“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”– Seneca
Conquering Fear = Defining Fear
Fear comes in many forms, and we usually don’t call it by its four-letter name. Fear itself is quite fear-inducing. Most intelligent people in the world dress it up as something else: optimistic denial.
Most who avoid changing what they do entertain the thought that their course will improve with time or increases in income will show up regardless. This seems valid and is a tempting hallucination when a job is boring or uninspiring instead of pure hell. Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with enough clever rationalization.
If you were confident in improvement, would you really be questioning things so? Generally not. This is fear of the unknown disguised as optimism.
Are you better off than you were one year ago, one month ago, or one week ago?
If not, things will not improve by themselves.
Define that fear. Write it down, all of the worst things that could happen to you.
Prevent it. Write down what you could do to prevent each of those definitions or at least minimize.
Repair it. If the worst case scenario happened, what could you do to repair the damage or who can you ask for help?
What might be the benefits of an attempt? Might you build confidence, develop skills, emotionally, financially? What is the benefit of a base hit?
The Cost of Inaction
We are good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new. But what is the cost of the status quo? If I avoid this action or decision, what might my life look like in six months, 12 months, two years?
You may find some of your fears are well founded, but you should not conclude that before going through the exercise.
If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or as prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit—aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.
1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can—or need—to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1–10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
4. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
5. What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.
6. What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.
7. What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.