Fear can either debilitate or motivate. And, the choice is entirely yours. As much as we want to live a life free from fear, it never seems to really happen, does it?
A 2015 article by Dr Theo Tsaousides that appeared in Psychology Today, a long-standing magazine endorsed by the US National Board for Certified Counsellors argues that a lack of fear may be a sign of serious brain damage.
Research cited in this journal says that the capacity for fear is a permanent fixture in your brain.
Neuroscientists have discovered that when the networks in our brain are electrically or chemically stimulated, fear is produced, even in the absence of a fearful stimulus. So perhaps you should start by accepting that feeling fear is neither abnormal nor a sign of weakness.
The capacity to be afraid is an integral part of your normal brain function.
The same article in Psychology Today goes on to categorise that your actions motivated by fear will usually come in four stages. You freeze, fight, take flight, or get frightened.
When you freeze, you literally stop what you are doing and just focus on the fearful stimulus to decide what to do next.
After the initial “freeze” comes to pass, you will automatically choose one of these two; fight or flight.
You will decide whether to deal with the threat directly through confrontation or you begin to work around it by seeking alternative paths, or you take an altogether different set of actions.
However, when the fear is overwhelming, you experience the fourth category, which is just pure fright. This is when you neither fight nor flee. At this emotional state, you get debilitated.
You might obsess about the situation, and you might moan, but you take no action.
And, research shows that being continuously in fright mode can lead to depression.
Yet, through my experience with entrepreneurship, and my work as a management consultant, the most successful people I meet, somehow manage to plough through this barrier of fear.
How do these people master fear, and learn to leverage on it?
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist declared: “…courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”
And, in his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ Nelson Mandela wrote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
It seems that courageous people are as afraid as anyone else, and it appears that it is their fear that makes them spirited, not the lack of it. They have worked out how to manage their fear.
The first thing I have learnt from successful entrepreneurs is not to be afraid of fear. You have to be calm and acknowledge that you are afraid of something. If you understand that fear warns and protects, it helps you manage your emotions better.
Importantly it will not prevent you from taking action, because fear is not the enemy. Rather, it is a guide that supports you, as you navigate the complexities of life to meet your goals.
My interaction with leaders and business owners who are effective, has also taught me to explore where my fear comes from. This practice has aided me in managing my fear much better.
Some fears are innate or even biological. For instance, I have an irrational fear of snakes. I cannot explain this terror sensibly, except to think that perhaps I am genetically predisposed, therefore I am designed to be scared of them.
Past experience can induce fear.
Currently, I am remodelling and rebranding my restaurant. I have a good management team, but I am still afraid. History shows me that the opening few weeks of any venture are always fraught with dramas. But this knowledge allows me to be vigilant.
Worrying about the future is another origin of fear.
My father worries himself sick about what the future holds for my mother and him, and also for me, my brother and our spouses. He frets over our finan
cial standing, our health, and our relationships etc. But this forecasting ability has helped him make prudent decisions that has helped the family.
Having understood where your fear stems from, I reckon you need two critical skills to manage it.
The first is to increase your self-efficacy. There is no better remedy to fear than self-confidence. Your confidence grows when you increase your knowledge, learn and master skills, and gain experience.
I have always found that when I have knowledge, my fears are less intense.
The second is to continue to take action notwithstanding your fear.
People who have learnt to master fear, are excellent strategists. They plan and evaluate their actions. They know when to press, and when to lean back. They know how to assess risks, and always take appropriate action.
Do you know how to leverage on your fear?