knowing that your team is supporting you. It takes however a moment of true courage to step off the ledge. Without that courage, you’ll never know the support of your team.
So, what exciting thing is fear keeping you from? Is it a new position? Is it personal development? Are you afraid to expand your business? What about a financial investment? Are you scared to network?
Irrational fears come from a small part of ourselves that is still responding from a younger, less aware part of us. Our adult mind usually knows better, but it is pushed aside in favour of the instinct response of our younger selves.
Recognise when you are behaving irrationally. Understanding the difference between real danger and perceived fear is key to dealing with it.
Courage is the way to overcome fear
Sometimes however the fear is very real and needs to be dealt with. My first advice would be to breathe slowly. When adrenaline kicks in there is a natural tendency for the increasing heartbeat to artificially increase your need for oxygen. By taking deep even breaths, our pulse slows and the adrenaline response fades, leaving us more in control.
Once in control, analyse the situation. Don’t let the fear blind you. If you are sure that something is right for you, don’t allow the fear to stop you from taking action… just do it. If you cannot decide, make a list of the pros and cons… and act on the largest list. When you force yourself to act despite the fear, you will feel better almost instantly as the rewards kick in. Embrace the feel good factor, remember it for the next time you feel fear, so that it can help to motivate you the next time you are frightened.
Of course, if the fear was too strong for you, then that’s OK too. There is a reason for the fear. Find the reason and your response the next time will change. Don’t beat yourself up with “what might have been”s, remember you are on a journey of personal development. No-one expects you to finish tomorrow.
If you don’t feel able to do something on your own, enlist the help of your team mates. Richard Branson (who is terrified of public speaking), said once in an interview “Hiding from fear only makes it stronger. So enlist allies if necessary and face your fears with a battle cry of, “Screw it. Let’s do it!” You will be amazed at what you can accomplish – both at work and at play.” As the face of Virgin, Richard now gives many hundreds of talks per year and his fear of speaking gets a little more manageable each time.
Facing your fear
So in summary, no one is superman, but you can have superman like tendencies. Whatever your fear is, there are a few things you can do:
- Be honest with yourself. What is it really you are afraid of? When you start to hear yourself making excuses, ask yourself, “Am I just afraid of it?”. Is it really something you want if it is holding you back?
- Be strong. Courage is the only answer to fear. Take a step into the unknown!
- Be realistic. Don’t expect to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Take small steps, always moving forward.
- Get support. Get your team mates to help you! Find colleagues who you can really talk to, who have some of the same fears themselves.
Then once your fears become manageable, take Van Gogh’s advice: “The Key to Success is for you to make a habit throughout your life of doing the things you fear.” Make challenging your fears a habit!