You know fear can be powerful,
controlling, limiting, and immobilizing. But did you know that when you accept
your fear and tune in to your confidence voice, you can regain control and reap
immeasurable rewards? Let the author, a full-time professional speaker, share
how some thoughtful and constructive risk-taking can lead to higher job performance
and greater personal satisfaction.
How do we keep fear from
controlling us? Trust me: I didn't develop skill in this field solely by earning
a skydiving World Record or jumping out of a jet over the North Pole--but it
helped. Let's start with some background, then weave in a couple adventure stories
that illustrate how to face fear and heed your confidence voice.
We know fear is going to
be there, and that it will be intensely powerful. It can control us, limit us,
and make our decision for us. If we don't deal with it effectively, it can immobilize
There are two responses
to fear: constructive and destructive. The destructive response goes something
like this: We're confronted with a situation that clearly and appropriately
justifies fear, but instead we respond with, "I'm not afraid." That doesn't
bother me." Another sign we've invoked the destructive response is that we put
a barrier between the fear source and us. We waste precious time and energy
shielding ourselves from the fear source. We could instead put this energy toward
seeking solutions and resolutions to the problem if we could only acknowledge
that we are experiencing fear.
The constructive response
to fear requires a simple, but often difficult, step. And the step is difficult
for a perfectly legitimate reason, because it attacks something that is important
to all of us our pride. The constructive response to fear requires us to admit
we're afraid. When we admit that we're afraid, even if only to ourselves, when
we accept our fear, something very powerful happens. We regain control. We're
back making decisions for ourselves. The fear doesn't disappear, but its power
over us wanes.
Early in the space program,
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration did a study. They had observed
that a certain number of their pilots and astronauts were completing their missions
successfully without suffering motion and stress sickness. Another group was
consistently having the problem. Based on empirical research, NASA found that
there was one factor, and one factor alone, that made the difference between
the two groups. The ones who were going through the mission without a physical
problem were the ones who had acknowledged in advance that they were going to
be afraid. They had a constructive response to fear.
For all of us, but particularly
for people who are achievement oriented, the idea of a feeling like fear exerting
so much control over them can be hard to accept. The thought that a mere emotion--something
that did not spring from their imposing intellect or determined will--could
have a significant impact on them is extremely bothersome. To get comfortable
with the fact that fear doesn't necessarily make sense, yet has tremendous power
over us, can be one of the most consequential events of our lives.
The process of identifying
fear starts with a "feelings inventory." To get started, sit where there are
no distractions. Answer honestly: Are you angry, happy, sad, or afraid? You
may feel more than one of the emotions, or all of them. Identify the source
of each of these feelings-the real source. This may sound simplistic, but if
you do it with commitment, you will quickly grasp the value.
To understand more completely
how a feelings inventory can help you understand the interplay between emotions,
think of a spacecraft in the weightless environment of space. It has retro-rockets
that propel the spacecraft when they fire. They are there to enable the spacecraft
to maneuver in all directions.
Feelings send us off in
various directions just like the retrorockets. When they fire, we start to travel
in a certain direction. When we identify the feeling and its source, we have
the opportunity to counter its effect if we choose. That's why it is so critical
that we understand what's occurring. It may be that we don't want to counter
the effect--that's okay, too. The difference is that now we're pilots who know
what's taking place as opposed to pilots with rockets firing at random and no
idea where we're headed. A feelings inventory is our control panel. Sometimes
our retrorockets may fire in a direction that's good. It helps to know that,
Infants have few fears.
During the early days of life, we tune in to our confidence voice like a radio
picking up a strong signal. We don't even need a vocabulary! The message is
perfectly clear: Do it. Touch it. Put it in my mouth. Taste it. Twist it. Throw
it on the ground. Never again will our confidence voice play such an undiluted
role in our actions--fortunately. If we didn't "catch" certain fears from our
society, we would likely die young.
Unfortunately, once those
fears do come into our lives, we usually take on more than we need. We find
we become more adept at hearing our fear voice than tuning in our fainter confidence
I was confronted with my
fear voice when I had the chance to skydive to the North Pole. After three hours
in the air, the Russian jet transport I was aboard had finally arrived over
the polar cap. Along with my fellow team members, I approached the exit ramp.
Within two steps of the edge, I realized I had a significant gear problem: I
had forgotten to tighten my leg straps. If I went into free fall with my leg
straps loose, on opening, my harness would shift upward. My chest strap would
shift across my face, likely knocking off my goggles. In that frigid Arctic
air, with a single tear and a blink of my eyes, my eyelashes could freeze together.
Should that occur in both eyes, I could no longer tell if I was heading for
ice or water. I wouldn't be able to tell when I was getting near the surface
so I could make a safe landing. The worst case would be that my chest strap
would shift above my head, no longer holding me in my harness. I would pitch
forward and continue in free fall for what would become my final skydive.
I was faced with a very
difficult decision and only a few moments in which to make it.
I had to decide between
going back into the aircraft and giving myself a more thorough gear check or
leaving the plane with my team. My team was my survival mechanism. Due to the
speed of the aircraft, my only hope of landing with my team would be by exiting
with my team.
I tightened my leg straps,
knowing there could be as many as half a dozen other important elements of preparation
I could have neglected in the excitement of the moment and the bulk of the unusual
As I looked out that door
and tried to make my decision, I heard from my fear voice and it said, "Jim
get back in the plane! You're about to kill yourself."
Fortunately, my confidence
voice was there, too. It had a deliberate, but quieter, tone: "Jim, you're well
trained. You're well prepared and you don't want to miss this opportunity. If
you leave the aircraft now, you'll have the experience of a lifetime!"
I had to listen to those
two voices and decide if I was ready to take the next step. I did, and the rewards
have been immeasurable. I found my true calling: as a result of that experience,
I've been able to become a full-time professional speaker and help people understand
how taking risks stepping outside their comfort zone-can lead to higher performance
on the job and greater personal satisfaction. Immeasurable rewards await you,
too, if you're willing to take some thoughtful and constructive risks!