What Are You Afraid Of?

fear-1172407_640In the 1991 film Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks plays a man named Daniel Miller. Daniel dies in a car accident and finds himself in Judgement City, a way-station for the recently departed. It is here that souls are assigned a defender and, through a series of interviews, must demonstrate they have overcome the fears that govern most human behavior in order to be granted access into heaven. Those found to still be struggling with fear are sent back to earth, reincarnated so they can try again. Daniel is forced to relive several incidents from his life, played back on a large video screen, and attempts to justify his often less than heroic actions.

I don’t know what the afterlife might hold for us, but I am convinced that fear is one of our most formidable opponents here on earth. While motivation drives us forward, fear is what holds us back. The most exciting goals and meaningful activities can be easily thwarted by fear. It’s only by overcoming our fears that we can break through the barriers keeping us from realizing our fullest potential.[Tweet “It’s only by overcoming our fears that we can realize our fullest potential.”]

Some people have a fear of rejection. They fear their ideas will be deemed insignificant, insufficient, or even laughable. They worry about not fitting in. Rather than seeking to stand out, they seek to blend in. Their desire for acceptance overshadows their desire to grow and achieve.

Some people have a fear of failure. They fear falling short of the goal and ultimately decide it is better not to tempt fate. After all, if you never make the attempt, you don’t have to worry about losing. And for them, the potential pain of losing overrides the potential benefits of winning.

Still others have a fear of success. They fear actually achieving the goal. They’ll never admit it, but successfully attaining their goal is causes great anxiety. Reaching a new level of performance brings on a lot of pressure. You might be expected to continue performing at a high level. You might find yourself with a new set of challenges and responsibilities you don’t necessarily want. Pursuing a goal is often more comforting than actually reaching it.

These fears manifest themselves in various ways. Worry, anxiety, timidity, disengagement, lack of communication, procrastination, low performance, missed opportunities, decreased trust. Any of these sound familiar?

As leaders, it’s critical that we help team members overcome the fears that are holding them back; but that process has to start with facing our own. Those in leadership positions are often the most susceptible to fear. Their position adds a different dimension to the motivation vs. fear equation. It can be difficult to help someone else move forward when I’m being held back myself.

Overcoming fear is a process. It occurs to me that there are three key steps to mastering the fears that hold us back.

  1. Name it. When you feel yourself reluctant to take that next step, it’s important to identify exactly what’s causing that hesitation.
    • Why am I reluctant to take the next necessary step?
    • What negative consequences do I feel might result?
    • Why do I feel these negative consequences are likely to occur?
  2. Quantify it. Once you’ve named your fear, identify its impact on your progress.
    • What’s the cost to me should the negative consequences come to pass?
    • What’s the cost to me of not moving forward? What positive outcomes am I giving up?
    • What’s the worst case scenario? Do the benefits of moving forward outweigh the consequences?
  3. Address it. Assuming the potential benefits outweigh the potential negative consequences, identify the best way forward.
    • What steps should/could be taken to minimize the potential negative consequences?
    • Who can I confide in/work with to help me make the most of this opportunity?
    • How can I use this experience to propel my performance forward and lay the groundwork for even more success in the future?

Overcoming fear is a very real component of motivation. Without addressing the internal reservations that hold us back, we can’t fully embrace the challenges ahead. Without confronting that part of us that creates doubt, we’ll never realize our full potential. Ultimately, you may find that overcoming fear is the most motivating move of all.


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