Like most people, I’ve been really scared a few times in my life.
You know the feeling – the adrenaline rush that hits when you believe you’re about to lose something. It increases your heart rate, tightens your muscles, shortens your breath, and narrows your focus on the moment and your surroundings.
If you think back to times when you’ve been afraid, I bet you can remember with vivid detail what was happening. I can remember the feeling of being out of control and scared: in speeding cars, of heights, in other dangerous situations and even in relationships.
In fact, one of the most fearful times of my life was in the hour before I got married. At 31, I was successful, lived by myself and had a good life. Yet as I stood by the altar that day, my knees were knocking – I was almost panicked and was literally shaking in my boots.
But fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Healthy fear will stop us from making stupid decisions that might put the lives or livelihoods of ourselves and others at risk. Fear spurs that fight-or-flight response that tells our brain we better get off our butts and do something or there are going to be serious consequences.
One way to look at fear is to examine it as an acronym: FEAR – false expectations appearing real.
So what kind of false expectations appear real when we make day-to-day decisions in our lives or our businesses?
- We fear that if we lose one of our staff members, our business will fail. We prolong making tough decisions to keep people accountable because we’re afraid they’re going to quit.
- We’re afraid competitors are going to take all of our business.
- We’re afraid that if we take holidays, our staff will fail us.
- We fear that someone is going to steal from us.
- We’re afraid we don’t have enough money to pay our bills.
- We fear people will see that we don’t know what we’re doing.
- We’re afraid we’re going to get sick and die.
Our fears seem endless and in many cases we believe our destruction is very possible.
Unfortunately, the more we focus on these fears, the more we become frozen by inaction. And the more we surround ourselves with the worst-case scenarios, the more those fears appear to be possible.
Science tells us that our brains try to give us what we focus on most. If we seem to dwell on being afraid, our brains want to help us get more of that.
There have been times in business where I was afraid that a key member of my staff would quit and the business would fail. However, when that person quit, others stepped up and ended up doing a better job.
I remember being worried that a competitor was coming to town and would disrupt my business. I was afraid my sales would drop and that fear spurred me to make changes to the business, resulting in a more proactive approach. Not only did I not notice any drop in sales, I ended up selling more product.
I had some serious reservations about selling my business at the age of 52 and facing the unknown. Yet years later, I still believe I made the right decision.
Fear is often part of life because we have false expectations that appear real.
So here are four steps to help face and overcome these fears:
- Name the fear. What are we really afraid of? What is it that we’re imagining? I’m afraid that if the competitor comes to town, all my customers will flock to them and I won’t have any sales. I’ll have to lay off my staff, I won’t be able to pay my bills and I’ll have to declare bankruptcy.
- Write down the possible outcomes:
- Best outcome: despite the new competitor, sales stay the same or grow.
- Probable outcome: new competitor comes and our sales drop by X percent.
- Worst outcome: new competitor takes most of our business and we’re forced to close.
- For each outcome, write down the possible consequences. For example, if our competitor comes and our sales drop by X percent, we will have to lay off two employees and spend more money on advertising.
- Write down a plan for each scenario or outcome. Worst outcome, we’re forced to close. If this happens, we’ll liquidate our assets, and our owners, managers and employees will find other jobs (some will go work for the competitor).
Some of the outcomes we can imagine are tragic, but the reality is life will go on. When we have clarity about what the plan is if our worst fears come true, we’re less likely to panic.
Writing down outcomes allows us to get the false expectations that appear real out of the darkness of our mind and into the light of day. When fears are put on a piece of paper, the truth can become more apparent.
Perhaps if I had done this before I got married 24 years ago, I would have been shaking less at the altar.
As leaders, our job is to instil a sense of calm in those around us. When we have a plan and can demonstrate that we’ve considered the options and consequences of various actions, we show confidence.
And when we demonstrate confidence, those around us feel more secure and calm.