Harness Your Fears to Be Your All
Monday was the national holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and this week marks the 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma. Much of what we read of this great leader points to courage, tenacity and faith. But did you know that Dr. King lived with fear and everyday? We tend to always look at the great attributes of the leaders we admire most, but, honestly, if you look at what people struggle with as they lived, more inspiration tends to be found there. Looking at even one small part of his multifaceted and complex life can bring more depth of understanding and honor to his legacy.
Rather than exhibiting unwavering confidence in his power and wisdom, Dr. King was a leader full of self-doubts, keenly aware of his own limitations and human weaknesses. He was scared before every speech and worried that his points wouldn’t be well received or that he would be met with violent protests. During the Montgomery bus boycott, he worried about threats to his life and to the lives of his wife and child...he was overcome with fear and uncertainty rather than confident and secure in his leadership role. Leaning on his faith, he admitted fear, faced it, and then overcame it. It took incredible courage to stand up to a nation of inequality and to proclaim his dream boldly. The quote that inspired this blog was “If you’re not anxious, then you’re not engaged” - that was his view on fear.
Dr. King’s willingness to embrace his fear is a great lesson for all of us. Regardless of whether you are running an established business or launching a startup or volunteering in your community, you will experience fear at some point. The emotion of fear can manifest itself in different ways - whether it is rapid breathing or clammy hands or not being able to sleep. What it really boils down to being afraid of the unknown -- of losing, letting yourself down, disappointing your loved ones, forfeiting what you’ve built. We all dread such an emotional reaction and we typically try to avoid it.
Surprisingly, avoidance can be an unconscious motivating factor behind much of our lives. Instead of having a clear idea of who we want to be, what we want, and making decisions accordingly, which may involve some risk and discomfort, all too often, we make fear-based decisions, limiting us and our happiness. These choices steer our actions and behavior in a direction allowing us to avoid that uncomfortable feeling, but also not providing any real opportunity for substantial growth or achievement of goals.
Research shows that even a small amount of ambiguity or change causes increased activity in the brain’s amygdalae, two deep brain structures which are part of the limbic system and involved in the processing and expression of emotions, especially response to a threat. As the level of ambiguity and amygdalae activity escalates, the part of the brain involved in our response to rewards decreases functioning. Our brains don’t merely prefer certainty over ambiguity - they crave it. When we “feel” right, our brains are happy. As Taylor Clark who wrote a book on the subject states:
The more certainty and control we think we have about a potentially threatening situation, the less stress we will feel. Interestingly enough, perception is all that counts with this. You don’t actually need to have perfect certainty or total control over how things will pan out; you just need to believe that you have them.
According to Clark, to calm our amygdalae down and reduce fear, and anxiety, we have to transform our relationship with fear from adversarial to accepting. Clark writes: “So, the measure of our ability to deal well with fear isn’t whether we get afraid, but how we connect with that fear.”
In other words, use your fears to your advantage. Be curious about them. Instead of shying away from them, learning to harness this energy can be of value to you. Here is why you should embrace your fears:
Fear lets you know you’re alive. Why do we like roller coasters? They give us a thrill that we can survive. There is nothing more exciting than confronting your fear head first and engaging it. The adrenaline your body produces when you venture outside your comfort zone actually creates a high. That high is the distinction between simply existing and truly living! Fear gives us that spark that keeps our life interesting.
Fear is a sign you are doing something amazing. What are the stories about yourself you love sharing with your friends and family? The stories we share are those that push us into the unknown and challenge our fears. Fear lives in that unknown and so does possibility. Fear is a sign that you are about to experience your greatness. Nothing awesome can be accomplished without facing a fear. Olympic athletes, football players and successful business people, they all feel pressure, anxiety and fear. That’s what makes them great. They do something worthy of fear.
Fear motivates us to action. Our ancestors who didn’t run away in fear when they saw a tiger running toward them simply didn’t survive to reproduce. Fear is a call to action. Everyday we have to face unreasonable bosses, angry clients and scary medical diagnoses. In these cases, our fear is still motivating us to do something to enhance our chance of survival. This is what motivates us to practice our presentation so you know it cold. Go to the doctor for that checkup. Build your network so you hear what’s going on in the office and avoid trouble. Prepare for a meeting with a cranky client, maybe even set a backup plan with your colleagues.
Fear builds confidence. When you do something that scares you, you become stronger. Self confidence is the result of having successfully survived a risk. Doing something risky, something that scares you, will make you stronger and help you grow in confidence. Each step outside your comfort zone and into fear builds that muscle. As that muscle gets stronger and stronger so does your spirit. People around you will notice and appreciate this renewed confidence.
Fear is the precursor to great possibilities. Fear comes before infinite possibility. Let’s look at every area of our life from finances to career to relationships to personal goals. Every great dream is usually a little bit scary, whether it be starting a new business or going back to school or running your first marathon. When we feel the fear of chasing a big dream, with that also comes the awesome reality of realizing that dream. The unlimited possibility available to us in life follows the fear we feel at the thought of actually manifesting those possibilities. As Mark Twain said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is the mastery of fear." There is nothing scary about sitting at home on the couch every day. But doing what is beyond the impossible, that inspires fear....and makes great things happen.
Recognizing the potential power of fear as a motivator is the key to understanding it as an ally for your business and goals. You can’t just ignore it or pretend you’re invincible. As Dr. King would say "There is no gain without struggle". Remember, those fears you have today can be the force that propels you to succeed mightily. Let in the fear. Embrace it. Don't let it paralyze you. Instead allow it to keep you constantly driving forward in a positive way. The world needs you to harness your fears and realize your greatness!
We appreciate all of you and hope you have a wonderful week!