In the past several months, many have faced (and continue to face) an unprecedented level of unknown. Ambiguity can give rise to our deepest insecurities and, left unchecked, has the potential to fill us with fear.
Being afraid is natural. But when you let fear take over, the world misses out on the bravest and brightest version of you. And that’s no good for anyone.
Here are some tips to help you quell the fear and step into bold action:
Disrupt negative thought cycles in their tracks. If you’re about to give a big presentation, pitch an idea or do something courageous, the onslaught of “what ifs” will have no problem keeping you awake at night. Sure, we have to assess potential risk. The challenge is that we tend to default to the negative “what ifs” when it comes to being vulnerable and putting ourselves out there. The potential of shame is more initially jarring than the upside.
If you find yourself starting to think, “What if it goes terribly and they hate it?” interrupt that thought cycle and challenge your brain to think, “What if it goes awesome and everyone loves it?” Pointing your brain toward the payoff (instead of the risk) helps you be more confident and courageous before bold action.
Understand your body. When you are afraid, your amygdala (also called the lizard brain) goes into overdrive protection mode. You become hyper alert, your heart rate rises, your pupils dilate and, unfortunately, your critical thinking goes out the window. While your lizard brain does have your best interest of survival at heart, it’s not always the most holistic, strategic counsel. The lizard brain has a hard time determining a threat to your life and a threat to your ego.
When you understand why your body is reacting to fear the way it is, it’s easier to become objective in the face of it. When you recognize an oncoming wave of fear, ask yourself, “Is this my lizard brain thinking?” Take a step back, inhale a deep breath and remove yourself from that fight-or-flight brain space by breathing, moving your body and practicing mindfulness.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Try to remember a time when you said or did something embarrassing. Is your skin crawling now? OK, now, try to remember a time when someone else said or did something embarrassing. That’s harder to recall. You likely can’t think of times that people misspoke during a meeting, made a crucial typo or even spilled their coffee.
High performers are their own toughest critics. When you start to feel anxious, remind yourself that you’re likely the only one looking at your words and actions through the microscope of judgment. People make mistakes, and most other people don’t remember or even notice those mistakes. Life moves on.
Consider this widely quoted excerpt from a Theodore Roosevelt speech, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Stepping into the murky waters of growth and vulnerability can be scary. It’s also incredibly courageous.
– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit McLeodandMore.com.