Fear, Leadership and what Lies Beyond

Fight Your Fear and You’ll Always be in a Battle; Face Your Fear and it will Set You Free

Fear drives actionAs a leader, I would be lying if I said I have never felt afraid. We may mask fear in uncertainty, anger, outrage, or the many other garbs we leaders compel fear to don, just to keep our larger than life leadership image intact. But it is fear that keeps us up at night wondering the outcome of a crucial pitch, it is fear that niggles our conscience as we get up in the morning, knowing we are going to lay off people(or get laid off, as would be the case with many a manager in the last two three years) .

Being an entrepreneur and an adrenaline junkie, I live with fear, I thrive on it, I practically feed off it. Whether it be in experimenting with novel ideas or opening a new venture or throwing myself off a cliff. With a rumbling tummy & sweaty palms, I’ve often wondered whether to go ahead or turn back. Fear is intrinsic, coded into our most primeval animal instinct of fight or flight. But fear comes hand in hand with its sister… hope. Allowing us to make choices… right or left, yes or no, go or no go….!!

Fear is a vital response that helps us to survive but at times, fear runs amuck and get so overwhelming that it starts impacting our day-to-day life negatively, hampering the way we live our life. The Anatomy of fear is best described :

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of rejection

Typically all such fears precede the moment before a business tips towards a monumental change, a huge shift. Feeling fear is the sign that you are about to step into a new realm, out of your comfort zone. The point is, you will always find fear while embarking on new vistas, attempting the unordinary and exploring uncharted areas. But you can harness fear, use it to your advantage. Here’s how. Let’s see how exactly does fear hijack our brain and what we can do about it.

Your Brain on Fear

It all starts with the thalamus, a region at the base of your brain, receiving all what you see, hear, taste and touch. Now, whatever you fear acts as a stimulus, triggering a signal that travels from thalamus to amygdala aka ‘the fear center’. The amygdala then fires a brain chemical (a bad one!) that makes you do either of the three – Fight back, flee or just freeze.

And here’s the interesting thing, before reaching amygdala, the fear signal relays for a brief period at the prefrontal neocortex, the part where our intellect resides. This is where we need to intervene and change our neural pathways to how we react to fear.

Surprisingly human brain can be taught how to handle fear. We can train our brains to switch from a passive to an active coping strategy and transform our fears into something constructive. So how do we do that? Well, here’s how.

Harnessing Your Fear

  • Find Your Inner Child – When was the last time you dreamt of your carefree childhood days? You’ll be surprised how often you might be thinking about them. Chances are you are reliving those adventurous moments when you weren’t afraid to try new things. But as you grow older and get caught into the web of endless tasks, you disconnect yourself from your inner, free spirit.
  • Write Down Your Fear – What is it exactly that you fear? Are you afraid of the dark or of what’s in it? Are you afraid of giving that presentation or the client rejecting it? The first step to dealing with a problem is to know what the problem is. A good way to do that is writing down what troubles you. This will help you dissect your fear and pinpoint the exact problem.
  • Visualize the Alternatives – You might have heard; fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. Why? While anticipating a situation, we tend to have thoughts of negative outcomes more often than thoughts of positive outcomes. It’s only human. The way to stop feeding the wolf of fear is to close your eyes and surround yourself with positive energy. All you need to do is visualize the end result, how you want things to turn out, not how you expect them to. Here’s what works for me – Just make a bubble around your fear and see it float away in the air until you cannot see it anymore.
  • Act Courageous for 1 Minute – No matter what the situation is, try pretending for just a minute that you are in control and no more afraid. This might sound crazy, but every time I try it, it takes away my fear, almost magically.

And if all else fails … just remember. Half the things we worry about never happen, and the other half are going to happen anyway.

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