“Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”
I want to talk to you this week about fear. Fear is a common emotion. In the best scenario, it’s a protective mechanism that keeps us safe from harm. However, as you probably have experienced, irrational fear can lead to unhealthy choices that keep you stuck and can even accelerate adverse outcomes.
Fear is an emotion we can experience as mild anxiety, a full-blown panic attack and all points in between. We can be fearful of taking risks, perceiving threats and facing the unknown. Because of the pandemic and politics, we probably all feel a little bit of fear right now.
Courage is how you keep fear in check. To be courageous means to take action that is appropriate for the situation yet different from what you usually would do. To be impactful, the choice has to be out of your comfort zone. If you continue to respond to fear in the same way, the fear will remain the same or possibly escalate.
There are three steps to creating courage:
- Acknowledge the fear you are feeling.
- Assess the usefulness of the fear in the context of the situation.
- Choose new and different actions to impact the situation positively.
Fear is bad. Or is it?
I think it’s important to recognize that all emotions are okay. To judge negative emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, or guilt as bad creates a problem from the start. Just because a feeling feels bad doesn’t make it wrong. We experience positive emotions such as joy, peace and hope in a more pleasant way, so we desire them more. But all emotions have their place and can be used constructively. When you allow yourself to feel the fear, you give yourself the chance to glean vital information to make better decisions.
So fear is good. However, what you do as a result of the fear can either be helpful or unhelpful. For example:
You are afraid of getting the virus. Because you don’t want to directly confront the fear, you go to extremes to avoid feeling it altogether. These extremes can happen in one of two ways. Not only do you take the necessary precautions, but you also endlessly obsess on every news story about the virus and its damaging effects, creating unhealthy levels of stress. Or you throw all caution to the wind and refuse to take any precautions at all.
Either of these responses will create an undesirable outcome. You may become a virus-free psychological mess or a foolhardy statistic in the hospital.
On the other hand, if you are willing to feel the fear, you realize that your health and the health of those you love is precious. You also recognize that health is more than physical. Mental and emotional wellbeing is critical to thriving. You assess the fear as useful to your physical health but not to your stress levels. You follow through on the uncomfortable steps that disrupt your usual way of living to lower your risk of infection. At the same time, you recognize that life is full of unknowns and that you must seek a balance of risk vs.reward that works for you.
Another example might be that you are worried about the future of your business or career as a result of the pandemic. If you avoid the fear altogether, you might refuse to adapt to shifting demands and circumstances and force the old way of doing things, hoping things will get better on their own. Or you may immediately start cutting corners everywhere or working more hours than usual to ensure you survive. If you embrace the fear of potential loss, you can use it to show you what is relevant to focus on to stay solvent in a sustainable way. When you make choices based on a reasonable, not an unreasonable amount of fear, you are motivated to courageous and productive actions.
Courage in action.
As a result of the pandemic lockdowns, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a July 2020 Yahoo! Finance article, “We spent 12 years building our business and within six weeks lost about 80% of it.” He doesn’t mention if he is fearful or not. However, it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t have some trepidation to find his company at such a juncture.
Three months later, Chesky said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “I did not know that I would make 10 years’ worth of decisions in 10 weeks.”
After assessing the situation from multiple perspectives, here’s the action he took. He let go of thousands of workers in marketing. Took out a loan so customers and hosts could get refunds for cancellations. Adjusted their algorithm to recommend more local stays as people were traveling closer to home. Pulled expansion plans and returned to the basics of connecting homeowners with short-term renters.
As a result, Airbnb is on track to report profits in the third quarter.
What can we learn from this?
When fear arises, try not to control or regulate it. Instead, listen to it, decide how useful it and take appropriate action based on the rational protection it offers you. These choices will most likely be out of your comfort zone as I’m sure it was for Airbnb to let go of people, secure a loan and reverse course on expansion plans. But there were significant opportunities, too. The invaluable goodwill generated by taking care of customer and host needs in a time of panic and the increased confidence that comes from being able to pivot so quickly after being blindsided.
Once you have a better understanding of fear, you have more power to respond to it courageously. Sometimes, we think that if we do nothing, the fear will subside. That can be true. With time, we will see there was nothing to be fearful of at all. Keep in mind that doing nothing, and more specifically, pausing to reflect and understand is an action too. If you normally react quickly, taking a break would be a very courageous act for you.
If you decide the fear is warranted in some way, ask yourself these simple questions to brainstorm a list of courageous actions to choose from. What if I did the opposite of what I’m currently doing, thinking and saying? What if I wasn’t fearful? What if this were easy?
To practice being courageous before you need it, try this sage advice often misattributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Kurt Vonnegut over the years. The wisdom is true nonetheless. Do one thing every day that scares you. If you practice taking small risks and getting out of your comfort zone every day, when a significant fear grips you, your courage muscle will be in great form to deal with it.
Fear is a natural and vitally important emotion. You can learn to use fear wisely without it using you to your detriment. Let your life be a daring adventure of mastering fear by creating courage.
Action items to work your Inner Genius: Without an appropriate balance between fear and the confidence to face it, you cannot develop the courage to do what you need for the most positive results. Think of an area of your life where you are feeling some fear right now. Try answering these questions as honestly as you can and see where it leads you.
- What does this fear feel like? What is this fear trying to tell me?
- How useful or rational is this fear’s information? How might it help or hurt a positive outcome?
- Given what I know about this fear and my abilities, what are some of the most courageous courses of action I can take?
Thanks for reading. Until next week,