Fear can be a great help. Or it can be a great hindrance. It all depends on how well you understand it.
All of us have had the unpleasant experience of having a smoke alarm go off for no apparent reason. It is one of the unwritten laws of the universe that it never happens at noon. No, it always occurs between midnight and 4am.
In that suddenly awakened state of aroused stupor, most of us don’t make great decisions. We are as likely as not to address the problem by removing the batteries from the offending device. But that kind of defeats the purpose of having the thing, doesn’t it? Silencing the messenger is immediately gratifying but can have serious consequences.
So rather than just running from your fears, stop and ask yourself a few probing questions about the fear that plagues you.
1. What am I afraid of - exactly? By forcing yourself to specifically name both the fear and its consequences, you can begin to quantify the fear’s true capacity for harm. Try to give your fear a name, like embarrassment, loss or rejection. The more specific and honest with yourself you can be, the clearer will be your understanding of what to do.
2. Is this a fear I wish I didn’t have? Personally, I am grateful for my fear of dying. It has kept me from jumping out of moving cars and grasping live electric wires. Not all fears are bad.
But there are many fears most of us wish we did not have: speaking in public, making phone calls, asking for a raise, or having a difficult conversation.
In short, if this is a fear you wish you didn’t have, it’s a fear worth fighting to overcome.
3. What are the consequences of giving in to this fear? As an example, maybe you are afraid of starting a new business and having it fail. OK, but what exactly is it you are afraid of? Are you afraid of being poor? Of losing your home?
If you give in to that fear, you may avoid some of those negative consequences. But you will also assure yourself of reaching the end of your life or career years with having never accomplished, much less tried to do this thing you say is so important to you.
What is the risk of never trying?
4. What are the consequences of overcoming this fear? If you decide to face this fear, press on through it and ultimately overcome it, what might be the consequences, good or bad?
On the other hand, you might succeed. You might become the person you always wanted to be, with the life-work you’d always dreamed of.
Yes, you are right to fear failure. But also, learn to fear not succeeding. I think it’s the more productive fear.
As you bring your fears out into the open and name them for what they are, you may find they lose some of their dread.
Fear becomes more tame (and useful) when light is shined on it.