I believe fear is one of the great inhibitors to achieving personal growth. I find this time and time again in my work as an Executive Coach and I frequently get asked – how can I eliminate fear? In truth, I do not believe that this really is the question being asked because we cannot eliminate fear and I don’t believe that we want to either because fear, used and managed properly, is really useful.
There is so much to say on this subject that I will not try and condense it into one piece, so I will spread this out over a couple of posts – so tune in over the next week or so for more!
I believe we really can use fear for tremendous personal growth, but we must learn how to properly “use” it.
The first step in “using” fear is to embrace it. Recognize it, face it and take it on board. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back a bit.
When we talk about fear, what do we actually mean? I love positioning myself as a sounding board for my clients to really get under their fears to explore them so that they can be used positively. And this is where personal growth starts!
When someone says to me that they have a fear of failure, what are they actually saying, apart from the obvious? Distilling it down, it falls into 3 categories:
• Fear of loss
• Fear of arriving at uncertainty
• Fear of judgment from others, and themselves.
In my work as an Executive Coach, and indeed my own personal experience, the tendency is to do everything to avoid this fear. I believe this is seriously erroneous as it is ignoring something that exists, and properly utilized can be a powerful force.
What we are talking about here is reframing a situation. Those that have some experience of NLP will be well aware of this term, and in simple terms it means transforming a thought or a view from a disempowering one to an empowering one.
When a client talks to me about their fear of failure, I take them through a process of 3 simple questions:
• What if it goes completely pear shaped?
• What if I just do nothing at all?
• What if it were a success?
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the “pear shaped” scenario and will deal with the others in my next post.
So, the first step in reframing, is working through the scenario of it all going wrong. I know this sounds counter intuitive but you cannot deal with something that you have as a vague concept. Tremendous personal growth comes from overcoming great adversity.
So, the exercise involves really embracing this notion and picturing it in bright and vivid color. Whatever you do, don’t just think about it – write it, visualize it, feel it. Just make sure it is very real, in all it’s horrible reality. Make it factual, but do not drift off into self indulgence. Just see it as it is! Why I say not to get too self indulgent is that the pattern can be to think and rethink the worst case scenario and play it over and over again in your mind, and this is dangerous. The mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is not, and spinning over the worst case scenario can lead to the onset of depression or severe anxiety.
The purpose of being really clear about what failure would look like is to face up to your fears. However, the important piece is the next question – what will I do to recover from this loss? You must answer both questions.
Every highly successful entrepreneur I know or have read about have had their share of failures, and they would all say it was a great learning experience. No one says it was enjoyable or heart warming! It isn’t – but it is part of life and we must learn how to deal with it.
I have had my own share of failures, and I can tell you that they were painful and costly, but I really learned from each one of them. Once you have experienced failure it is no longer something that is unknown, and it is most certainly not terminal.
I truthfully believe that embracing failure removes fear, and gives you a certain freedom to move on, having known what it was like. Once you have started to answer the question – what will I do to recover from this loss? – you are on the path to personal growth.
You realize that this uncertainty and fear of loss is commonplace, and is not the end of the world – unless you choose so! You also find out that the other people’s judgement of you is not harsh at all – it is normally encouraging. So, your fears, although real, are far more damaging than the reality.
I love the quote from JK Rowlands, author of the Harry Potter books, who said after she had been at her lowest ebb on both a personal and professional level:
“I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life”
JK Rowlands really did know how to use fear for personal growth – and so can we all!