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When you need to let go of fear: 9 things to do right now
I have found many times in my career that we approach situations with fear. We are afraid of looking stupid, which I wrote about last week. We are afraid of looking too aggressive or too passive. We are afraid of challenging ideas because we are concerned about looking too negative. We are afraid to be perceived as inadequate so we feel we must speak up and say something in a meeting even if it is not valuable. We are afraid to deliver feedback or criticize someone because we may make someone feel bad. We are afraid to ask for what we want in case we are viewed as selfish or not a team player.
Maybe I am just getting older but I think there is far too much fear floating around. I do see some people taking charge of their lives and making changes in their jobs, in their living situation or in their attitude. I think this type of change is very healthy and transformative at times. I think being on lockdown and continuing to see restrictions come back to us wave after wave has led us to realize what matters and face (and even conquer) the fear.
For those of us not making changes or sticking with what we know, this is okay too. I am certainly not suggesting everyone leave their job and go fulfill that dream of being a sci-fi novelist. (Although, if that is a fire burning in you to create complex worlds with intricate characters, do it!) But, for those of us still unsure about how to approach a situation, hesitant to speak up or fretful of making a big change, you are not alone.
I received feedback once in my career that I asked too many questions and always seemed to challenge the ideas being presented. This was viewed as me being negative. I was actually dinged for it on my performance review. So, what did this teach me? To not say anything. I lost my confidence for a while for fear that I would be criticized for being negative by asking questions and challenging ideas. So, I smiled, nodded and kept my head down to execute what I was asked to do.
This went on for a couple of years and I finally decided I was extremely unhappy and not myself. I left the company to pursue something else. When I entered this new company, I was asked why I never spoke up and why I didn't contribute to the conversation. I explained the feedback I had been given. This manager had a different take. He said the reason I was on the payroll was for my ideas. He wanted me to question, speak up and also help solve problems. This led me to get back to myself and re-join the conversations, which I love to do.
I often think about where this fear or reluctance to act or speak up comes from. It's not like most organizations have some long history of firing people for speaking up, or that has been my experience. This fear comes from learnings in past situations and can be negatively reinforced by our managers or leaders unintentionally. Feedback, like what I received above, did not help me but made me afraid of doing what came naturally to me. It is amazing what little things or words drive our behavior.
As a quick aside....I ask every manager to think about that the next time you give feedback. Also, think about your face and body language. I had a leader once who always made a disgusted face when I said anything she disagreed with. She didn't utter words that were negative. She didn't have to; she wore it on her face. Even if someone is sharing something duplicative, off point or not helpful, listen and take it in.
For those of us trying to get over fear or reluctance in the workplace, or even in our personal lives, try one or more of the nine actions below. Any one can help you quell those little imps we call fears.
Do something. Okay...like what? Honestly, taking action in itself will help create clarity for you. I am a big believer in mindset but clarity and confidence comes from doing not just thinking about it.
Rip the band-aid or peel it off slowly. Either method works and what works for you is an individual thing. I rip off band-aids. Slowly peeling them elongates the pain, in my opinion. I jump into a cold pool instead of wading into it slowly. You may be the opposite. It doesn't matter what type of person you are, just move forward. Taking steps or leaps only impacts how quickly you act; they are both actions.
Approach it differently. Here is where the mindset comes in. How can you flip the situation? I am scared to tell my boss what I really think. Instead, can you think of it as I need to speak up to offer another point of view. I need to speak up because I can't work these long hours and my health will suffer. I need to speak up because I really think I have a great idea. I remember what my one manger said to me: "You are on the payroll for your opinion. Give it." I carry this with me every day.
Analyze it. Okay my anxious nail-biters! This one is for you (and me!). Take some time to think about the situation. It is okay to do the old Ben Franklin method of capturing pros and cons on a piece of paper so go grab your pen. If this act helps you come to a decision and peel or rip the band-aid, then do it.
Imagine the worse case. You heard me correctly. Most people think coming up with the worse case will only create more stress. Actually, it is the opposite. The best method I have found for anxiety is to actually imagine the worse case scenario and prepare for it. This will help you understand what could happen, even if it is a small "could". The act of not knowing creates stress. If we can imagine what might happen, we can come to terms with it and figure out how to handle it in advance. Anxious nellies like myself like knowing everything in advance.
Identify what happens if you don't face it. An oldie but an effective goodie. We don't always spend time thinking in the negative meaning what would happen if you don't speak up or make that change. Clearly, things will stay the same if we don't take action and succumb to fear. Is this okay? Probably not. So, think about that consequence of not acting, paint that picture for yourself and make a different decision.
Join a community. Connect with people who can relate. There are so many opportunities to join groups today even in our virtual world. Look at any social media platform, Meetup, VolunteerMatch, Park Districts, Libraries, Churches, Temples, Work, Professional Groups...take your pick. You may find out how others conquered that same fear if you start connecting in areas and topics that you are afraid of. A friend of mine hated speaking so he joined Toastmasters. Talk about aversion therapy! Another friend of mine lacked self-confidence, so she joined a mastermind group on being confident. I have been hesitant to write and publish my book so I joined a self-publishers group and I am on my way. It would be great if we all felt awesome all by ourselves 100% of the time, but that is not reality. Connections help us face our fears.
Find a coach or counselor. If this fear is debilitating or holding you back in some way, I highly encourage you to reach out to a mentor, a coach, a therapist or pastor. Getting to the root of the fear is key. Doing some digging into why we do what we do can be uncomfortable, awkward and maybe even painful. Don't let that stop you. The best thing I ever did in my life was to connect with a therapist 8 years ago...something I never thought I would do, She helped me become unstuck and align myself to my values again. Those lessons I keep written down and look at them occasionally to remind myself of who I am and what I can do.
Pick one or more. I know. I kind of ran out of stream at the end here. Picking any one of these actions will help you move forward. It may be uncomfortable but staying stuck behind fear no matter how small the fear is won't help us to enjoy our work and feel a sense of fulfillment. There is nothing more important as emotions and moods are contagious. You can greatly influence a household or office based on how you appear.
Honestly, there are other ways to face your fears and I am sure there are tons of great books just on this subject. For worry warts, Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is a must read. First published in 1944, re-published in 1984 and completely relevant! Amazing.
For me, all of the steps work but I now focus on 3 things when I feel I am holding myself back: 1)Understanding the root cause behind my fear 2) Imagining what will happen when I don't act - I find this actually is the worse case scenario almost every time 3) Taking a small step to move myself forward. There is no pill or magic formula to get by it but we shouldn't let our fears stop us from being confident, sharing our opinions, or making a job change. Clarity comes from action. Rip or peel but take a step forward.