Everyone has experienced fear at some point in their lives; be it in your personal or professional life, fear is a biological response that dictates a myriad of reactionary behaviors. It can be debilitating—paralyzing even the most capable and gregarious of people. And the scariest thing about fear is that when it impacts one area of your life, it can affect every other area in turn. Almost every person I have mentored has asked me at some point how, if at all, we can learn to control our fears and leverage them to our advantage.
Before being able to delve into how we can interact with our fears in a constructive way, it is important to understand how it plays a role in our lives. To do this, I think we need to break down what I consider to be the three different areas of fear, and understand how they differ, interrelate, and affect one another. As defined by the Oxford American English Dictionary, these three areas are:
- Fear – An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
- Stress – A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
- Anxiety – A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
Now each of these areas are different in their own right. For instance, fear is generally a stress response to a type of environmental—or present—stressor, while stress itself is prolonged exposure to these types of environmental factors. Anxiety is unique in that you experience the same physiological response as fear, but usually as a reaction to imagined or absent stressors (worry).
In practice, it can be difficult to separate out how these different aspects of our biological and emotional response can affect us, so I have come up with a little example that might help illustrate:
You have money tied up in the stock market. During trading hours, the result of a natural disaster causes stock prices in “Company X” to plummet. You have a lot of money tied up in shares in this company. You feel your stomach drop and your heart start to pound as you realize that you just lost quite a bit of money, and this will impact your life in a very real way. Fortunately, after a few days, the market stabilized and you were able to recover your portfolio, though every time you think about buying shares you experience that same sinking in your stomach—the same dryness of mouth and pounding of the heart.
Physical ailments like elevated heart rate, increased perspiration, nausea, etc. are all physical fear responses to a very real environmental stressor—losing out on an investment. While this response was initially an instinctual trigger to warn us of physical danger (lion in the tall grass!), we live in a world where these abstract concepts (money/stocks) can pose very real threats to our well-being. Two days waiting for a stock to stabilize and asking yourself a slew of questions—should I ride this out, or should I sell?—is the stress period. And finally, when dealing with the stock again, even after a positive overall outcome, there is present anxiety. We tend to create anticipation based on fear-inducing events of the past, even if they are unlikely to occur again in the future.
Even knowing the direction I am going with this, the above still leaves me feeling overwhelmed. When analyzing all of these different aspects of what is generally considered to be a negative emotion, you can start to feel a little down and out, if you know what I mean. And the fact of the matter is that in business, especially for those of us who are entrepreneurs, we are faced with making numerous decisions on a daily basis that will directly impact our business—and therefore our LIVES—in one way or another. How many of you feel stressed out just reading that sentence?
And there is the problem. It is a vicious cycle where we look at what we have around us and it causes triggers, anxiety, FEAR! And while it is important to understand all of the different aspects of our fears and anxieties, let’s face it…it is pretty difficult to maintain presence of mind to acknowledge every one of those details at the pinnacle of whatever is causing those fears, so I have simplified it
F – False
E – Evidence
A – Appearing
R – Real
False Evidence Appearing Real.
In our businesses we are expected to make informed decisions based on a variety of factors, and a lot of these factors can be misinformation, misrepresentation, or imagined anxieties. It is easy to let these false stimuli dictate how we make decisions, and making decisions based in fear is not an effective way to make decisions. Period.
In my next post I will address how to deal with this False Evidence and your FEAR as it approaches you in business and in your life. As much as it is important to be knowledgeable about what your fear is and what drives it, it is also important to gain the tools to appropriately respond to that fear and create a positive outcome. Stay tuned for Part 2!