There is a purpose for our fear. Fear pumps out the adrenaline that helps us to escape perilous situations. Fear protects us by signaling us to fight or run away to save ourselves from harm. Of course, today we rarely find the need to run from a lion. But fear dominates our society today on a wholly different level, and the same adrenaline that propelled us to run from lions, is now triggered by circumstances other than potential physical harm.
We are constantly manipulated by media and companies that rely on our fear to make great headlines or sell more products. If you don’t buy this product you will never lose weight or be happy or have a meaningful life. Politicians incite our fear to win more votes, religious leaders use fear to keep people in line, and parents use fear to discipline their children. Fear plays a big role in our lives.
We can easily get overwhelmed by fear and this can have a negative effect on our emotional well-being and our health. Fear-driven thoughts sabotage our relationships and careers if left unchecked. They alter our perception of reality and eliminate our desire to take risks, seize opportunities, and believe in our future success. When fear dominates our thoughts we often retreat and hold ourselves back from any perceived threat, even though that perceived threat may, in fact, be a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Ask yourself this: What would your career be like if you weren’t afraid?
In order to reach your full potential, you must identify and overcome the fears that hold you back and keep you small.
The fear of failure and fear of success are the most common fears that challenge us.
Fear of failure. The fear of making mistakes or failing is often driven by perfectionism. Your need to have everyone to think you’re smart, pretty, and nice leads you to expend an enormous amount of energy in an attempt to cover up the fact that you’re human. This fear prevents you from learning important lessons from your missteps and taking risks that can lead to personal and professional growth. When you fear failure, you stay small. You don’t speak up because it might not be the right thing to say. You don’t volunteer for high profile projects because people may discover you don’t add value. You box yourself into mediocrity.
Fear of success. Even though you are ambitious and work hard to get ahead, your fear of success may lead you to unconsciously sabotage your aspirations. This fear is harder to identify than a fear of failure and therefore, more challenging to overcome, mostly because the way you derail your success can be very subtle. If you fail, you lick your wounds, learn your lesson, and go right back to where you were in life. But when you are successful, you are headed for unknown territory. Everything may change and that’s scary. It’s more comforting to stay mediocre and stay in your comfort zone and that’s where this fear trips you up.
How can you prevent these fears from derailing your life and career? Try these five exercises.
Identify your fear. Make a list of everything you fear right now. Give each fear a name. Maybe your fear of public speaking has the name Wilma. You know when Wilma shows up, your fear of speaking will derail your success. Befriend her. Call her by her name and ask her if she should step aside because her purpose may be to save you from embarrassment or failure, but you don’t need her extra dose of adrenaline. You’ll be just fine without Wilma.
Identify your triggers. Look at the list of fears you’ve created. Write down people and situations that trigger each of those fears. Maybe you have a fear of failure or fear that you’re not smart enough. What triggers this fear? Is it someone on your team, your boss? Is it what they say or their body language? Identifying your triggers helps you understand the source of your fear and then you can let go of the power those people and situations have over you.
Understand how your fear holds you back from reaching your potential. This is an important exercise because until you recognize the pain your fears cause, you won’t be willing to change your thinking or behavior. Ask yourself, if you weren’t afraid to fail, what would your career be like? How many times have you avoided or dismissed opportunities that would have given you visibility? How many times did you remain silent in meetings for fear you would come across as stupid when in fact, your ideas can add tremendous value?
Relax and release. This exercise is one of my favorite suggestions by Michael Singer in his book, The Untethered Soul. Each time one of your fears shows up, recognize their presence. It’s Wilma again! Politely dismiss her. Take a breath and release the fear and all the accompanying thoughts. You will feel much lighter and free.
Create positive affirmations and recite daily. Look at each of your fears and write a positive affirmation that addresses each fear. For example, I’m afraid that I won’t be successful in my new job. Affirmation: I know that I have talent and add great value to my company every day.
It’s impossible to totally overcome your fear, and in fact, you don’t want to because fear can be your friend in certain situations. But the goal is to not give fear the power to overwhelm you when it’s not useful. Identifying and releasing your fear is life-changing.
If you found this article helpful, please check out my website and book, The Politics of Promotion, for additional resources on setting yourself up for success.
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