John Addison: 5 Ways to Turn Your Fear Into Fuel

UPDATED: October 31, 2016
PUBLISHED: October 31, 2016

Fear is part of the human experience. We all have fear. The question is, how do we make sure our fears don’t hold us back from achieving success?

Related: Don’t Let Your Fears Hold You Back

I’m talking about the kind of success that’s more than financial stability. My definition of success is that nobody has their thumb on you. You’re the captain of your ship. You can control what you do with your life and who you spend time with. The people I’ve met with that kind of success are more motivated by one specific fear than any dream, desire or lofty goal.

They’re motivated by the fear of failure. I believe we can use any type of fear as fuel to reach our highest potential. Over the course of my life, I have achieved more out of fear of failure than a desire for success. Growing up, all my mother had to say to me was that she was disappointed, and I would be crushed. My drive to make her proud gave me a healthy fear of failure early on in life.

Let’s be clear: There are healthy fears and irrational fears. The management of those fears is what puts you into the successful category or not. We’re not ever going to conquer all our fears. I’m deathly afraid of snakes, and I do not like heights. I’m stuck with those fears, but how I manage them is up to me.

The key is focus. In some ways, we’ve all got a 5-year-old kid in our heads, telling us we should be afraid of this and that. If we’re going to move forward, we’ve got to take control of that 5-year-old kid. We’ve got to sort out the healthy fears driving us to success from the irrational fears holding us back.

I’ve discovered five areas of focus that are essential in transforming the fears that could cripple us into the fuel for our journey.

1. Focus on your dreams.

I heard a guy tell the story of an eagle’s nest on a mountain. An egg rolled out of the nest down the mountain and wound up in the nest of a prairie chicken. When the egg hatched, it was surrounded by prairie chickens. So this eagle is picking the ground for worms just like it’s a prairie chicken. But he’d look up and see eagles soaring high above, and he’d say, “Oh, I want to do that, Mom!” And Mom would say, “Oh no, that’s eagles. We’re prairie chickens. We peck the ground.” So the eagle spent his whole life pecking the ground.

A lot of us are programmed this way by our upbringing. It’s called the imposter phenomenon. We feel like we don’t deserve success, we’re not worthy of financial stability, or we’re going to be uncovered as frauds. No matter how successful we become, this old fear dogs us unless we turn our attention to our dreams. Rather than focusing on what others would say or listening to the self-doubt in your mind, you’ve got to focus on your goals and keep your eyes to the sky. That’s where you belong. You’ve got to feed your dreams and starve your fears.

Related: How to Confront Your Fear-Based Thoughts

2. Focus on the positive.

Bring an attitude of positivity to how you view yourself and the world around you. Focus on the things in life that are good. Don’t fill your head with junk. Stay away from the constant stream of negativity that’s so prevalent in this world. How you view life seeps into your head and creates fears and what if’s. You have control of what you take in and how you react. Look, if you spend all your time focused on your troubles or your weaknesses, you’re never going to become great. Keeping your eye on what’s wrong with your life, yourself, your spouse or your business is a good way to end up broke and alone. You’ve got to focus on what’s right with yourself and the world.

3. Focus on what you can influence.

When fears do creep in, don’t totally give in to them. Focus on what you can control. I see leaders all the time who focus on areas where they have immediacy, not where they have influence. They get distracted by urgency when what they should be focused on is their power to change things for themselves and their organizations. Aim your efforts at the tasks and thoughts that will produce positive results.

4. Focus on the future.

We all make mistakes. I know I do. My life is full of them. But the difference between someone who is dragged down by their mistakes and someone who overcomes them is their ability to focus on the future. Let go of what happened yesterday or last year or 10 years ago. Forgive that person who wronged you so you can be free. It’s not about who’s right or wrong. It’s about freeing yourself from the baggage so you can move forward. You have the opportunity today to create new successes using the lessons you learned from those mistakes.

5. Focus on gratitude.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people bogged down by resentment, self-pity and just a general bad attitude. Unless you’re surrounded by enemy fire on all sides, you have something right now to be grateful for. Your life is filled with chances to say thank you, to focus on being grateful for the simple things and to share that gratitude with others. Life is short. Practice being a person of honor and gratitude and I promise you that good things will come back to you in return.

Related: 19 Quotes About Facing Your Fears

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.