The Big Idea
Use fear as fuel.
Questions I Answer
- How can I overcome my fears?
- Why do I struggle with showing up for myself?
- Is fear always a bad thing?
- How can I use fear for good?
Key Topics in the Show
What fear really is in today’s society and how to understand & accept it.
Two types of fears to be aware of and how to deal with them in daily life.
Steps and examples for overcoming your fears and easing anxiety.
How to use fear as a motivator to push you forward.
Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of Inkwell Press, and this is Episode 41. This season is all about big goals and dreams, so we’re starting off the season talking about some of the obstacles in our paths. Today, we are tackling fear. After all, it was the wise Yoda who once said, “Fear is the path to the dark side.”
Today’s episode is sponsored by FreshBooks, a cloud-based accounting software designed with productivity in mind. It’s the easiest way to get paid quickly and easily if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, and they’re giving you a free trial. I’ll be sharing more about that later on in the episode.
Let’s start by talking about what is fear and how does it really hold you back? Well, fear is something that is internal. It’s really part of us and part of our DNA because it used to be a very useful signal to run from a lion or some other physical danger. But in today’s world, we no longer have to worry about lions, or tigers, or bears. That means that fear is no longer really about physical danger. Most of the fear we’re experiencing is internal. That fear, many times, is about not being good enough. This is a major fear because if we’re not good enough, we think we might fail, we might get rejected, be ridiculed, or found out to be a fraud.
I heard a really good metaphor the other day where fear was described as a wall. One side, the side that we’re on, is where we’re comfortable. We know what we’re doing. Things feel really easy. On the other side of the wall is some kind of freedom, the freedom to be vulnerable, to put ourselves out there, to explore and be open. We need to go towards the wall and break through it because avoiding the wall won’t work. You still want that freedom on the other side even if you’re trying to ignore that wall.
We need to do some inner work to look at this internal fear and examine why we think we’re not good enough. We have to learn to trust ourselves that we’ll be okay even if we do get rejected or if we fail. Then we need to act in the presence of this fear. This is really a practice of mindfulness, which doesn’t mean that we pretend that that fear isn’t there. We want to notice that there’s a fear, and we want to be aware of our reactions, how it feels as a physical sensation, and that it’s not so bad. You can still be okay. It’s a lot of energy of excitement. Fear is a worry about the future, which doesn’t exist yet in the present moment, so being present, you can begin to take action. It’s really important to be mindful of your fears and to acknowledge them and accept them. Keep awareness of your fear in the present moment, and then you can take action anyways. Now, that sounds a little bit complicated, maybe, or it feels a little bit scary in itself, but we can overcome fear. You have to learn how to manage your fear and not let it control you.
Fears generally fall into two categories: survival fears and perception fears. Survival fears are fears of death, height, fear of losing a loved one or not making enough money to provide for your family. They’re reasonable to be afraid of, but they generally involve drastic worst-case scenarios. Perception fears, on the other hand, are the fear of failure, embarrassment, or missing out on life experiences. We talked
©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 5
about FOMO, the fear of missing out, back in Episode 14. This is really a fear that so many people experience. Sometimes, though, a survival fear can really be a cover for a perception fear. For example, if you’re afraid of losing your job because you won’t be able to provide for your family, is it possible you’re really just afraid of being embarrassed that you don’t have a job?
Here’s the key. Getting over the fear is up to you. You have to make the decision to overcome it. You can’t have others do that for you. You can’t ask other people to tell you why your fears are unfounded or your worries are irrational. This really undermines your self-confidence and creates a reliance on others to manage your anxiety for you. You really need to learn how to manage that yourself so that we can begin to overcome it. How do we try to management? How can we overcome these fears? Anxiety really needs a focal point, so one method that you can do is give it a focal point that’s less disturbing that your main worry. This is basically the misdirection method, like when a magician draws your attention to something on stage while he’s working his sleight-of-hand. You’re so busy watching this distraction that you don’t even notice what’s going on behind the scenes. You can use this to your advantage with your fear.
I came across and article when I was researching coping mechanisms for fear where one woman was afraid of flying, but she had to go to a wedding across the country. Her therapist told her to wear the most uncomfortable outfit she could tolerate for her flight. She gets on the plane, and she spent the entire flight being annoyed at the fit of her outfit. So instead of worrying the entire flight about the plane crashing, she’s fiddling with her waistband, and feeling uncomfortable, and focusing on that instead. That allowed her to get on the plane and go all the way across the country even though she had this fear. It’s basic misdirection. It’s really just occupying your mind and your anxiety with something else. Let it fixate on something minor while you get the major work done, just like the magician.
Mountain climber Jimmy Chin says this about managing fear, “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from the real risk and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.” We want to give these fears no power. Tim Ferriss talks a lot about fear. He has a five-step exercise for managing your fears that I think is really powerful. He says,
“Fear is just what you feel when you assess the risk,” so he has an exercise of five steps to examine and deconstruct your fears, which makes it easier to separate your well-founded fears from the unfounded fears. This enables you to take calculated risks.
What I’ve done is I’ve actually created a download based off of Tim’s strategy. You can get that at inkwellpress.com/podcast under Episode 41. I’m going to walk you through it really quickly here just for a minute. The five steps are, step one, define the risk. At the top of the page, you’ll write down the risk you’re considering. Then you’ll notice that the page is divided into three columns because, in step two, we’re going to define the worst-case scenario. In that first column, write down all of the worst-case scenarios that could possibly happen if you take the risk. Be specific and go for a high number of scenarios in this column. Really take your time and think about what are the worst things possible that could happen? Then we move to step three, minimizing that risk. In that second column, you’ll write down what you could
©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 5
do to minimize the possibility of each negative outcome that you came up with in that first column.
Then step four is to make a plan for those worst-case scenarios. In that third column, you’ll write down all the things you could do to get back on track if that negative outcome even happened at all. Then the step five is fear reversal, stimulate your worst fears as a way to inoculate yourself against your fears. Realize that your worst-case scenarios really probably aren’t as bad as you think. Maybe they’ve been blown a little bit out of proportion. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of not being able to afford your rent, and then you’re going to have to live with your parents. Well, minimize the way you feel about this risk by going to visit your parents for a few days and see how terrible that really would be. That’s Tim Ferriss’ five steps for managing your fears. I really feel like it’s powerful because knowledge is powerful. Doing an activity like this really can help you feel a little more in control of your fears.
There’s other things you can do as well. We know our bodies have intense reactions to fear. Understanding them and monitoring your reactions can really help. In other words, you can actually trick your body to embrace fear. There was a Ted Talk recently from a Harvard psychologist named Amy Cuddy who studied why certain people are more likely and able to take risks, and they have a more confident demeanor that lands them more business deals and job offers. She found that everything from their body language to simple daily thoughts allowed them to rapidly evaporate fear in the moment and replace it with the belief in their fantastic abilities. Her advice is don’t fake it til you make it, fake it til you become. Faking it actually improves your chances of making or becoming it, from dressing up for the job you want to simply smiling to try to become happier.
There’s been a lot of exploration of this concept in yoga. We return to our breath in yoga to trick our bodies to relax when we’re uncomfortable or even in a slight bit of pain. Breathing slowly through your nose tells your brain it’s okay to relax, there’s no reason to feel tense and stressed. The teacher may also have you smile in an uncomfortable pose to get you to relax your jaws, which is a place where a lot of us hold tension when we’re uncomfortable. This, again, signals our brain to relax and release the stress and tension we’re holding onto. The more that you know about how your body reacts to fear, the more you can counterbalance that. The more you pretend that you know what you’re doing, the more you actually know what you’re doing, which then boosts your confidence. Eventually, what you can do really can surprise you.
Your body language is a key factor in looking and feeling confident. When we stand tall, we look confident. People perceive us as powerful, and it releases a surge of chemicals that make you feel more confident. This is just another part of the mindfulness, paying attention to what poses your body automatically goes to and then making a conscious effort to open up and stand more confidently. Cuddy recommends trying that classic Wonder Woman pose where you have your hand on your hips as a power position if you are feeling afraid or feeling nervous. She also recommends mindfulness, which helps us stay present in actively regulating our own nervous system so, eventually, we start to really do away with these fears, and it allows us to interact with the world in the way that we want. This can be as simple as noticing when you’re provoked. You can tell when you start sweating or when your
©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 5
heart rate goes up, and you can think to yourself, “Okay, I feel a little jittery, and my body is nervous, but I’m going to be okay,” and taking some deep breaths.
Mindfulness also allows you to recognize what you have control of, and what you have influence over, and what you don’t, and then focus on the things that you can change. Now, there’s a lot that you’re not going to have any control over no matter how much effort you put in, so ignore those things and go find the confidence for the things you can conquer and you do have the power to change.
To sum up this whole idea of managing our fears, it basically boils down to knowledge and mindfulness. Knowing how you manage your fear, knowing what your fears are and looking them in the eye really can make a difference. Here’s the question I want you to consider: Can you use fear, your fear, to your advantage? We’ll talk about that in just a minute but, first, I want to take just a second to share a word about our sponsor, FreshBooks.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this episode has been brought to you by FreshBooks. I’m pretty picky when it comes to sponsors, but I am so happy to sing their praises because I love how their software helps boost your productivity, making it easier to focus on what you really love about your business and not spending time chasing down invoices from your clients. With a really simple interface, it’s almost like having a personal finance assistant helping you know where to start. You know I love that. Just a few clicks, and you get to keep your finances in check. Now, FreshBooks has generously offered a free, unrestricted trial to my listeners. Just go to freshbooks.com/paradox. In the section that says, “How did you find us?” type in Productivity Paradox, and they’ll make sure to set you up with your free trial.
Okay. I want to get back to that question I posed right before the break. Can you use fear as a motivator? You see, fear wants you to stay stuck. That’s its goal. Let’s turn that on its head, shall we? It’s important to recognize what you’re in control of and what choices you can make. We’ll be talking more about this later this season, but sometimes, it’s a matter of flipping the script. I’ve long said that it’s so important to have a foundation, a why, for your goals, as that helps keep you on track, and it works as your motivator. Who says you can’t use your fears as the root cause of your goals? Use fear to your advantage. Use it as your why.
I read an article about an author who was focused on improving his fitness and became obsessed with Crossfit. In his own words, he said winning the workout was really important to him. But really, when he started to analyze it, he found that what he was truly fixated on was crushing the 20-somethings that were also part of that gym. In his mind, if he could outwork a 21-year-old, then he really wasn’t actually physically a 37-year-old. It was the fear of his mortality that got him up in the morning, got him to the gym, and got him to work out. Now, you have to keep in mind that you have to make sure you aren’t being irrational with these fears and you’re not overdoing it, like overdoing a workout just to prove that you aren’t getting old. But why not use this to your advantage? Why not use one of your big fears to help push you in the direction you want to go to?
One big category of fear is death and loss, loss of life, of money, of success, but it can be jarring and really helpful to internalize the Buddhist concept of
©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 5
impermanence. Buddhism encourages people to understand the temporality of all things, including the reality that everything in world declines and decays. Accepting that something won’t last forever, whether it’s life, riches, fame, success … Accepting that enables us to enjoy the numerous moments that we have each and every day that occur, instead of trying to fool ourselves that they’ll never end. That allows us to remember that things are fleeting, and we need to use the time we have to accomplish what we want to do.
In 2005, one year after his cancer diagnosis, Steve Jobs said at an address at Stanford University, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make big choices in life.” In practice, he asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” Whenever the answer was no for several days in a row, he knew he needed to change something. On this small level, thinking of death this way keeps you open to trying new things within different aspects of your life. In the big picture, it can make you think about making big shifts to your life, remembering the fear of what it would be like not to take the risk. In other words, find a fear that’s bigger than your fear. Uncover the fear of what would happen if you didn’t take action.
I love the quote from Bob Goff who says, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” Think about that. We have to use our time to our advantage. Fear of something bigger like not making the impact you hope, of not ever trying, is a bigger, scarier thing in your life. I want you to look at fear in two ways. You can look at it as forget everything and run or you can say it stands for face everything and rise. Which way do you want to look at fear? I want to encourage you to really take a hard look at the fears you’re experiencing in your life and start turning them on their heads. Start looking at them as a motivator, as a way to push you to the big goals and dreams you really want to achieve.
Next week, we will be continuing to talk about and work to overcome some of these stumbling blocks in our path to our big goals and dreams. Next week, we’re talking all about failure. Before then, of course, I will have another episode of my new feature, The Weekender, launching on Friday, where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the difference between being brave and being fearless. I want to encourage you to take a little bit of time this week to work on that exercise I have for you based off Tim Ferriss’ five steps to managing your fear. You can find that at inkwellpress.com/ podcast under Episode 41. All right. Until next time, my friends, happy planning.