1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm
1. be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful
We all deal with fear on a regular basis, some fears do not really affect us in our daily lives, occasionally providing a minor irritant or annoyance, but others can cause tremendous anxiety and stop us from achieving our goals and objectives.
I have met and coached, for example, a great number of people who have a crippling fear of delivering presentations - the thought of standing in front of a group and commanding their attention rendering them unable to speak or even move coherently.
Yet, when we look at the definition of fear above, we see that it is "an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm" - I have given hundreds of presentations in my time and in none of them have I ever come to harm, so what exactly is going on?
Fear is essentially an abstract concept - led by our thoughts. Our thoughts lead to feelings and our feelings lead to behaviours...
When we think about giving a presentation (to keep the example from above), we worry about what people will think, what if I screw it up, forget my lines, miss a slide - people will think I'm rubbish at my job, that I don't know what I'm doing, that I'm stupid and so on. These thoughts then lead us to feelings of nervousness, stress and anxiety - which signals the release of adrenaline and impairs our decision making, in turn affecting how we behave (if you would like to read more about what happens when we experience stress, please click here).
So, what can we do to overcome this fear - one phrase that I keep coming back to when looking at my work in elite sport is "become comfortable with the uncomfortable" (more on that here) Elite athletes have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable; operating on the knife-edge of performance and under constant pressure is not a happy place to be, so you have to embrace the opportunity to face up to your fears.
Thinking of myself I have pushed myself, and been pushed by others out of my comfort zone regularly in the last 18 months in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways, being cajoled in directions I never thought I would cope with and having to deliver under pressure. I have produced a live 20 minute TV news broadcast (despite having no TV production experience previously), led an assent up Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons with a group of colleagues, navigating the route using a compass and map (despite never usually being more than an arms length away from google maps and never more than 1 mile from civilisation) and performed in a 60 minute, live, improvised comedy routine, amongst many other challenges. Each of these scared me witless in different ways, but step by step, I faced them down - broke them into smaller, manageable pieces and adopted a mindset that yes, I was scared, but the feeling of completing them would far outweigh the feelings I had at the beginning. As Commander Mark Devine (US Navy Seal) would put it - I summoned up my courage wolf.
From this personal experience I learned to create situations with the athletes and clients I look after to empower them to work outside their comfort zones. We have built a "safe" environment in which we can be candid and frank in our discussions and whereby they feel physically and mentally safe in all they are being asked to do. The element of trust, whilst taking time to build through smaller, safer activities has grown to an extent where they now buy into experiential learning activities willingly, even though they know they will be pushed and asked to reflect deeply (reflective practice can be difficult, but it is essential - this is where the learning lives in experiential learning, not in the task itself). This practice is invaluable not only when working with elite athletes, but when working with any coaching clients. For more on this style of working, please read our article on constraints led coaching.
So, what's the crux of this? Essentially challenge yourself as a person every day, work on the knife-edge of your comfort zone as often as you can, face your fears and also challenge others around you to push their own boundaries and yours. The things you think when faced with fear will ultimately determine your feelings and your response - accept your current thoughts, but then tell yourself a different story - summon up your own courage wolf and smash through those fears.
"You ask me what do I fear?
I fear stagnation and lack of progress.
I fear never reaching my potential and being average.
I fear being forgotten...the past...yesterday's news.
I fear giving up and being passed by, going softly into that good night.
I fear settling, giving into the "that's just the way it is" mindset.
I fear dying without leaving my mark.
And most of all, I fear NOT feeling these fears anymore.
I love my fear"
If you feel fear is holding you back from reaching your full potential, please contact us by clicking here to see how we can help, or leave us your thoughts below.