If you want to play a bigger game and step fully into the possibilities inherent in your life, the odds are good (like, oh, 100%) that you’re going to run smack dab into fear. And when you do, you have a choice. You can:
- Run screaming away in the other directions, your arms flailing over your head
- Grit your teeth and face the fear
- Put that fear to use to help you succeed
I’m guessing you already have a pretty good handle on how to do the first two, so in this post I’m going to focus on number three.
Limiting fear vs. productive fear
Think of your fear as coming in two varieties – limiting fear and productive fear. Limiting fear gets in your way, stopping you dead in your tracks. Productive fear is fear you can tap into to maximize your chances for success. Far from dragging you down, it’s an essential piece of the puzzle in breathing life into your vision of what’s possible.
Sometimes the difference between the two has to do with what you do when you feel it.
Your fear might be there for a very good reason. Let’s say you have a vision of striking off on your own to pursue your passion as a self-employed solopreneur. You’re inspired. You can’t stop talking about it. But when you think about actually taking the steps to make it happen, your old friend fear yanks back on the reigns and hollers, “Who, Nelly! Not so fast!”
Let’s say the fear is one that you’ll try and flame out spectacularly, not only failing but failing in a way that nobody will ever see you in a successful light again (did I mention our buddy fear has a bit of a penchant for hyperbole?).
You’re at fork in the road. One road leads to limiting fear, and the other leads to the productive variety. Which one you take depends on how you approach it.
The road to limiting fear is easy, of course. Just let that fear stop you. Decide you’re not ready. Decide you don’t have what it takes. Find a million very good reasons why it’s not feasible. Your limiting fear will ALWAYS be able to find proof that you shouldn’t take that risk and step outside your comfort zone.
The road to productive fear might start with that same bundle of hyperbole – the fear of burning up in a spectacular flameout of failure – but it doesn’t take that fear at face value. On the road to productive fear, you look that fear in the face and say, “What can I learn from you?”
Mine your fear with questions
The road to productive fear is paved with questions. Why?
Because questions unlock the gold hidden in that fear.
The first question is, “Is that valid?” Sometimes it is. Often it’s not. You might realize that you have been getting sucked into a worst case scenario that really isn’t all that likely. We spend a lot of time at the mercy of huge fears that have a microscopic chance of happening.
But let’s say you decide it is a valid fear. What then?
To mine that fear for all the insights you can find, start asking questions, like:
What specifically am I afraid will happen?
Get specific about what you fear. Without a clear picture of what you’re afraid will happen, your fears will remain a more grown-up version of the monster under the bed.
What would lead to that happening?
Once you have gotten specific…get more specific. So you’re afraid you will crash and burn in the mother of all failures. Great. Now break that down into things that might lead to that failure. Looking back from the vantage point of that failure, you might see that:
- It wasn’t a feasible idea.
- I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
- I didn’t know enough about ______.
- I didn’t have enough money to pull it off.
- I didn’t have a good plan.
- I didn’t have the right people involved.
- I didn’t know the right people.
You’ll be able to put these to work in the next questions.
For each of the feared outcomes, what are some ways I could prevent that outcome?
Now you can look at the possible sources of that failure you came up with in the last question. What could you do about each of them? For example:
- Not feasible: You could do the due diligence on the idea to make sure it really had legs. Talk to people. Ask questions. Start small and explore how it goes. Then you could refine your idea and your direction based on what you discover.
- Lacking in knowledge: You could identify the areas where your knowledge is lacking and a) find a way to learn more about it and/or b) find someone who excels in that area and reach out for help.
- Lacking connections: You could spend a year networking in the area that you are transitioning into so you have relationships to build on.
What will reduce the risk of this outcome?
One way of thinking of this question is filling in the blank in the following statement:
“If I _________, the risk of failure will be diminished.”
So, for example, you might identify:
- If I create a well-thought out plan, the risk of failure will be diminished.
- If I run that plan past people who are both knowledgeable and constructively critical, the risk of failure will be diminished.
- If I work for an extra year before leaving my job and set aside as much money as I possibly can to help fund the transition, the risk of failure will be diminished.
- If I ask for advice from people who know more than I do, and listen to it, the risk of failure will be diminished.
What are some things I might not be paying attention to that would make this outcome more likely?
Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to the result you’re afraid of. What do you need to be aware of? What do you need to be paying attention to? What are the little things you need to focus on from day to day or week to week?
How can I use the insights this fear brings to help move me forward?
Finally, you can continually ask, “How can all these insights help me move forward?” What steps will they help me take? What structure will they help me build that will contribute to my end goal? How do these insights make me better prepared to make a decision, and what is that decision?
A parting thought
Fear is close to inevitable. You’re almost guaranteed to run into it. And when you do, ask yourself, “Do I want this to be a limiting fear or a productive fear?” Then start asking questions and see where it takes you. When you mine your fears for the gold they contain, they can become an integral part of your success.
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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
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