When was the last time you feared you would fail? A recent survey found that fear of failure plagued 31% of 1,083 adult respondents – a larger percentage than those who feared spiders (30%), being home alone (9%) or even the paranormal (15%). It seems ‘fear of failure’ is key to consider when it comes to the source of our phobias/fears.
Fear can show up in various ways, from a simple dialogue – that persistent voice at the back of your head – to a feeling of nausea or the sensation of cold water running down the spine. Some common fear-related internal dialogues in the workplace include:
- “I’m scared I am going to fail.”
- “I am a failure!”
- “How did I let this happen?”
- “I hope I don’t make mistakes.”
- “I fear they won’t like me.”
How does fear of failure show up for you?
What happens when you become aware of that inner voice, feeling or sensation? Does it cause you to freeze or not progress with your decisions and actions? Perhaps it prevents you from contacting a client or calling a team meeting, and you find excuses to put them off. Consequently, revenue declines, profitability reduces, and projects don't get delivered to the detriment of client satisfaction and the company's bottom line.
Common practices to deal with fear are:
- Suck it up and get on with it.
- Breathe through the panic.
- Imagine the worst that could happen but move on anyway.
- Look at the evidence and rationalise your way through the situation.
- Don't try to be perfect.
- Visualise a happy place or talk about it with another person.
Some people perceive fear as a weakness. Others advise us to take control of our fear. Adopting this advice might cause us to freeze even more. And then there are those who would have us believe that we should not fear anything and be fearless. However, none of these views on fear aligns with reality.
Being with fear – an ontological approach
According to Ashkan Tashvir, the author of BEING and creator of the Being Framework™, fear is a Mood that is impacted by your anticipation of perceived dangers or threats in different situations. This is not something he made up. It aligns with the transcendent, first layer reality meaning to which the word fear refers. Fear is always related to something particular in the world and always has a distinct object or focus. It is how you ARE with fear – your propensity and capacity to be with fear – that counts.
Fear is primal to all human beings, and we all experience it to varying degrees. It is often associated with taking an unpleasant experience from the past and projecting it into your future. BEING, Ashkan Tashvir: Page 217
What does this mean for you? It means acknowledging that having fear is normal. It is a human emotion and is difficult, if not impossible, to switch off. It is a bit like a sensor in a car. When you switch the ignition on, you see the battery light indicator lighting up on your dashboard. If your car battery is flat, the indicator changes into a warning, allowing you to take action and address it. In the same way, fear is our internal warning light. It is a normal part of our operating system. Rather than ignore it, deny it or overreact to it, we need to pay attention to it and take appropriate action.
What does being with fear look like in a business or organisation or within a team?
A client of mine described her relationship with fear as 'a nasty downwards spiral'. Fear would show up for her whenever she dealt with executives and people of authority at work and with her team. She described the time when she was working on the biggest deal in the company's history. When the Managing Director called for a meeting, she started feeling physically ill. She experienced nausea, breathlessness and brain fog. The voice in her head told her, "The MD will surely call me out as a failure". She was worried that her inability to focus and nervous energy would impact the MD and executives' perception of her.
Once I walked her through her ways of Being during a Being Profile® assessment and debrief and started to coach her, we brought awareness to her experience with fear and how it was driving her. It was a great discovery for her. Back in the office, instead of freezing in the face of fear, she brought up her experience in a conversation with her Managing Director. During the conversation, she discovered he was aware of her competencies but told her she appeared to lack confidence. It was clear to her then that her unhealthy relationship with fear impacted her confidence, even though her performance was stellar. This newfound awareness profoundly impacted her peace of mind. It gave her the courage to step forward, despite the presence of fear, and greater confidence moving forward.
How can you ‘be with’ fear?
- Describe and write down the emotions, feelings, words and images that arise for you regarding fear.
- Determine what it is you can't be with. Is there one particular aspect of it that troubles you most?
- Ask yourself, “What it would look like if I could move towards my objective, even when fear is present?”
- Can you let the emotions, feelings and dialogue in your head or body be and still continue with what you have committed to?
- Notice how it changes as you learn to be with fear.
When we identify, document and reflect on the things that make us fearful, we have access to transform them. We also discover how to deal with the discomfort and uncomfortable feelings and dialogues that come with fear. The next time you find yourself frozen in the face of fear, I encourage you to take this on. Take the opportunity to be with that fear, and explore what it would look like to acknowledge it as part of who you are as a human being.