"I am a Black Mamba; for some I invoke awe and reverence, to others, fear. I am one of the most deadly snakes in the world, yet I am shy, live a quiet life and rarely come close to humans unless I am provoked or scared that you are going to attack me."
When you look at me - do you see beauty? Or a beast?

What is Fear?

Fear (noun) = An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm...
(Oxford Dictionary)

Fear causes a response in your brain to an occurrence that causes an emotional and physical reaction. The response however is different for each of us, and a lot of the things we find frightening, are from our brain processing information e.g. the sight of a snake or a spider, for some people they will experience the fear reaction from a photo or TV, without the creature even being in the same continent; which proves that fear can be controlled/manipulated as the brain is already processing the sensory trigger, irrespective of whether the threat is real.

To help your brain delineate between REAL threats, and apparent threats, you can train your brain through education and experience. This will help improve your responses, e.g. learning which snakes are poisonous, and which are not. Then the fear and adrenaline response can be a GOOD thing, as it will heighten your senses, and enable you to respond quickly and efficiently to the threat. You will also then feel far more relaxed when you see a non-venomous snake, or know that you are in an area that is devoid of risk, so that you do not waist time and energy on fearing it.

FEAR - A hinderance or a help?

From our days living in the bush, the instinct to ‘fight’ or take ‘flight’ lives on, and provides a rush of adrenaline and a heightening of the senses when you encounter or think about something that you are afraid of.  FEAR can be invoked by a picture, discussion or other visual stimulus, without the item that could cause danger e.g. snake, actually being present.  The fear of not meeting a deadline, or missing a meeting with your boss can also provide the flight or fight response, and the associated adrenaline; this can then be used to produce heightened performance if channeled correctly.  So if you know that certain situations create a feeling of fear, have you also evaluated whether these are fears that you can use to help improve your performance, rather than be a hinderance to your progress?

Playing with your brain to develop a fear based motivation.

A clever trick if you know that you are particularly scared of something, e.g. spiders, and also procrastinate regularly, can be to tell your brain that if you don’t do something e.g. finish your blog, finish a piece of work for your boss, then your in-tray will start to fill with the thing you are scared of e.g. spiders if you don’t finish the piece of work on time. This can be a very clever subconscious motivator to keep the spiders at bay, and complete your work.

Follow the steps below to motivate yourself to do a task you have been putting off:

  1. Think of something that you fear/ dislike so much that it creates a physical reaction e.g. spider climbing over your hand and tickling it as it walks (no need to scream out loud, but if you do, you have found a good ‘fear’ to use).

  2. Then, look at your in-tray and imagine it full of the spiders that you fear the most, or the door of your office having spiders hiding on the other side if you open it without finishing your work. Acknowledge the feeling that this visualisation creates and how unpleasant it is. Focus on it hard so that when you look at the intray/door, and not completing the task, the spiders start moving about and growing in number. This can be called your ‘against’ response as it will happen if you don’t do the task you want to complete.

  3. Stand up, change your focus and now sit down again with a clear head.

  4. Look at your task and imagine finishing it on time, and the great feeling that you will have. Acknowledge the positive reaction that this invokes and focus on this positive moment (closing your eyes as you acknowledge the feeling can really help ensure you absorb the feeling well). This is called your ‘towards’ feeling as you are moving towards completing your goal.

Start your task and when you think about procrastinating or stopping, look at your intray/ door and imagine the spiders starting to multiply and their little legs starting to come out from under the paper…. or under the door…. essentially…. imagine your fear starting to come true.  Now, quickly revert back to your task and replace the fear with the warm feeling of success and keep on typing/doing your task.  
IF you have anchored the ‘against’ and ‘towards’ feelings well, you can reuse this fear for future tasks and keep the spiders, snakes, bogey man at bay :-)

I used this on a course where the instructor had a sweating problem; if I started to procrastinate about doing my homework… I imagined him getting really close to my desk and sweating everywhere…. the dripping sweat falling on my page whilst I was trying to learn was too horrible to consider…. so that thought was enough to ensure I did my homework every night of the course!  (N.B. the instructor actually taught us this process and was an excellent motivator himself :-)

FEAR - False Evidence Appearing Real - educate your fear away.

If you have a fear that has been with you for a long time e.g. starting your own business, moving to a new town, or starting a new hobby, you can help reduce your fear through education.

As these types of fear are created from your brain processing information and deciding that you are going to be harmed, you can work through the things that your brain is trying to tell you will cause harm (false evidence appearing real). You can then educate yourself about each facet of your fear so that your brain can undertake a more informed risk analysis. Learning or developing a skill set with the purpose of reducing your fear can be a great motivator - but you do have to WANT to remove / reduce the fear from your thought process.

How does false evidence appearing real (fear) manifest itself?

I have suffered from vertigo all of my life. I could not understand for many years why I would shy away from edges of mountain paths, or be almost biting the mountain side when traversing narrow ledges, when I could walk along a narrow path in the street (at ground level, with nowhere to fall) with no problem at all. This is FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL; my brain thinks that I am going to fall off the mountain side, or with vertigo, it encourages the feeling of wanting jump (not helpful..). Yet, I know that I can walk the same distance, on the same width path on the flat…. so this is my brain trying to rationalise what it considers a risk (the risk of falling from height), and telling me that I can’t walk that path (which I know I can on the flat). For me, this then creates fear and I get anxious, flooded with adrenaline, and often stop dead in my tracks until I can talk myself into taking the next step, or looking away from the perceived threat so that my brain can’t process the image anymore. For most of my friends however, they squeal with glee at a fun little path, and thrive on the positive adrenaline rush; moving sure and fast along the path, rather than edging one tiny step at a time, shivering and shaking all the way…… and which do you think is safer…. yes - you’ve got it; the confident and sure one.  My fear has inadvertently raised rather than reduced the risk of me getting hurt.  

Summary - How to beat fear at its own game.

Fortunately we all have different fears, which means that you can excel at something, whilst someone else may find it tricky. With education, practise and experience, you can also develop the knowledge that your brain can draw upon whilst it is doing its ‘risk analysis’ and deciding whether this occurrence is one to fear or not.   I have now spent a large proportion of my life bungee jumping, parachuting, hot air ballooning, abseiling, rock climbing, Klekestig and various other ridiculous activities that push me to the edge of my comfort zone and to educate/ retrain my brain to get over my fear of heights. I am a lot better than I was…. but still get caught out now and again….. we all have to keep working on mindset if the fears are to be truly overcome.

So how can you USE fear so that it doesn’t hold you back, and you can harvest the adrenaline that it creates to help give you heightened awareness, quicker reactions and ensure you perform better today than yesterday?

Look at what is making you fearful; and work out how to educate yourself about each facet so that you are stronger, more informed, and can face and BEAT your fears head on.

Are you afraid about starting your own business or making a big life change?

A really great little book that I would recommend for anyone wanting some moral boosting top tips is a little book called ‘It's not about how good you are, its about how good you want to be’ by Paul Arden.  It was one of the first books I read when I was looking to change careers after 20 years, was looking 40 in the face, and was scared as hell having returned to the UK after 8 years abroad…. I now give it to friends, family and clients on a regular basis as it is still such a staple when starting to explore how to start a change in your life/ business.

Click here for a full book review and details on how to get hold of a copy (which usually start at £0.01 /$0.01 on Amazon second hand).