I've been thinking and writing about the phenomenon of fear for years. Every time I think I've got fear figured out, I learn something new that can help me—and you, of course—to harness it and get better results than ever.
In my own life and working with coaching clients, the focus is usually on getting past fear(s) and doing whatever it is that the fear stands in the way of. Recently, though, I read a blog post from Seth Godin that made me gasp.
Its truth hit me like a wave of cold water: fear can be a much more critical, time-sensitive sign than we realize, and we may hesitate or shy away at our peril.
"By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you're not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant. The reason you're afraid is that there's leverage here, something that might happen. Which is exactly the signal you're looking for."
Wow. So fear isn't just something to deal with and get past. It may mean the moment is nigh—you need to take action now, because it signals that a window of opportunity has opened in front of you.
The bells in the part of you that "knows" are clanging wildly, trying to get your attention and putting your mind and body on full alert. This means that getting past your fears and just doing it is more important than ever.
Here are a couple of other practical thoughts to help you harness and leverage your fears:
1) Fear will show up every time you're growing or going where you dream of.
Many of us think fear is a sign of danger, that if we feel any kind of fear it must mean something bad is about to happen and we should try to avoid it. This may have served us well when we were kids. Those who live this way feel fear and immediately stop, turn around, and run back to the soft cozy place they're used to (as much as they complain about it or say they want to change things).
Note: there's a difference between the fear of the unknown that comes from venturing into new territory, and the instinctual gut feeling that something isn't right—if you ask yourself which one you are feeling, I'm quite sure you'll be able to tell.
I can still remember exactly where I was standing in my bedroom in Cabo, when I realized that the new anxiety I was feeling wasn't a sign of trouble to come. I was taking some really big leaps towards my dreams, and would sometimes wake up trembling.
Yet at that pivotal moment, standing to the left of my bed, I received a great rush of insight that the tingling of my nerves was actually more like the best moment in a good movie. The sweet tension increases and the soundtrack lifts and swells, signaling that something wonderful, new and beautiful is building on the horizon, just a few more triumphs around the corner.
I've never run away from or worried about that kind of fear again—thank goodness, as I've gone some really wonderful places with that fear humming in the background, a constant companion tucked neatly away in my pocket.
2) Everyone who has done anything unique and wonderful was probably terrified much of the time, and very likely still is.
I sometimes get unbelievably nervous before a speaking engagement or big dance performance, it can go on for weeks before the event. I had expected this to go away after a certain amount of on-stage experience, but it didn't. This sometimes made me question why I agreed to do these events.
Maybe in the interest of my sanity and my fight-or-flight nervous system I should be on stage less often? I got the answer to this recently, and it wasn't at all what I expected.
A few weeks ago, before a big flamenco show, I mentioned my fear to a renowned flamenco performer. "It drives me crazy," I told her. "There's nothing like performing, but every time I have a big show coming up I get so nervous that I wish I hadn't agreed to it. Of course, after the performance I'm on an absolute high and can't wait to do it again. Am I insane?"
She laughed and told me that after decades of performing around the world, she still got incredibly nervous and also often asked herself why she tortured herself this way. "I know now that as an artist I don't have any choice but to endure the fear," she said. "In order to experience the high of dancing for a crowd, which for me is the best feeling in the world, I have to get through the weeks of agony and worry that might precede it. It can happen with even the smallest, least prestigious of events, I've learned to accept that that's just the way it is."
I was amazed by this admission, and I'd bet you'd be shocked to know how many people you admire, including the most successful people in the world, regularly experience fear.
To confirm this theory, I asked another dancer I met, a leader in one of the top ballet companies in the world, if she ever got nervous. She told me that whenever she has to develop a new choreography, she can't sleep because she gets so anxious about whether she'll be able to pull it off. Just like the famous flamenco dancer, this continues after decades of working at a world-class level! She still worries about it?!
Conclusion: Success doesn't appear to immunize you against fear, so don't expect it ever to fully go away.
This was a huge revelation for me.
What are you thinking of doing, or changing, or saying in your life that causes your body to hum with fear at the mere thought? What does this mean that you need to do now - or at the very least this week or sometime very soon! Let's all grab hands, take a big breath, and jump!