|Mentoring Letter 492 Fear – The Driver Behind ‘What If’
“If a man harbours any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.” Lloyd Douglas
Two explorers were on a jungle safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. “Keep calm” the first explorer whispered. “Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run.” “Sure,” replied his companion. “You’ve read the book, and I’ve read the book. But has the lion read the book?” Good question, don’t you think? What if he hasn’t? What if it doesn’t work? What if we get hurt? What if….what if…….what it? These two little words are the feeders and communicators of fear, fear being the biggest motivator in most of our lives.
A man who hid for 32 years fearing punishment of pro-Nazi wartime activity says he used to cry when he heard happy voices outside, but dared not show himself even at his mother’s funeral. Janez Rus was a young shoemaker when he went into hiding at his sister’s farmhouse in June, 1945. He was found years later after she bought a large supply of bread in the nearby village of Zalna. “If I had not been discovered, I would have remained in hiding. So I am happy that this happened.”
What is it about fear that haunts us and debilitates us and keeps us in hiding? You’ve seen the thriller movies with the girl running and tripping almost every step, slowing herself down and inevitably contributing to her own demise. Yet, how many times do we do that metaphorically to ourselves on our path to success when we succumb to fear? Fear is a powerful force that can hold us back or drive us forward depending on our ability to deal with it.
How many of us are fear-based decision makers, where we let our fears or worries dictate our actions or our lack of action? For example, “I’d love to visit Zimbabwe, but what if something bad happens while I’m there? I’ll go somewhere else instead.” “I’d love to write a book, but what if people hate it? Maybe I should read more before I start writing.” “I would love to start a small business, but what if it fails? I think I will stay in my current job until I know enough about running a business.”
A simple and useful definition of fear is: An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation of some imagined event or experience. The function of fear is to warn us of danger, not to make us afraid to face it. Getting through fear is a skill that anyone can learn. The problem is that most people cling to their fears, because it’s part of who they are. If you aren’t ready to face your fears, you probably won’t transcend them. As the author Katherine Paterson once said: “To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”
The long-term effect of fear can be more devastating than the short term. We are all what we practice to be. If you practice piano every day you will become a good piano player. If you practice carpentry every day you will become a good carpenter. If you practice being happy every day, you will become happy. If you practice fear and anger every day, you will become a fearful and angry person. People often train themselves to perpetuate these negative behaviours. There are times when this behaviour has been practiced for so long that the person is unaware that they have a problem and it becomes their practiced behaviour for dealing with any challenge.
Did you know that we have a day in our calendar called ‘Face Your Fear Day?’ In fact, this year it is on the 11th of October. It is a tribute to the hold that fear has on our lives, that we need a day where we all can take a small step forward by overcoming something at least once a year. I wonder where I should start? Maybe with my irrational fears like claustrophobia or heights? Or with my insecurities like losing control, or dealing with conflict? Where would you start?
James Clear, in a recent blog, gave some great suggestions on how to deal with overcoming our fears. Let me share his ideas with you:
- Don’t pick goals where the stakes are low. If you fail inside your comfort zone, it’s not really failure, it’s just maintaining the status quo. If you never feel uncomfortable, then you’re never trying anything new. Pick goals that will stretch you and scare you! Robert Allen said, “Fear melts when you take action towards a goal you really want.”
- Nobody is rooting for you to fail. Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll fail. For the most part, it doesn’t matter to anyone. This is a good thing. The world is big and we are small, and that means we can chase our dreams with little worry for what other people think. In fact, find people who are actively cheering you on; there are people who genuinely want to see you succeed.
- Just because you don’t like where you have to start from doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get started. I wish I was a better writer when I started writing. I wish I was a smarter entrepreneur when I started building my business. I wish I was a better musician when I picked up a guitar. But more than anything, I’m glad I chose to start even though I wasn’t very good in the beginning. Feelings of fear and uncertainty have a way of making you feel unprepared. Dale Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
- Stop making uncertain things, certain. Who says you’re going to fail? Just because someone else got rejected from that job doesn’t mean you will. Maybe you tried to lose weight before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lose it now. In fact, maybe you’re destined to succeed. Stop acting like failure is certain. It’s not.
- The only real failure is not taking any action in the first place. We all deal with feelings of fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability. And unfortunately, most of us let those feelings dictate our actions. For this reason, the simple decision to act is often enough to separate you from most people. You don’t need to be great at what you do, you just need to be the one person who actually decides to do it.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I have made a decision that I will not allow fear to control my life. The ‘what if’ questions will not have power over me. It is really hard at times, but my dreams and goals are too important to me to allow me to sacrifice them on the altar of fear. For me it comes down to the words of Susan Jeffers who said, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway!”
Have a great week.