How Fear Makes You Dumb
I’m so glad to see a lot of articles on the interwebs of late about the destructive influence that undue fear can have on our life and creative process. I’ve been less excited to see the tone and recommendations some of the articles take.
You see, over the course of my time in the marketplace I’ve come to believe that fear makes me dumb. Almost paralyzingly dumb. When I am afraid of a course of action, I typically take one of two paths:
1. Shrink back out of concern for the potential consequences of action.
2. Charge boldly into the thick of battle with conviction and courage.
However, there are times when neither of these actions is appropriate. Sometimes the best course is a patient, mindful consideration of the true consequences of failure. (I wrote a whole chapter about fear vs. voice in my upcoming book!)
It is just as dumb to blindly charge into something as it is to avoid it due to some illusory sense of impending doom. Fear makes us dumb on both sides of the equation.
When I start to sense hesitation due to fear, my trained response is to buck up and press forward, but lately I’ve been changing my routine. It’s a more reasoned and measured approach, and one that ensures that I don’t allow a dumb, poorly calculated response to ruin a potentially great idea.
1. How much of my fear is based on ignorance?
Unhealthy, paralyzing fear is typically rooted in what we don’t see rather than what we do see. The gap between perception and reality creates angst. (This is where I’ve seen so many leaders and creative pros trip up. They can’t dance with the uncertainty of their role.)
If I realize that my fear is rooted in reality, I ask myself “can I weather the consequences of failure?” If yes, I proceed. If no, I don’t. Simple as that.
If I discover that I’m mostly afraid of what I don’t yet see, I move on to the next question.
2. How much of my fear is a lack of faith in my ability, versus a lack of faith in the environment?
If my fear is rooted in self-doubt, it needs to be specifically addressed because it is probably centered on protecting some false image. Maybe it’s accurate, and maybe not, but either way I do myself no favors by ignoring it.
Many people (myself sometimes included) would rather live in a state of perceived invulnerability than do something that could invalidate their own self-perception. It’s safer to feel the warm glow of self-satisfaction than to try something that could prove the limits of your abilities. The desire of self-knowledge is critical to long-term effectiveness.
If my fear is rooted in a lack of faith in the environment, such as a concern over market dynamics or relational stability, I return to “can I weather the consequences of failure?” If no, it’s silly to proceed.
3. How much of my fear is rooted in a concern about being uncomfortable?
The love of comfort is frequently the enemy of greatness, and its lull will cause us to forfeit the beautiful growth that accompanies a life of reaching and striving. If my fear is solely rooted in my love of comfort, I squash it like a bug, brush it off to the side, and act promptly. There’s no room for the pursuit of comfort if your desire is to empty yourself of your best work. You may experience it along the way, but it can’t be your ambition.
Don’t allow fear to cause you to act in dumb ways, whether that means abdicating your contribution or failing at your goal because you acted blindly in your attempt to be “courageous”.
Rather, strive to understand the source of your fear and then make wise, measured, informed decisions, while refusing to allow fear to rule your life and actions.
Fear must be squashed. Act accordingly.
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More