“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Age and experience have taught me that fear is ever-present. You never conquer it. It changes with time, but it never goes away. Fear is a constant in all of our lives.
Bravery ebbs and flows. The ironic thing about bravery is that without fear, there is no bravery. So if you’d like to be brave, you have to acknowledge and recognize fear.
Fears don’t care what you do. Be brave. Be cowardly. Fears don’t care either way.
“Don’t let your fears win.”
Most of us have heard that admonition. But here’s the thing. Fears aren’t motivated to win or lose. Fears have no expectation because fears are mostly irrational. Well, the ones that really stymie us seem that way.
“Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”
Maybe I should more precisely define fear, at least as I’m using it for today’s show. I very much like the acronym – false evidence appearing real. That makes my usage of the word different than those real challenges you face. For instance, an annual medical checkup can reveal some serious health concerns. Your doctor sits down with you and lays out a course of treatment. Yes, you’re afraid, but your fear is based on real evidence of something that is very real. Your fear of the unknown is understandable. It takes the human mind some time to adapt and adjust to this news. That’s why your knees buckle at the news, but within days you’re back on your feet with greater resolve to battle through and do whatever you’re able to improve your condition. But that doesn’t happen immediately. The processing of this news takes time. Real fear. Real issues. Nothing fake or false happening here.
Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but I hope you get the difference.
And I hope you’re not having to endure something of that sort, but I suspect some of you are. You’re battling through some bad news. Some very real bad news that you simply must face as best you can. Some bad news that requires you to simply do your best in whatever decisions lay ahead.
“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I don’t believe life is merely filled with imaginary monsters or boogeymen. There are some real ones.
I also believe terror is real and fueled by our panic and fear. For instance, the coronavirus is very real. It’s not imaginary, but the panic and fear partly are. As I record this there are about 84,000 cases worldwide. There are almost 2,900 deaths. Almost 37,000 have recovered. There are 60 cases reported in the US. But I have a buddy who was scheduled to travel from Dallas to Nashville to a conference. The conference was canceled due to fears of the spreading virus. I know a seminar company that has already capitalized on the fear by selling hi-end seminars to organizations panicked about what they might do if the virus strikes. The fear and the virus are both real. The level of fear is amplified though because we imagine this thing is far worse in scope and scale. In our minds, it’s like this worldwide plague spreading faster than we can even identify it. That’s not true.
What is true, we have questions about this thing. There are many things we don’t know. Those unknowns make us more afraid than we might otherwise be. It’s how fear works. The less we know the greater our fear.
Just look at the stock market’s reaction to the coronavirus. The stock market is proof that fear works.
Almost 3,300 people die every day worldwide in traffic accidents. It eclipses 1.25 million people. But we still buy 74 million automobiles in 2020. We’re not afraid of cars or driving cars. We’re comfortable with cars. We understand cars and driving them.
“What you don’t know can hurt you.”
We hear it and believe it. Even though it’s not necessarily true. Think about it and it fails to even make sense in many regards. I know about the dangers of smoking. I know about cancer. I know about heart disease. I know about gun accidents. There are many dangers that I’m completely aware of. They’re still very dangerous. My knowledge about them doesn’t make them any less dangerous except I can be on guard and do whatever I’m able to avoid them. Simply knowing doesn’t protect me though.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
– Dawson Church (Mind To Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality)
Here’s the fact: what you don’t know can scare you half to death.
Talking And Listening Our Way Toward The Truth
I’m sitting in the car with one of the grandsons. We’re having a perfectly fine conversation when suddenly he grows solemn. And I notice he begins to cry. Just slightly. I ask, “What’s wrong? What are you feeling?” No answer. He’s young. Command of emotions isn’t easy (or even possible) for a child. We weren’t talking about anything that would have prompted this reaction. At least nothing I could recognize.
For the next few minutes, I assure him he can tell me if he wants. I talk to him about people with whom he can be safe. I urge him to make sure he can talk with somebody, even if I’m not that person. Again, he’s young. We’ll keep helping him understand that the path forward will be much easier if he’ll talk and listen his way toward the truth. I have no idea what he was feeling or what prompted it. Over time he’ll learn that helping people understand such things can help him, provided the people he confides in are safe – which I told him means “they won’t ever use what you tell them against you.”
Enough business owners, CEOs and leaders have sat down with me and over the course of our conversation, they’ll make a confession. “This feels like therapy.”
It happens during many first time meetings. Years ago I was puzzled by it, but I’ve come to understand the reality. People – ALL PEOPLE – crave being heard and understood. We all want and need others who will listen to us and work to understand us. People need to be understood by somebody. Even those folks who seem to thrive on being mysterious have a yearning to be understood by somebody. It’s universal.
I speak with a CEO on the phone for the first time. People I’ve never met. Within minutes I ask them about challenges, problems, and hurdles. It’s extremely rare for me to face resistance to that inquiry. These top-level leaders are so hungry for somebody with whom they can feel safe – somebody they feel will not use what they say against them – they begin to talk about their biggest problems, concerns and fears. It’s my superpower. Active listening and asking good questions.
I’ve witnessed how meaningful talking and listening our way toward the truth can be. I’ve also seen how hard it can be for most people. For some, like my grandson, they simply can’t do it. They can’t find the words. They physically are unable to speak. I have family members wired that way so I’ve come to understand it. Sure, it begins in their head, but they just can’t bring themselves to speak. Not at that moment. Some can talk later, but not at that moment. It took me a long time to understand that because I’m not like that at all. I can readily and easily summon the verbiage needed to help you know what I’m thinking or feeling. For me, it’s less about my ability to talk and listen, but more about my selectivity in who I want to talk to…and who I want to listen to.
Here’s why this is important stuff — your fears don’t care, but somewhere there are people who do. Or who will.
People who will care enough to help you overcome fears (and problems).
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Great Eleanor, but how?
As much as I’d love to agree with her first statement I can’t. Because it’s not true. It sounds terrific, but you’ve looked fear in the face at times. Sometimes you’ve looked at it for a split second then run like a wild hyena the other way! Me too. No strength gained. No courage. No confidence increased. Just sheer panic.
There’ve been other times you looked fear in the face and didn’t run away, but it still kicked you to the ground and stomped all over you. Going through something doesn’t necessarily improve us. That’s mostly just a passive act of endurance. Not quite the same thing as enduring fear with a purpose or intent to conquer it. Conquering is a lot more than enduring.
Doing that thing you THINK you cannot…yes, agreed. But I have to emphasize the thing you THINK you can’t do. My little grandson doesn’t yet know how to express what he’s feeling when he’s embarrassed or upset. I hope to help him figure that out as he grows up. He’s convinced he can’t tell me what he’s feeling. And he’s right. He can’t. But I know a secret he hasn’t yet learned. Nothing is stopping him. It’s all in his head. Emotionally he struggles. Those emotions paralyze him physically from talking about it. It’s not fake. It’s real. That’s the power of fear. But we owe it to him as a family to help him learn that he’s got a bigger power – a power that can conquer that fear. He can decide for himself what he wants and be freed from that specific fear. My hope is that by learning how to conquer that fear he’ll better understand his ability to overcome just about any fear. It doesn’t mean he’ll never be afraid. He’ll be like us, always afraid of something. But it means he’ll feel powerful enough to look fear in the face and conquer it.
The good news is your fears don’t care. They come. They go. You embrace them and hold onto them. You let them go and conquer them. They just don’t care.
Because of that they just are.
Here’s what I hope to help you with – conquering yours. You are in control of the fears. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s completely true. And I’m not downplaying your fears. I’m not saying they’re not real. I’m not even going to say they’re completely unwarranted. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know – your fears can spur you onto growth and improvement or they can freeze you right where you stand (or sit).
Let me give you just a few key points that I’ve learned in facing my own fears and in helping others face theirs.
Giving fear more time helps fear grow.
Every time we dwell on our fears they expand. Whatever time or space we’ll give fear…fear will take it all. And then some. The key to first managing fears more effectively is to restrict time and space.
Look closely into the details of your fears.
The way to reduce the time and space is to closely examine the fear. When you look closely at the coronavirus you begin quickly see that the hysteria isn’t appropriate. It’s very disproportionate. So it likely will go with many or most of your fears.
Let me share with you one fear I’ve always had. Imposing on people. I hate imposing on people. That fear is manifested in my reluctance. Reluctance to sell me. Reluctance to contact prospects who may desperately need my help. Upon close examination, that fear is completely unfounded. Do you experience impositions? Of course, you do. Every single day. But what may be an imposition to some is going to be an opportunity for others. That’s the truth of it. My fears are ridiculous and without foundation. Besides, if I’m imposing on somebody don’t you suppose they’ll quickly blow me off – and who among us hasn’t been blown off. But we’re still here in spite of all the times people have said no to us, or in spite of the times people have ignored us. There are NO CONSEQUENCES to my fears. Whenever I ask, “What’s the worst thing that will happen?” I must answer, “The same thing would happen if I never made the effort. The outcome would be identical. I wouldn’t get the business.”
“In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
The faster you get to the details, the better. The slower, the worse it gets. Your fears! Remember, they thrive on misinformation and time. Added together they’ll create panic. So you must dive into uncovering the real source of the fears. A few things can help.
- Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Last week we talked about making something so easy you can’t resist doing it. Figure out one little step to take toward overcoming the fear. Just one. You’ll be tempted to think you’re not doing the right thing. Your self-talk will kick in and you’ll berate yourself for not doing enough. That’s fear just holding on because even though your fears don’t care they do want to remain alive as long as possible. They’ll cling onto any life you’re willing to give them. Job one is to suffocate them so they can die more quickly.
- Make sure to accurately identify the fear. It may not be what you say. Or what you think. My fear of prospecting isn’t so much the fear. My fear is imposing on people. But boil it down even further and my real fear is what people might think of me imposing on them. They may think less of me. Truth is, the people I prospect aren’t thinking of me at all. I’m not even on their radar. Then when I do get on their radar by reaching out to them I can be fearful of what they’ll think. A closer examination reveals my foolishness with this fear though. If they rebuff me, then they move on with their life and I move on with mine. No harm, no foul. If they engage then I get to know them better and they get to know me better. It’s a win any way you look at it.
- Take action. Right now. Don’t delay. Don’t talk yourself out of starting. Procrastination gives time and space to fear – the components fear needs to thrive.
It’s never over.
You can conquer fear, but remember…fear doesn’t care. It can come back. It will come back.
That’s okay. Fear will obey your commands. Command fear to go away and it will. Command fear stay…and it will.
Your battles with your fears is a battle you can begin to win right now. In this very instant.
You can’t stop battling. It’s best for you to take on the role of a warrior. For life.
Make up your mind to give every fear you have a fight. The good news is, you can win each one of those fights. Nothing prevents you from winning every single battle. The only question is whether or not you’ll figure out how to fight effectively.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!