April 25, 2017

Lesson #5: Fear — What Holds You Back?

Fear is a powerful thing. It spurs us to fight or flight. It motivates us to work hard so we don’t get fired. It blocks us from greatness.

Fear of the unknown, others, ourselves or what might be lurking behind that closed door makes us hesitate in taking action. In some cases, it downright paralyzes us into complete inaction.

Everyone is fearful. Even the most brave, brilliant, callous, belligerent blokes fear something. As with most emotions, fear can be controlled so that you can harness it for action and motivation instead of inaction and demotivation.

Why We are Fearful

Fear dates back to our very creation. If we felt no fear, then we would have been eaten by a saber toothed tiger, fallen off a mountain or killed by a fellow villager.

This conditioning has lasted through generations of humans and is still within us, even though most of the things we fear don’t result in life or death.

Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fearful response in us even though the situation may not be life threatening. Take for example public speaking.

Worldwide, the Fear of Public Speaking is societies most feared experience. It even outranks death.

This fear stems from the unknown of how the audience will react. Humans don’t like the unknown and getting up in front of a group of people puts us in a vulnerable place.

We may not have all the answers. We may stumble through words. We may even forget what we wanted to say.

All of these fears play into our anxiety and thus most of us avoid speaking in public. Even kings have a fear of public speaking and they have all the resources in the world to fix it.

Fears Double Edge Sword

Public speaking aside, most of us have two overwhelming fears: Fear of failure and fear of success.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear of Failure

This one is a no brainer. We all dread failing. There is something about failing that makes us recoil with fear when we think about it.

This fear is one of the reasons most of us don’t try new things. We don’t want to fail, so we get stuck in our ways and never grow.

Another part of fear is that we don’t feel competent enough to take on something new. Thus, we avoid challenges that push us outside our competency.

This competency fear manifests itself as procrastination. It turns out, we procrastinate because we fear our incompetence but in order to become competent, we need to push ourselves to learn new things and you guested it, fail a little.

Fear of Success

It sounds kinda strange but a lot of us have a fear of success. This fear stems from several factors, which include:

  • I don’t deserve to be successful

  • I can’t sustain success, so why bother

  • Once I accomplish my goals, my motivation will wane

  • My accomplishments can never satisfy my need to achieve

  • If I’m successful, then others will except more and more from me

Do you see any of these traits in yourself?

The fear of success is probably worst than the fear of failure for a leader. Leadership is about brining people together to achieve common goals. If you are afraid of achievement, then your main task as a leader will be difficult.

Controlling and Overcoming Fear

There all sorts of ways to control and overcome fear. Below is one method that works for me.

Step 1: Recognize Your Fear

The first step is always the hardest since fear recognition will create all those fear emotions. Recognizing your fears is tough, real tough. Sometimes we don’t know why we fear something or that we fear it at all. That’s why recognizing your fear needs to be done first and foremost.

Step 2: Examine The Downside

After recognition comes trying to rationalize the downsides. Essentially, what’s the worst that could happen if you fears come true.

Applying this to most peoples fear of public speaking and you get embarrassment, ridicule or scorn. All bad things but none will threaten your life or limb.

That’s kinda a glib thing to say since for most of us, those fears are so real that we avoid public speaking altogether. This fear thing will take some time to sort out, so if you can admit to yourself that the downsides are not all that bad, you are headed in the right direction.

Step 3: Educate Yourself

Information is a powerful tool in reducing your fear. It’s vital that whatever you fear, you get educated on. Do doing this simple act, you will start to sort out what’s a real fear versus a miseducation.

For example, knowing that 75% of us fear public speaking puts the public speaking fear in context. Also knowing that groups like Toastmasters International have literally helped millions of people overcome this fear should also be encouraging.

Step 4: Take Baby Steps

You will hear me say and recommend taking baby steps often. When you focus on incremental change, you achieve small wins. Pretty soon, these small wins build up to big wins and you have achieved your goals or overcome your fears.

This does not mean you should shrug away from big goals. Quite the opposite. The bigger the goal, the more baby steps you need to take. Try it sometime.

Step 5: Self-Coach

You are your best coach. You know what motivates you better than anyone else. By applying some simple coaching techniques, you can reduce or eliminate your fears. Consider some of the best ones below:

  • Break it down: Sometimes if you break the fear down into it’s components, you can get to what the real problem is. Maybe you don’t mind talking in small groups but big groups just freak you out.

  • Slow it down: Technique is important in sport. Improper technique leads to injuries, frustration and sub-optimal performance. Your fear may stem from something you are incompetent at. Consider slowing it down and learning the basic techniques.

  • Cross train: Running benefits cycling. Swimming benefits them both. Approach your fear by doing something similar that you don’t fear. Then you can slowly transition over. If you fear public speaking, start out talking with friends, then small groups. Maybe teach others how to give speeches. Anything to ease youself into it.

  • Deep practice: Practice makes perfect but deep practice makes experts. Practicing the right way can accelerate your growth and overcome your fears faster than just going through the motions.

Step 6: Challenge Yourself

The last step in dealing with fear is to challenge yourself to overcome it. Start challenging yourself by setting short term goals (read baby steps) that reduce your fears.

These fear challenges should be small enough to be achieved in a couple of weeks. Nothing too dramatic. Nothing to scary. Just some simple challenges to build up your confidence to take on all your fears.

Take-a-way: Don’t let fear rule you. Instead, use fear to motivate yourself to excel.

Things to Ponder

  1. List your fears. Next to the list, put down why you fear each one. Examine the list and circle the ones that are irrational or based on lack of education.

  2. From the irrational list of fears above, write a paragraph on how you can reduce or eliminate the fear. Pick one and start eliminating it today.

  3. Write down all your most important successes. Next to each one, write down why you deserve them.

  4. The next time fear overtakes you, write down why. After you have a couple of these entries, look for a trend. Do any appear? Reflect on the trend and write a paragraph on how you can reduce the fear.

  5. Celebrate success by sharing it with others. Go out of your way to praise others over yourself. Write down how that makes you feel and act.

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.