I am sitting in a conference, computer out, focused on the content when all of a sudden, I see something, from just the corner of my eye, dart across the floor. My mind jumps from the topic at hand and I feel my heart speed up, the blood rush to my face, and my muscles get tight. I am staring intently where I think the spider ran wondering if I really saw something or if it was just a wicked figment of my imagination. All of a sudden, it is on the move again, right towards my purse that is sitting on the floor. I push my chair back and a quick scream slips out of my mouth. Everyone stops to stare and all I can manage is to point towards my purse and exclaim “SPIDER!”
I experienced a stimulus (something darting across the floor). My brain immediately notifies my amygdala. My amygdala recognizes this stimulus is a threat (even though it doesn’t have all the information) and therefore prepares my body for a reaction – fight, flight, or freeze.
In this situation, someone came over and moved my bag to reveal… not a spider, but a centipede. Which, mind you, still wasn’t my favorite thing, but my heart rate slowed down and my arms, which were still gripping the chair, loosened. My dislike of centipedes are nothing compared to my fear of spiders (which you can read all about it in my blog post “Vulnerability and Spiders”).
But our fear isn’t always fear of an object. It isn’t always a fear of heights, fear of tight spaces, fear of snakes. Fear also presents itself in the form of our insecurities. Consider an insecurity you have:
-physical appearance -stability (relationship/job) -talking on the phone -public speaking
Or consider limited beliefs you may have:
-I have no idea how to start -I don’t add enough value -I have too many responsibilities -It is too late for me to change
“Our brains are set up to allow fear to take control.” Which means, if we continue to allow our insecurities or limiting beliefs to insight fear, we will continue to react. Our goal, however, should be to proactively prepare for the situation so we respond with intention and conscious choice.
Reflection Questions to Challenge Fear
What is the actual fear?
When it comes to spiders, the result I actually fear is two-fold. One – they can bite. Well, to be more specific, some of them can bite. But I have had them bite me before and it is not fun! Two – they can move so fast I am not in control and if they get on me, I cannot be confident I can get it off. But… enough about spiders – let’s talk about the fears that inhibit our ability to be as successful.
When it comes to my limiting belief around me not adding enough value, I actually fear that I am not delivering an impactful experience for clients. And that is terrifying!
What does your behavior look like when the fear is on your mind?
I second guess myself. I go through my work and change things that I already determined are excellent. I wake up through the night. I use language like, “I wish I had more time to spend on this.” “I am not 100% ready.” “OOO – I wish I knew this before.”
What is the opposite of your fear?
For me, my fear is not adding enough value. That means the opposite would be adding enough value.
What would your behavior look like if you believed the opposite of your fear?
Actually explore what it would look like if the opposite of your fear was true. If I believed I was adding enough value, I would walk into a client experience relaxed. I would get a solid night’s sleep the night before and I would stick to my original plan. My language would sound more like, “I am thrilled I have the opportunity to share this work with my clients.” “This content is well thought out and will stimulate conversation.” “Now is the perfect time to be aware of and to use this knowledge!” With that mindset, I would show up with more confidence and my guess is my clients would get more out of the experience.
When have you proven the opposite of your fear is true?
My clients give stellar feedback about the content, the delivery, and the experience. I often mentally brush off the feedback and convince myself that I could have done better, yet, the response is positive.
What is realistic to expect from yourself?
I know it is unrealistic to expect anything to be “perfect” or “100% ready.” That’s life! I will learn new things every day and it is unrealistic to expect that I would have known them before. What I do know is I have the ability to try every day. And when tomorrow starts, I get a chance to try again.
Instead of your fear, what can you say to yourself?
Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink, shares a story about a gymnast who was struggling to land correctly on the balance beam during competitions. What he found is that before she was about to perform, and while she was performing, she was saying (in her mind), “don’t fall… don’t fall… don’t fall.” He switched her self-talk to be, “I will land this jump” and it did the trick! Our minds are powerful and they listen when we talk. Make sure you are telling it what you want it to hear!
I could easily use the language I shared above and I can easily tell myself, “I know exactly what I need to know to positively impact whoever I interact with today.”
With a little thought, intention, and planning, we can start to knock those pesky fears down a few pegs! What fears do you struggle with? How do they impact you and how do you fight them?
Thank you Danielle for helping us to uncover our fears, see them for what they are, and make choices.
And I can just see you scream “SPIDER!” LOL.
haha Peter – let’s just say screaming “spider” happens pretty often. Thanks so much and may this October be an opportunity for you to consider, face, and make conscious choices about your fears!
Great article! Fear of the unknown, or fear of how you will be seen/perceived/heard and more really can make you perform worse. I agree with your point to “focus on the positive” instead of the negative. In golf, similar to your gymnast, the last thing to think about is “don’t hit it in the water”. I feel the same in business. When presenting or in a meeting I focus on the content of what I want to say and what I want others to understand instead of what they might misunderstand. I have also found Fear will impact success. Thanks for the focus.