Acknowledge your fear. Face it. Listen to its concerns but don’t give it the authority to define your action. Guide your fear. Don’t let it control you.
Fear is not the problem. The problem (and the solution) rests in how you deal with your fear. If you completely ignore it or deny it altogether, you may be missing some important information. If you cave into it, you could find yourself running for dear life and scrambling to survive. If you stand up and fight with fear, the fighting can go on a long time and be exhausting. There’s a better way.
Assume that fear has a place. It provides the signal that danger could be present. Beyond that, it can be a terribly destructive guide to action. You are the one who needs to guide your fear, not the other way around. When it comes to a showdown with fear, there is a fine line to walk. If you let it control you, you lose. If you try to control it, you can’t win.
Guiding is very different than controlling. Guiding your fear is like being in a relationship with scared child. The child may be freaking out, with no ability to think clearly or to create long-term solutions. It’s YOUR job to keep your head clear, even in the middle of scary scenarios. It’s also up to you to carefully evaluate both short and long-term survival tactics.
Your authority can be used to inspire confidence and help to calm the child down. You can then demonstrate your competence as someone that can think and feel in productive ways. This will minimize harm both to yourself and to others and is one of the ways that integrity is demonstrated.
Engaging with fear can be a lifestyle for some people. For example, Francisco Rivera Ordoñez a renowned matador who has been bullfighting in Spain for 13 years, says he is still frightened before a fight. “I think to have fear is good…. because if you don’t have fear, then you can’t be a brave man.”
Of course there are less risky and less violent ways to find your courage in the face of fear. But the dance with fear is the same. Acknowledge it, respect it, engage with it, don’t let it overtake you. Become courageous in the face of it. Take the kind of action you can be proud of.
Lyle demonstrated this to himself when he spoke at a strategic, global, corporate conference. He was terrified of speaking. Not just scared; drop dead terrified. But he was in a leadership position that required effective presentations. He had to face this challenge or face serious career limitations.
He had a crucial meeting with himself and decided that no matter how much he sweated, how nauseated he felt or panicked he got, he would prepare and deliver. He prepared his talk for weeks, videotaping himself at home for hours at a time.
He talked to himself before and after each session, calming his fear and reaffirming his decision to stay with his plan. It gradually got easier. The night before the presentation, though, was hell. He practiced for 6 hours in front of the mirror, until he was exhausted. But the next day, he was ready.
He delivered his speech with skill and power. Lyle was a corporate rock star for the day. His peers congratulated him, asking enviously, how he could present so clearly, easily and powerfully. In his private, politically astute way, he just smiled and thanked them.
Lyle’s fear was a very specific one. But many fears are more complex. For example, the current economic fears are much more multi-layered. But the process of guiding your fear is the same. Stay in relationship with it, but don’t let it take over. Calm it down. Keep your head and heart together so you can make wise, life affirming decisions. Act in ways you will be proud of for years to come.
1. Take a minute to notice a few of your fears. Just acknowledge each one as you do so. As you observe, think about how you want to engage with the fear.
2. Think of a time when you felt anxious or scared about something and then took action that you felt very good about. Notice how empowered you felt and how this affected the rest of your life.
3. Think of a time when you were really frightened or anxious and then found a way to calm down or be soothed. Who or what helped you? Are there any images, sounds or words that are especially helpful?
4. Think of one current, challenging or scary situation you are facing. Then ask yourself: “How do I want to be remembered for how I handled this?”
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