Monday, June 8, 2015

Three Things To Do When You Are Paralyzed By Fear

Several times in my career I have found myself either in a situation or coaching someone in a situation where fear has taken hold and led to inaction. The most frequent time is when I have taken on a new position and am plagued with the thought of "what have I gotten myself into?" Or perhaps it manifests itself with self-doubting questions around whether I am performing at the level I should. Perhaps for you it is a large project that you are not sure you are the right leader for. Maybe it is the big presentation that has you frozen. Regardless the cause, fear can be a pretty powerful anti-motivator in the workplace.

As Dr. Cynthia Thaik notes in her article here on the fear, "Fear has very real effects on the body, and these effects are meant to protect us from danger." But as she notes, when fear overwhelms us, it is not healthy, and it can prevent us from making any progress.

Still, everyone has been there. Crippling self-doubt and not knowing where to begin take over your thoughts and you obsess about the fear itself, without being able to take action to progress beyond it. So what can you do?

Write Everything Down

Often times my paralysis comes from having too many things to do and not knowing where to begin. It's the "I know I have to eat an elephant, but I'm not sure where to start" problem. The answer is always to just start somewhere, but even getting my brain wrapped around that can sometimes be difficult. So how do you move past it? My technique is to just start writing things down. Write everything down. Anything and everything related to what you need to do gets dumped onto paper or into a Word or Powerpoint document. Often times when you just see it written down, the monstrosity of it diminishes, and it becomes a tangible, achievable thing.

Beat Up Your Fear

Come on, what's a fear but a bunch of nonsense words in your head? Honestly, most of the paralysis around fear at work comes from overthinking things and getting wrapped around the idea of the fear. Take a page from the Harry Potter series and start making your fear ridiculous (the Riddikulus charm). Talk through it with yourself in your head. It might go something like this.

Me: You don't have what it takes to do this new job.
Me: Do you think your boss is a moron?
Me; Huh? What does that have to do with your talent level?
Me: Do you think your boss is a moron? Does he or she drool incompetence?
Me: No, but I fail to see how this makes you have skills you don't possess.
Me: Wait, you don't think the boss is an idiot?
Me: No, but.
Me: Then why do you doubt the boss's hiring skills? He or she hired you, so obviously you have the skills that were required.
Me: But I don't know how to use them.
Me: So you acknowledge you have the skills...

And so the conversation goes. The point is, rather than being fixated on the fear (which likely is ridiculous at some level), change the conversation. Make it an outside-looking-in type of discussion with yourself. Figure out what other people see. I have had so many conversations with employees who were missing a skill but were hired for their other skills and could not see their own upside for focusing on the one skill that I knew they had to develop going in. Don't be blinded to the whole situation by the fear. The fear is likely only a small element of the world of reality.

Do Something

The most important thing you can do is anything. Every minute, every hour, that you sit doing nothing, you are letting fear win. Do something. Make motion. Every action you do make chips away one little chisel mark at the block of fear.  Two actions make it that much smaller. Eventually you realize there was nothing there at all. Whatever you do, make motion. Keep moving. Be a shark and let inaction be the only thing that you are afraid of in the whole ocean. Move, move, move.

How are you going to tackle your fear today?

Image credit: bykst on Pixabay