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How to Overcome Your Biggest Enemy in Life: Fear
Have you ever heard someone say “Me? I’m rubbish at mathematics!” or “It’s no good asking me I’ve always struggled with grammar”? These are two perfect examples of the chosen thoughts we allow to hang out in our minds that dismember our goals and our results.
So many of us enable the wrong thoughts in our minds and our brain is only too happy to deliver exactly what we ask for. The damage is caused when we don’t realise we’ve been asking for the wrong things.
You see, our brain is a clever old bunch of cells. It’s highly likely you’ve heard of the exercise where you are asked to not think of a pink elephant… and weirdly there in your head is a pink elephant! Or of Pavlov’s dogs, who could be encouraged to salivate just on hearing a bell ring. Even now I could say to you “Don’t imagine a lemon being cut in half and the juice being squeezed down your throat”, and you’d start to realise “Hey I’m producing more saliva”. How is that possible?
Because our brains WILL deliver what we ask for.
When it comes to performance we have to choose our words carefully. If you appreciate the above and accept that we are easily suggestible creatures, then by nature it stands to reason that I can give you some top tips and tools to help you perform better just based on what words you are choosing to think.
You see, if words can impact what your body does it can also impact the results you achieve, and the standard to which you perform at.
How Fear Screws You Up
How is it that one person can relish the opportunity to stand on a stage in front of 5000 people, and another would rather have their spleen burst before it was their turn. (And trust me as someone who used to have a very physical fear of public speaking and who now adores it and coaches people out of that fear, I really know what that fear is like.) If we allow such a fear to fester and hang out in our minds then guess what that can do to your performance?
Let’s stick with the public speaking fear since it is still one of the top fears in the world. We are still more scared of speaking than dying. Crazy right?
You are asked to speak to a large audience and the opportunity has the potential to rocket your career. If you fear public speaking then the overriding thoughts are around the fear… instead of the ideal results you want to get.
For instance, instead of thinking:
“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for and it’s going to rocket my success”
You are more likely to be thinking:
“Oh no the biggest opportunity of my life and I’m going to screw it up.”
Now remember our brain likes to keep us happy. So, if you are thinking the first positive thought guess what you are likely to get? And what about the second one?
“That’s all very well and good Mandie but it’s a fear. It’s real, it’s tangible. It shuts my throat, makes me shake, sweat and I struggle to remember my name let alone an entire speech!” you say.
And from many years’ experience of helping people overcome those fears I know that this is exactly what fear relies on. It relies on you accepting the feelings, and accepting the physicality of it. It relies on you accepting those negative emotions and really experiencing them on a level that causes you to never question them. And that is the key.
To increase your performance success, you have to question your thoughts. Not all fears are obvious. Some can hide out in your subconscious for years and it’s only when you work on them that you become aware of a fear that has been impacting on your success.
Everyone Has Fears, Even Those Who Look So Tough
Don’t believe me?
Only recently I had someone who I’ve admired for a long time on an international level say to me that it was not until they read chapter 3 of my book that they realised something had been impacting their success for years. That something was the action of picking up the phone. How can picking up the phone kill your performance?
Let’s break it down by thinking about what happens if you choose your actions according to your thoughts. So, if you think picking up the phone is going to interrupt someone’s day, make them less likely to say “Yes” and want to hear what you have got to say, are you likely to revert to an email?
On the other hand, what if you accept that you are a valuable person who has every right to speak to someone on the phone because you have something useful to say that could be very relevant and interesting? What are the chances you will pick up the phone?
So how do you revert to positive thinking and override the fears that damage your performance?
4 Tips to Override Your Fears
Adjust Your Assumptions
What assumptions are you making and are they good or bad for you? For instance, if you assume that mistakes are opportunities to learn, then you will go for it with all your heart. You will trust that even failure has its benefits and use them effectively to power up your performance. On the other hand, if you believe that failure is dangerous and damages your reputation and success then you are likely to shy away from the opportunities that can risk failure. With fear, you have to think like the superhero in a movie. Be prepared to step into situations that you fear with trust that you can do this. You don’t see superhero’s look at the big evil 20-foot bad guy and think “Mmm I don’t think I will protect mankind today, he looks a bit scary.”
Remember No One Really Cares
A big reason that fear can impact your performance and thus success is because we imagine what people are thinking. Ironically, it’s not usually true. We assume that everyone is thinking about us, and yet they are much more likely to be thinking about themselves — “what’s for tea”, “what they are going to get their Mom for her birthday” or “why did I wear these shoes, they’re far too tight”. However, remember that fear relies on negativity holding us in place and so if you just learn to accept that everyone is thinking their own thoughts and are as obsessed with them as you are yours, you can stop allowing incorrect thoughts into your head. And as one business friend said to me once “Mandie, you have no right to the thoughts in other people’s heads.”
Shift Your Focus
Fear loves us to repeat patterns. So, if you have thoughts in your head that say “this won’t work”, or “I’m scared of the end results” — then your brain will do all it can to prove you right.
Therefore, if you can have a stronger new direction to focus your attention on the fear will reduce and eventually dissipate. For instance, let’s go back to the fear of public speaking (You can replace this fear with one of your own!) If you fear public speaking and focus on what you fear, that is what you will get. On the other hand, if you have a clear goal in sight then that is what you are more likely to get. That means you need to work out what you want. What do you want? What is the goal? Where do you want this to lead? By answering these questions with your true passions and desires your brain has a positive direction to aim for, and not the fear routed patterns of the past.
Don’t Be Afraid of Looking Stupid
Closely connected to the fear of what people think is the fear that you will make a fool of yourself. Thus, if you fear what people think and/or making mistakes and getting it wrong then fear again gets to overpower you. Think about a time you’ve felt stupid for saying or doing something. What happened next? Then answer, “How did that make you feel?” and then from that ask yourself “Did that result in a feeling or an action?” and then answer, “what happened next?” In this way, you can start to build up a picture of the automatic path way connected to this fear. How you fall into old patterns that have not served you powerfully, and allowed fear to hold its power of you. (And yes, this process can be used on any fear, I call this a negative spiral.) Once you build a picture of what is happening in your old state you can learn to see what thoughts and feelings create what actions. For instance, if you stood up for yourself and spoke up and that led to you feeling inferior, did that then lead to you not taking on the project that was offered to you, because you feared getting it wrong? Understanding the thoughts that create the actions means that you then decide to create a new thought, and that will lead to new actions. But again, this really needs a powerful focus and goal to help you achieve.
Ultimately fear is allowed to impact our performance because we’ve learnt to trust fear. Fear is useful in that it keeps us safe, however there aren’t too many woolly mammoths on the streets anymore. So when fear is given too much power it damages our success. Learn to challenge and stop assuming. And most importantly trust that you can do this, you can give yourself all the proof of your successes to tell you this. And I will leave you with this thought: Why do we assume what if we are awesome at something then everyone else can do that too? While if we can’t do something we are idiots because everyone else can do it?
You see, fear really does wish to damage your success. So, it’s time to challenge it.