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Does fear paralyse you?

Let's start with quick quiz. How many of the following situations fill you with immediate FEAR? You are meeting someone for the first time? You are talking about yourself? What other people may say or think about you if you did or didn't do something?
  • You are focusing on 'good enough' instead of 'perfect'?
  • You are complaining about something?
  • You are crafting that important proposal, speech or presentation?
  • Speaking on a topic you don't know or believe in?
  • Are you approaching people in a networking event?
  • Knowing you need that deal, that job offer, that break but everything relies on that meeting?
  • A rapidly changed meeting agenda?
  • You are giving praise?
  • You are presenting to hundreds of people?
  • What you could explain in two minutes takes longer?
  • Are you delegating to others?
  • You are picking up the phone and calling an unknown person?
  • You are going into that performance discussion?
  • Meeting with someone who's far more senior than you?

If you answered yes to at least one, then congratulations - you're normal!

I love meeting new people and considering myself fortunate to work with the most amazing individuals through coaching or our leadership programs. The one thing that fascinates me is that everyone is different. We all have a story and the 'user guide' of what makes us work varies in different situations - so does how we react to situations.

Regardless of position, title, industry or experience, I have noticed several commonalities amongst a diverse range of people. One of these is 'fear'... the nasty little emotion that is rarely talked about openly due to the potential of judgement or embarrassment (in your view) to undermine your authority, strength or position.

Fear is that scary little emotion inside us that can flare up at a moment's notice, throwing the calmest, confident and organised person into a spin, provoking anxiety and even potentially a panic attack

This is a complex topic, but something I wanted to share my high-level thoughts on. I'd like to raise awareness and demystify the little fear monster inside each of us.

What is FEAR?

We react emotionally first to any situation and then with logic (always in this order). Read that again, and honestly think about it. We're emotional beings hardwired to react with emotions (feelings) first before the logical brain kicks in. Still, the problem is that the emotions have stirred something inside us that make the most logical decisions seem as difficult as running a marathon with no training. Fear is a basic human emotion that is hardwired to alert us to danger and prepare us for survival.

As work pressures (and our own 'self' pressures) evolve and manifest, this emotion has exploded. It is often exploited with media, friends, family and work colleagues all playing on fear as they believe fear spikes our attention. As such, our environment is repeatedly ruled by fear and affects us today in ways our predecessors could never imagine (except perhaps when the grizzly bear is running towards you!).

Isn't fear normal?

In a word, yes! However, individual triggers can impact people in different ways. For example, it can cause us to freeze, lose all cognitive ability, suffer an amygdala attack and can perhaps represent itself in a crippling feeling that can cause a lack of decision-making (that is seen too often in corporate life today). This onset of 'micro-paralysis' in a potentially logical or straightforward task can be accelerated by the chattering monkeys in our mind calling out the 'potentially' tragic consequences, or playing games in our mind about how we will be perceived, what people will think of us - all of this leads to indecision or inaction.

Fear and decision making

I see that impact of bad decision making or, worst still, NO decision making every day. Sometimes the most well crafted, most logical decisions just don't get acted upon due to someone else's fear of making a mistake, fear of failure or fear of unknown consequences or value. Fear is crippling when it comes to decision making (for ourselves, our colleagues, partners or customers).

Fear, therefore, influences the choices we make - sometimes we procrastinate for days (or weeks) over something, and sometimes it's nanoseconds of a decision that force us to feel the physical and mental seizures that fear can induce. However, as you read this, you can safely reflect and feel the comfort that fear is expected. However, making decisions based on fear can be flawed if you're not prepared and 'comfortable' feeling fear.

We conduct fear setting exercises all the time with our coaching clients, and often at the heart of everything we decide or don't decide is fear.

How do you know if fear is ruling your decisions?

Fear often manifests itself physically as an emotion, be it a feeling in your stomach, that out of body experience or the brain shut down and amygdala attack. However, there are some simple guides to see if fear is ruling your decision making:

  • Everything has an upside and a downside, but perhaps you always see the negative in something first, and the first reaction may be a 'no' without calmly thinking through or brainstorming the pro's and con's
  • You avoid anything new or unknown that's outside your 'comfort zone' and day to day routine. The original purpose of fear (to protect us from threat) is now morphed into a default mode when we're forced to do something rapidly outside of our comfort zone
  • You decide too quickly, reacting immediately or making a rash decision too often - not balancing the upside and the downside
  • You hear yourself say 'I can't do that, yet you're capable (have the background, experience, the ability but 'fear' the consequences)
  • You have decision phobia - the inability to make a decision, no longer following your gut or listening to logic or others points of view, always grounding your lack of decision making in your fear

So what can you do?

The quickest advice I can give anyone is to feel comfortable with fear...acknowledge when you're feeling it and take time out in a safe or relaxing environment and ask yourself:

  • What was the situation?
  • How did it make me feel?
  • What limiting belief came out?
  • Did it push me outside of my comfort zone?
  • What decision or lack of decision did I (want) to make?
  • What would be the worst-case situation?
  • What could I do to minimise or prevent that?
  • What would be the best case?

There are many techniques to be used for each different trigger of fear, but get used to that physical feeling, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and give yourself the time, space, tools and techniques to learn from your fears without judgment or self-criticism. This is where an executive coach can certainly help, but also so can a trusted friend or colleague.

One technique we've put in place is to have 'F- up' meetings, wherein 15 or 30 minutes, you can quickly change your philosophy on fear. Promptly talk about what you've done wrong, the fear you've felt, how you will learn from it and the advice to others. Make it a habit and part of your routine.

Whatever the technique you adopt, get comfortable with the feeling of fear, know it's there to push us, challenge us, and don't let it cripple your opportunity to grow, be successful, meet new people, or enjoy life in the best way you can and should.

If you're interested in discussing fear, our 'fear setting' program or coaching, please contact hello@thecustomer.agency

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