Fear is the greatest…and perhaps sneakiest obstacles to reaching our goals. We may think we're stalled because of other people's objections, insufficient resources or circumstances outside our control. But it is often fear that keeps us from seeing a way around barriers -- causing us to abandon our dreams.
We can't eliminate fear. But we can manage it -- and move past it.
FEAR OF FAILURE
You believe that if you don't succeed, disaster will result. You think catastrophically -- expecting the worst.
Examples: I'll let down my family... I'll lose the house... I'll be humiliated.
People who fear failure must learn the difference between devastation and disappointment. Few outcomes are devastating…that's an appropriate response only when life or health is at stake.
Strategy I: Envision the terrible consequences you fear. Then analyze the situation rationally. How likely is it that your worst fear will materialize? Now forcefully challenge your fears. Talk to yourself -- out loud, if necessary.
Example: I've handled setbacks before. I can rise to the occasion.
This won't feel natural…but do it anyway. Like any skill, controlling catastrophic thinking takes practice.
Strategy II: Make a list of everything in your life that didn't turn out as you planned…but ultimately worked out for the best.
Example: I didn't get the promotion I wanted…which made me quit my job and start my own business.
FEAR OF SUCCESS
Sometimes we are stopped by the fear of what will happen if we do get what we want. That's why some people tend to make mistakes when they are close to accomplishing a goal.
This fear is often based on preconceptions formed in childhood…from our parents' beliefs…or what we observed in the adults around us.
Example: Successful people are self-centered and ruthless. If I do something well, people will expect more of me -- and I will be forced to work even harder.
Strategy: When you are stuck, ask yourself what you stand to gain by not succeeding. More free time? Less responsibility? Identify the assumptions that underlie your thinking. Are they valid?
Example: A manager routinely avoided taking on challenges. As a result, he was regularly passed over for promotions. When he was a child, the manager's father, a salesman, was on the road for long periods. The son was afraid that being too successful would make him an absent father to his own children. Once he acknowledged that assumption, he sought new responsibilities that would bring him success yet not require him to spend long periods of time away from his family.
FEAR OF BEING IMPERFECT
A perfectionist may avoid pursuing an opportunity if he/she isn't sure he will excel at it…whether developing a new skill, going after a big client or starting a conversation with a stranger.
Perfectionists lose out on learning and growing from mistakes. They also waste time on details because they're afraid to delegate -- they don't trust anyone else to do the job right . If you spend a great deal of time planning for every contingency rather than taking action, you may be paralyzed by perfectionism.
Strategy I: Delegate a minor task, and keep quiet if it's done adequately but not brilliantly. Practicing "non-perfectionism" on other people can help you become more tolerant of yourself.
Strategy II: Try a hobby you might like -- but think you won't do well at. Take a jewelry-making class if you're all thumbs... or a comedy workshop if you have trouble thinking on your feet. Your confidence -- and ability to take risks -- will grow as you learn to survive looking silly.
FEAR OF DISAPPROVAL
If you feel you must be liked by everyone, you'll waste energy trying to satisfy people who are insignificant in your life. Or you may postpone making overtures to people who could help you.
Strategy I: Create a support team of friends and family members that you can rely on to build you up when you are down. Turn to them when you feel -- or anticipate being -- rejected. They can remind you of what you're doing right.
Key: Create this team before you need it. Start by giving of yourself to others so that you have a network when you need it.
Strategy II: Keep an "ego file." Save letters and E-mails in which people have complimented or thanked you. When you need reassurance, read through the file.
FEAR OF CHANGE
Even when we want things to be different, change can make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.
Strategy: Build as much familiarity as possible into any new situation. Identify daily routines that make you feel anchored and content -- from walking the dog to reading the paper over your morning coffee. Pick at least three of these anchors, and resolve to continue doing them every day, no matter what else happens.
Example: It is difficult to make sales calls, so I start each morning by reading a motivational or quote book and having my favorite coffee. Then I'm prepared to make calls.
MORE FEAR-BUSTING STRATEGIES
- Take a leap of faith. People often talk themselves out of what they want because they are unsure the outcome.
Example: I'd like to move to the Southwest, but I'm not sure how to find a job.
Doing research is smart, but it can take you only so far. You may have to take more concrete action to find out what the next steps are. Don't be afraid to learn as you go.
- Make what-ifs positive rather than negative. We tend to focus on unknowns that frighten us. But there are always positive possibilities, too.
Example: When we became pregnant with our third child, we were overwhelmed -- what if the baby wasn't healthy... what if we couldn't handle three children... what if we couldn't manage financially? A friend asked, "What if this child becomes president? Discovers a cure for cancer? Brings you and your husband joy you can't even imagine?"
- Keep your pipeline full. Continually build your network of contacts. Be generous with time and expertise. Building and nourishing contacts creates a safety net for when you are in need.