There is a hyper-delicate balance between rational and irrational fear. This is easily explained by example: there is the well-founded fear of standing-in-the-middle-of-a-field-with-an-umbrella-in-a-thunderstorm fear. On the flip side there is the fear that the cockroach skittering on the floor will somehow approach and harm you. I suffer from both. I am the biggest wuss in my house. Ask my kids. They will be happy to back this up.
In Galvin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, the case is made that some fear is innate. Fear can save your life as he shows in an example in the book. The simple act of an attacker closing a window as he leaves his victim behind in the room and, intuitively, the victim realizes that if she doesn’t get out of there, she will be a murder victim. She does and lives to tell about it.
There is the completely neurotic fear that my dog, Baci, suffers from. She won’t step on a different surface. New hardwood, tile, slate or plywood. She will not step over it, onto it or around it. She is paralyzed. It seems so irrational but there must be something to this paralysis. Did she step onto some surface in her puppydom that caused this irrational fear?
So now what? How do you conquer fear?
1. Check First. Is this rational? What are you basing this on? Is the cockroach really going to attack you? When did you last read the headline – “Mother Killed By Palmetto Bug.” Think about this in relation to YOU – Would applying for that new position mean you would lose your current job? Nah. Face it, most decisions you make are not catastrophic. But investigating what your fear is based on is important; especially when it comes to your future in the workplace.
2. Research. I find that researching all available scenarios helps. If you are looking for a new job, maybe this means looking down avenues you would typically not consider. Maybe you would be willing to move or adding an extra 30 minutes to your commute. Maybe look at a different industry. Baci is constantly testing the waters; especially if there is a desirable tennis ball in the middle of the piece of plywood. Doing the research makes it easier for her to take the next step.
3. Test. Take a step. Go grab your slipper from the other room. At least you’ll be prepared to smack that cockroach. Call a friend you know in the industry you might want to move to and ask what opportunities are available. Baci starts by putting out a paw and then retreating. She’s testing her hypothesis. You are going to have to test the waters. Start writing the blog even if you don’t finish it in the first pass.
4. Scared. Sometimes you just have to do it scared. Actually, you frequently have to do it scared. My husband and I were watching the gymnastic trials for the Olympics last year. There was Danell Leyva on the high bar, flying high above the bar in some kind of back flip. I turned to Kevin and said, “So how do you try that the first time?” We laughed. But you have to. I can promise you Levya, was at least a little bit scared the first time he let go of that bar to launch himself 25 feet above the ground. You really don’t want to fail at that the first time out – watch it here. Do it scared.
5. Pathways. You are going to need to lay some new neural pathways. Charles Duhigg compares them to ruts in the mud. It’s really difficult to change ruts. The only way is to start working on it. This is extremely hard for me. Take a breath, regroup and lay down a new rut.
My dog Baci is amazing at this. First, she is paralyzed by the new hardwood floor in the dining room. She won’t set a paw on the floor. But her favorite window for squirrel hunting is only three feet away…across the new surface. She runs around to all the entrances to check that the new surface is everywhere. She looks at my husband to be assured that the new surface is safe. Sniffs. Tests it with her paw. Retreats. It may take an hour or three days, but eventually she is trotting up to her favorite spot staring out the window, standing proudly on the new hardwood floor. She’s laying new neural pathways.
How about you?
2 thoughts on “Conquering Fear. More Lessons from my Dog.”
I’ve be following you for awhile on Facebook. As always, great article and very timely for me. I have been paralyzed by fear for many years in my career. What is sad is that I have just realized how fearful I have been. Now, I’m working towards leaving the fear behind and where I want my career to go.
I’m so glad this brought some realization for you! I’ve been working through fear for a long time. So much of it is between the ears. Thanks so much for your comment!