How to Conquer Your Fear at Work
Is fear holding you back at work or in life? Here's how to cope.
Posted Mar 16, 2020
In what is arguably one of the best half-dozen science fiction books of all time, Dune, its author Frank Herbert writes, “Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Fear is the arch-enemy of all creative work, all performance, and definitely all public speaking. Fear causes us to avoid preparation, as if by putting off rehearsal we avoid the performance that will be worse because we are unprepared for it. Fear causes us to shut down emotionally during a performance or other key moments because we’re too self-conscious, or nervous, or defensive to find our footing and access our emotions.
And finally, fear causes us to avoid the tough introspection that needs to happen beginning 48 hours after a big moment in life or at work – but not before – during which we assess honestly what went right, what didn’t go right, and how to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
That kind of honest feedback must wait a couple of days because too close to the big day, we’re still filled with adrenaline and incapable of taking in the criticism in any useful way.
So how can we tackle our fears, prevent the mind-killing, and show up present and emotionally available before, during, and after our biggest moments?
Some recent research suggests a few ways.
It is mostly a good idea to face your fears head-on, apparently, so that you can drive to a different outcome, replacing the bad memory with a newer, better one. With enough time and enough memories, you can turn yourself into a jolly, positive, version of your previously terrified self, at least according to the neuroscientists.
They do also say that memory extinction, which is what the process is called, is not 100 percent perfect. Apparently, a bad memory may occasionally return with no warning. You can minimize this risk by creating a very strong, very positive memory to replace the old bad one.
The practice of mindfulness can also minimize bad memories, according to recent research. Apparently being mindful – that is, focusing exclusive on the present in front of you – is a good way to prepare the mind to eliminate or at least lessen the impact of bad memories, whether or not you practice specifically emotional memory suppression. If you strengthen your connection to the present, worrying less about the past or the future, then that reduces the trauma of bad memories and the anxiety about the future.
I have written before about the importance of deep belly breathing, positive mantras, and rehearsal to help control your fears, like the fear of speaking in public. All of those practices should become part of your fear control project. But don’t neglect these two additional ideas from neuroscience: Practice fear extinction by facing your memories of bad experiences and replacing them deliberately with positive ones (the time the big presentation went well). And use mindfulness to reduce the hold of the past – or the future – on your emotional state.
Don’t let fear be the mind-killer. Reduce it to its proper role: Providing you with just enough energy (in the form of excitement) to bring you to life, not to inhibit you.