How To Use Fear To Your Advantage

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This post has been published as an article titled 'How To Use Fear To Your Advantage' on TurnPoint educational start up website. You can check it out here.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
Paulo Coelho

How often have you refused to follow your dreams because you were too afraid you were destined to fail? If I tell you the truth about myself, the answer will be: too often. If I am completely honest – every single time.

After a couple of failed attempts to start doing something different to earn my living I started to observe a certain pattern in my behavior.

I had spent several years working for large financial services companies. The first couple of years were quite fulfilling because the whole experience was a huge learning curve for me. After my first year I got promoted, then after a while I got promoted again and ended up managing three regional teams spread across different locations. I had a big successful corporate career yet I sensed something fundamentally important was missing. Somehow I felt I was destined for more than this and I wasn’t excited about the prospect of living a corporate life for years to come.

The pattern I fell into would go like this:

Getting tired of the routine and the direction where my life was going
Spending time thinking about what other things I could do and getting excited
Fearing I would fail and ending up persuading myself it made sense to continue doing what I do and sticking to my rut.
I didn’t believe after being an employee for my entire professional life I could succeed in a different capacity. After all starting something new seemed risky and I had a lot to lose.

Does this story sound familiar to you?

My situation would repeat itself. Month after month, year after year. Finally I understood I was simply losing time. I have lost so much time I could have devoted to pursuing my goals, following my dreams finding my true passion. Finally realizing that this time is lost forever made me REALLY angry. So I promised myself, to never ever give up on my dreams again and decided to look at my fear more closely to understand it better.

Physical and Mental Fear

The primary purpose of fear is to help us escape physical harm, it is an evolutionary mechanism. If you look at fear of imminent danger (a car being about to hit us or an animal attack) it is completely different from the fear of, say, public speaking. The first one is physical fear – a reaction of our body to real danger, the second one is mental or ‘social’ fear, it is self-perceived. The first one can switch on a ‘superhero mode’ in you by allowing you for example to run as fast in face of danger as you never thought you could. However this adrenaline rush – this biological reaction of your body – won’t be helpful when you speak in front of an audience.

About 99% of our fears today are the so-called social fears. You spend too much time worrying about what others think, that your plan will not work, you will not earn enough by doing what you like, your proposal will not be accepted, you will not get a raise, won’t be promoted, will become a laughing stock, no one will like you, etc. We think these are the situations to be afraid of, but the truth is we are not in danger – all these fears are only in our heads. And we waste enormous amount of energy to maintain and feed them.

Strategies for Overcoming Fear

Why overcome fear in the first place? By doing what you are afraid of you will unlock your potential, you will see your goals more clearly, you will get additional energy and finally – you will stop being afraid.

– Split your fear into simple steps

Example goal: get your article published by a magazine. Initially my goal seemed pretty big and scary. But in reality there was nothing scary about writing my first article (I actually enjoyed it), neither was I afraid to think of a place I wanted to send it to. Same applied to writing a letter to the editor. Same went for the act of pressing ‘Send’ button. If you think of it, there was hardly anything to be afraid of in the first place. This will be the case with most of the fears we face.

- Apply game strategies

Fool your fear, pretend you are someone else who wouldn’t be afraid in the situation. Imagine you are Richard Branson about to communicate your recent decision to the staff and go make that call you’ve been dreading so long. Would R. Branson have any trouble making the call? Of course not! Feel that boost of confidence already? Because what is funny can’t be dangerous.

Play with it, imagine yourself as a commander-in-chief, president, crown-prince, humanoid, or better yet – yourself after achieving success.

- Think less, do more

Stop thinking about how you expect things to turn out and how difficult it would be to achieve that ideal state. Your mind is your enemy here. Trust your intuition and start taking steps towards achieving your goal. Step by step you will see many opportunities opening up for you when you have coped with fear.

Use Fear to Your Advantage

It’s natural for us to have certain fears in our lives. Fear can be a good indication on what areas of your life to work on. Instead of constantly trying to avoid fear it might be well worth challenging yourself and letting it work for you. Make yourself, possibly with help of close friends or people you trust, work through some of these fears.

There is a huge source of energy hidden behind your fear – all this energy you spent on being afraid, over thinking, being hard on yourself. The only way to release it is to direct yourself to the source of your fear – by doing what you are afraid of. I wouldn’t have been writing this article if I hadn’t overcome my fear of not being published. Who would have thought I can actually write something meaningful? Turns out – everyone, except for me :).

You never know what the outcomes might be. The end result could be some new-found success and passions in your life that you never would have had if you had not faced the fear. Or some new opportunities opening up as you explore and expand your boundaries.

You can start experimenting with your fear by following these simple steps:

– list the things you are afraid of

– make a plan on how you will face some of your fears

– turn your plan into reality!

– see what happens

And remember: you are not the only one who has fears: everyone is afraid. The difference is some are scared and do nothing while others are scared and do loads.

The choice belongs to you.

Written in collaboration with Svetlana Pokrevskaya

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