I don’t believe for a moment that the lush movie star in the photo is afraid. Sure, she’s showing the classic cinematic signs – mouth agape, eyes widened in horror as she watches her worst nightmare approach.
Because here’s the thing about fear – you never see it coming. It’s the feeling you get when your gut says watch out; or the sudden realization that you’ve made a huge mistake; or the sense of being trapped with no options left.
My clients are among the smartest and bravest people I know. Some of them are supremely self confident, hustling along, racking up success after success, sniffing out the bigger bonus and another promotion.
But many have a case of the dreads. They dread that something bad will happen, they dread that something good won’t, they dread that the presentation will fall flat, they dread that this is their last great job, they dread that their boss will be difficult to convince.
They live in the fear of what hasn’t happened yet. And living in apprehension of something that hasn’t occurred is one lousy way to live. So how can you get out of the dark when faced with a workplace dilemma not easily solved? Try using these techniques to harness your brain power and stop your emotions from bossing you around.
Personal scenario planning. Loved by the military, the transportation industry and high priced consultants, scenario planning examines different outcomes to a problem, along with their associated risks and probabilities. In considering various scenarios, you’ll feel more in control, as well as challenging yourself to reassess your assumptions. Mind Tools does a good job of laying out the basic technique.
Identify the choices. There are always options – even if they’re all bad. Fear is paralyzing. It becomes impossible to take action, and the state you’re in seems like it will continue indefinitely. And if it were as easy as “just do it” – well, you would just do it, wouldn’t you? Listing your options makes you in control of choosing one. And if you can’t think of any, speak with a few people who know you and your situation well by asking them one question: “what would you do if you were me?” Add it to the list.
Change the expectation. Too many of us think that only our best is good enough. Which means good isn’t good at all – it’s kind of lousy. When did that happen? Good is terrific – exceptional was always meant to be – an exception, not the norm. When we continually raise the bar we also raise our sense of disappointment if we’re not happy or recognized or having the impact we wish we did. I’m not suggesting you slack off but that you be more realistic about your work – you may discover that your 80% is everyone else’s 100%.
Build courage slowly. So what if you’re a cowardly lion? Aren’t we all? Fears are often retired through small victories not grand gestures. From baby steps that create new habits, through chipping away at them not exploding and exposing them. Test yourself by asking “what if” I did x and answer it with your worst fear. Then ask “what if” about that answer and keep going. I promise you won’t get past three or maybe four iterations. You’ll come to a logical endpoint where you realize: I could deal with it. I’ve dealt with worse.
Be inspired. I just returned from Umbria, Italy where there were two earthquakes within four days.I had never been in an earthquake of this magnitude, and experienced what I can only describe as an animal fear. People in the small town I was vacationing in knew that there would be another. They reinforce their homes, embrace their friends, and go about their business. Fear doesn’t own them, life does.
Know when it’s time to get different help. If you find that the above techniques don’t help, and that you simply can’t get traction on the dreads, seek some outside counsel. A therapist or coach might be able to identify both triggers and patterns, so that you can put that dread back where it belongs – far out of reach.
We’re all scared of something. Or more than one thing. Fear can be healthy, forcing us to go slowly, considering every option before taking action. But it can be paralyzing too – in which case it has won. Don’t let it. You can sit and have tea with it for a little while but after that – kick it out of the house, down the stairs and definitely out of the office.