To simplify things, there is good fear and bad fear.
The good fear is our built-in instinct protecting us from real danger. When we were hunter-gatherers, it was the good fear that protected us from sabre-toothed tigers. It triggered our flight response, allowed us to survive and to get offsprings.
Today there are little sabre-tooth tigers around. However, our fear is still very helpful. We take care of passing cars when we cross the street, we prepare before an important presentation or we go to the dentist for a check-up even before our teeth hurt.
It is especially interesting when you watch little children. They still do not know from what height then can jump or what dogs they can pet. They learn it either from their parents or the hard way. When the fall was too hard the height was too high, if the dog bit this is an experience the child will learn from. And, it is hard to unlearn those experiences again.
Overall, fear is a helpful mechanism to survive and to thrive. The thing is that the life threatening situations in a normal office are reduced to a minimum. However, our hunter-gatherer instinct does not know this. Therefore, our fear triggers a flight response also in situations where it might be better to fight, or, to talk at least.
A typical example is to ask (or not to ask) for a raise. What if your boss says No? Maybe you better wait. Or, if you have this radically new and potentially brilliant idea for this project. Will you try to push it even if your teammates rather want to stick with the old way of doing things? Or, what about leaving your safe job for starting the business you always dreamed of?
Quite often it is fear that prevents us from pursuing our dreams and goals. And, more often than not, this kind of bad fear is not even valid. Or, at least the risk of not facing your fear is much higher in the long run.
Let’s take our promotion example. The risk of asking for more responsibility and a higher position should be quite moderate when done in an approximate way. The risk of not asking, on the other side, is much higher. You keep stuck where you are and maybe management will overlook you if someone else has the courage to ask for the position you are so keen to get.
Types of Fear
There are several types of (bad) fear that can hold you back.
Fear of Failure
- Can I do it?
- Am I good enough?
Fear of Rejection
- What if my boss says No?
- What if Mr. or Ms. Right laughs at me if I ask him or her out?
Fear of Success (Yes, Success)
- What will my friends and family say?
- Others can do this but not me.
Fear of Change
- What will I lose?
- I am afraid to step out of my comfort zone.
Fear of Circumstances
- Am I too old? Am I too young? Do I have enough time?
- Is this the right moment?
There might be other categories but the above shows the overall idea quite well.
How to Tame Your Fear?
We would like to emphasis again that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. You can consider it as a kind of a warning sign. Generally, it is a good idea to listen to your fear. Maybe, the involved risk is indeed too high and it is not worth the potential gain.
Here come some ideas to consider when you recognize fear is holding you back.
Your motivation, courage and willpower might be strong but if you are in a poisonous environment it will be hard to thrive. Let’s say you are new in a team and you have many great ideas on how to improve things. When your teammates block them and just follow their usual routines you will eventually stop suggesting improvements, or better change the team.
This is also true to some extent at school where fun of learning and creativity often is suppressed.
Seek out for an environment that supports you and your goals. If you hear No and blame more often than Yes and praise this might indicate you are in an unsupportive environment. Avoid poisonous people and naysayers. Their attitude is contagious.
Train Your Fear Muscle
A great exercise to handle fear better is to train your fear muscle. If you never talked in front of people, you might be quite scared when you have to give a one-hour presentation for 100 people. But, if you have trained to give shorter presentations for smaller groups of people before, it will be much easier.
There are many little exercises you can think of, including the following.
- If you are too shy to ask someone out, start by chatting a bit to the waiter or cashier.
- If you fear public speaking, start with small assignments or join a Toastmasters club.
- Negotiate prices in a shop to be prepared for harder negotiations at work. You will be surprised how often you can get a better price.
- Talking a few words with strangers will prepare you for the next social gathering.
- Trying out new things like a new way to work, a new restaurant or a new sport will help you to embrace change.
Fear setting (in contrast to goal setting) is a powerful technique suggested by Tim Ferriss. The general idea is the following.
- Make a list of the worst things that might happen.
- For each item, think about how to prevent it.
- And, if it happens, think about how to fix it.
You can find more information about fear setting, a thought-provoking TED Talk and a fear-setting template on Tim’s blog.
Listen to your fear and also recognize if it is holding you back from achieving your goals.
Facing your fears is an important aspect of life and when mastered properly it will bring you closer towards your goals.
If you would like to learn more about goal setting please check out our free eBook.