Overcome Fear: The Third Lesson in Making a Difficult Transition

What if I told you that you can overcome your worst fears?

What if you addressed those fears?

Imagine what you could do, become, and the impact you would make.

In this post, we discuss the third of five lessons to make a difficult transition, overcoming fear. We will first focus on why fear plays such a significant part and then how we can overcome them with seven strategic steps. Change management doesn’t need to be paralyzing.

Those that follow me understand that I have pivoted several times in my professional life. I have pivoted to seize the next, great opportunity by going from factory worker to a college professor to an executive coach. Sometimes I’ve been drawn by the opportunity, and at other times, I’ve been pushed by negative events. Sometimes we have a choice to change but many times we don’t. Either way, we have fears. My clients appreciate that I have faced those fears and now offer the life experience and theoretical background to understand to help them seize their next, greatest opportunity.

The Problem

Too often, fear paralyzes us from getting what we ultimately want.

Fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger” Mirriam-Webster.com. The American Psychological Association gives more detail. Fear is “a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes.”

Let’s break down this definition.

First, fear is “a basic, intense emotion.” Everyone has intense fears. You have them. I have them.

Second, those intense emotions are aroused by the detection (or I like the word perception) of an imminent threat. That means that our fears may or may not be real. Sometimes our worst fears are false. Sometimes we are mistaken or too sensitive.

Third, fear triggers an alarm reaction, sending out stress hormones throughout the body. Fear becomes a chemical reaction, triggering the reptile (overly emotional) brain and overriding the executive (strategic) brain.

Fourth, fear mobilizes action. We react either by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning. We fight back, run away, paralyze ourselves, or try to please that which scares us.

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Is Fear Helpful or Harmful?

As children, we were scared of imaginary foes such as the boogeyman or some other monster that hid in the dark. As adults, we still carry unfounded fears from seeing and experiencing too much. We fear the loss of a loved one, job, or health because we have seen it before. We fear making a mistake that frustrates our future because we have made mistakes before or seen others make mistakes.

Notice how those fears keep us from doing anything outside our comfort zone.

There are also fears tucked away in our brain, body, and personality that prevent us from enjoying what we ultimately want. Often they are unfounded fears. We are simply worried about what is very unlikely to happen. For example, I know people who refuse to fly yet have no problem driving. Research shows that we are 19 times safer in a commercial plane than in our private cars.

So we freeze or run away from great opportunities. Sometimes we try to please others and forfeit promotions or a more enjoyable situation. Still other times, we fight to stay within our comfort zone instead of thinking bigger and reaching higher.

When we allow fear to prevent living 100% Alive, fear is harmful.

But there is a positive side to fear.

In many ways, that fear of transitioning to a great opportunity is good because it challenges us beyond the status quo. Great opportunities are a challenge and that triggers adrenaline which provides the energy we need to reach higher.

Also, fear helps us prepare for and avoid problems in doing what we never imagined to be possible. Because we are afraid of those things that can hurt us physically, emotionally, or financially, we do our homework and prepare to succeed. Without fear, we won’t prepare diligently.

Did you know that even the best performers (athletes, actors, speakers, etc.) get butterflies before the performance? That sense of insecurity and elements of doubt push them (us) to work harder. When we don’t have that fear, we don’t perform at our best.

As leaders and managers leading change management in our organizations, and as individuals looking to navigate our best opportunities, we all face the fear of change. How do we react?

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Reacting to Fear

When we face a legitimate fear, we react either by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning. Each response is appropriate for different situations. The problem comes when we react the wrong way to a threat.

For example, sometimes we need to fight and defeat the perceived threat. Other times we are wise to run away from the threat. Still, other times, we are wise to stay still and play dead. Sometimes it pays to make friends with our foes, giving them what they want.

What is the right response? To understand this, let’s think about a bear attack. That’s a legitimate threat. Last summer I was hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park when hikers ahead of us spotted a bear 50 yards to our left. Another spotter her cub 25 yards ahead of us. Was the threat real? According to the National Park Service, YES! How should we respond? Depending on the situation, we have one of three reactions. (I’ve condensed their recommendations to three from the NPS longer list.)

  • First, and foremost, recognize that bear attacks are rare. Work to avoid the threat by being aware of your surroundings and announcing yourself.
  • Second, stay calm. It doesn’t do any good to panic. Also, don’t act like an excited tourist and try to approach the bear. (Yes, people do this.) Recognize that bears can run 25 to 35 miles an hour and you cannot outrun them. You also cannot climb a tree because they can climb faster and higher. Be aware and be calm.
  • Third, if attacked, by a grizzly bear, play dead. If attacked by a black bear, don’t play dead. Recognize where you are, the threat you face, and the appropriate reaction.

In our case, we quickly turned around and walked back to the car while keeping an eye on the bear.

But you aren’t reading this post to learn about bear behavior. Each time we approach our next, great opportunity, many see the situation as similar to facing a grizzly bear. It is exciting but terrifying. After all, this is so big and powerful that it could be the end of us.

That’s true. Great opportunities will change our lives. If we seize them, they will put us on a new level with many more great opportunities. If we run from them, we will probably never move out of our comfort zone, and seize other great opportunities.

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Your Choice

In making a difficult transition, ask yourself the following questions.

First, how will this opportunity improve my life (either professionally or personally)? If it is the right opportunity, the end result should leave you feeling 100% Alive.

Second, what scares me about this opportunity? Be wise and aware of the situation.

Third, should I be legitimately afraid? Is this a well-founded fear or simply a figment of my imagination? Don’t let the great opportunity slip away if the fear isn’t real.

Fourth, how can I work through this challenge? Pivot out of your emotional fear and into your logical strategy. This literally shifts your thinking from the reptile to the executive brain, flooding the brain with positive chemicals and changing how you think. If you can’t make this pivot, you will never seize your opportunity.

Fifth, what resources are needed? Identifying what needs to be done when and by whom is critical to overcoming your fear and seizing the next great opportunity.

Sixth, where can I find those resources? Look inside first. You have more resources in the form of knowledge, talent, and energy than you may give yourself credit for. Once you realize that, you will gain the confidence to make the pivot. Then recognize you have many connections that can work with you. If you don’t have the connections, reach out to make them. The right people want to help.

Seventh, when can I begin? Taking the appropriate action at the right time leads to success and success shatters fears.

I am Loren Murfield, Ph.D. helping clients sense and seize their next, great opportunity. Why struggle and be frustrated. Hire the executive coach that will help you think bigger and reach higher to do what you and others never thought you could do. Contact me today.

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