I truly believe that when we engage with topics like the one I’m going to address and tackle here, we enrich not just our own lives, but also those we touch directly or indirectly, whether that’s in our personal lives or in our work lives.
Today, I am going to explore an emotion that we all experience—one very few of us harness effectively. It’s something that can be both debilitating and powerful. That emotion is fear.
An emotion we all experience
Fear is something that has traditionally been viewed as an adversary, something to avoid, something that holds us back. It’s an emotion that immediately lets us know when some type of danger is around, whether that danger is physical and near us or more psychological in nature. Fear has the power to be a truly immobilizing emotion, often leaving us anxious and unsure in the short term.
Fear often gives us a “fight or flight” response where we become alarmed. We have to make the decision to either stay and face the danger or choose to flee away from the stressor. As a primal emotion, fear can cause your body to prepare itself for whatever action you choose—be that staying or fleeing. You’ll be performing under pressure no matter what, and fear is the go-to emotion in times of pressure.
But what if I told you that fear, when understood and harnessed correctly, could be one of your greatest motivators? Let’s unpack that for a moment, shall we?
Imagine that you’re at the edge of a cliff and your goal is on the other side. Fear might keep you from taking that first leap. You may be too frightened to even think about stepping a toe off that cliff and find yourself frozen to the spot.
But that fear is the same fear that also helps to heighten your senses. It focuses your mind and gives you a rush of adrenaline preparing you for whatever your next action is.
So, here is the key: Fear is not the problem.
Unpacking fear itself
Fear is a natural response, it’s an instinct designed to protect us. It is a response and an emotion we all feel that’s been key to our survival! It can be a strong emotion that prompts visceral, instinctive reactions.
But the real problem lies in our reaction or our response to our own fear. Often, we let fear control us. Sometimes fear even dictates our decisions or limits our potential. But I think it’s time we shift that narrative, don’t you? Instead of seeing fear as a wall, let’s look at it as a signal or an indicator that we’re about to embark on something magical, something great, something that matters and something that will have an impact on others in a positive way.
The real power of fear
I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my career. And yet, if I’m being completely vulnerable, it is still one of my greatest fears. We all have fears that feel like massive obstacles we might not ever get over. My fear of public speaking used to be debilitating for me. But I look at that fear differently today.
I was lucky enough to have a mentor, someone who is arguably one of the best public speakers in the industry, in the world. He watched me panic before going on stage in front of 7,000 people. When I caught him looking at me, I apologized. I was so embarrassed for him to see me behaving like that.
But he gave me some of the best advice around fear that I could have ever received. He told me:
“Amy, don’t apologize. Your panic before going on stage says that you care about your audience. I don’t worry about you being nervous before speaking. That fear is passion to connect and determination to deliver value. If you ever don’t feel a bit nervous or a level of fear before delivering to an audience, that’s when you should worry. That’s when I would worry. That’s when you should quit. That’s an indication that your passion is gone.”
I think about that advice before every public speaking engagement or gig I have. I acknowledge that my fear is happening. I understand it better now, including why it’s happening and how I can use it as a motivator.
3 steps to harnessing the power of fear as a motivator
Acknowledging fear itself can seem scary. But acknowledgment of fear can do two things: help to dispel the fear and help to harness the fear.
The advice my mentor gave to me is the advice that I extend to you on how to harness fear.
- Acknowledge the fear. You might be afraid of failure, rejection or of the unknown. And that’s okay. Admitting that you’re scared isn’t a sign of weakness. It is recognition of your humanity. In a 2012 study from a team of UCLA psychologists even found that verbally acknowledging fear can help us regulate the feeling.
- Understand your fear. What are you really afraid of? Dig deep into your fear. Understanding your fear will help you develop strategies to confront it. You might realize that the thing you’re fearful of isn’t as daunting as you initially thought or that you’re more capable of overcoming it than you originally gave yourself credit for.
- Use fear as a stepping stone, not as a stumbling block. Let your fear, whatever it may be for, remind you that you’re on the edge of something significant. Instead of running away, use that fear to motivate you and propel you forward.
With those steps in mind, the next time you feel fear creeping in, take a minute to pause. Pausing gives you extra time to step back and listen to and understand the fear. Use that understanding of your fear to fuel your journey toward success.
Remember, fear isn’t the enemy. It’s a compass showing us what matters and pushing us to grow. You can use the power of fear as a stepping stone toward your goals and personal achievements. You are stronger than your fears, no matter what they may be.
Photo by ©Mike D’Avello.
Amy Somerville, CEO of SUCCESS® Enterprises, is a mission-driven leader with demonstrated success in developing highly effective teams, delivering dynamic learning strategies, and building engaged communities. She is a passionate community-builder, gathering like-minded, successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople to share best practices for success. She lives her life intentionally and is driven daily by the acronym L.I.V.E.: LEAD, INSPIRE, VALUE, EMPATHIZE. Follow Amy on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.