There are always new things you could fear. Just turn on the news if you need some negative inspiration. Few things nowadays are 100% safe, so it’s tempting to want to hunker down and avoid risk.
Although I know it shouldn’t be, negative criticism has been my kryptonite. If I’m honest, the fear of future jabs has made me more hesitant to put new things out. The thought being… “if I don’t put myself out there, there’s nothing to criticize.” About the time I’m finally feeling confident about a new project, I start worrying about an insult or negative comment displayed for everyone to see.
But the truth is, I know I’ve got to take a ton of risks to get to the next level. I’ve got to be willing to and face an uncertain world. To invest in something that may not pan out. To take heat from critics and sometimes, or maybe even often, take some tough hits. Avoiding risk can be more devastating to progress than coming face-to-face with the things you fear the most. As Denzel Washington has said, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.”
This year, I’m working on calling out negative mindsets and tackling these subliminal fears.
Although some may argue that you can’t eliminate fear and it’s wired into our DNA as a survival tool, I believe that we can learn to reduce its power in our lives. Often, the first and most significant step in improving something is identifying what you’re doing wrong in the first place.
I’ve researched this a lot recently, and have narrowed down four subliminal ways fear sabotages success:
I can come up with a hundred reasons why I shouldn’t pursue that game-changing opportunity, and what’s scary is that most of them will sound valid to almost anyone who listens. “I have a child now. I don’t have the time.” “I don’t have the right background or resources.” “I’m too young/ old.” When, in reality, I’m just scared of what might happen. If I let them, these excuses can become self-imposed limitations that hold me back from the life and career that I want.
We must go back through our mental dialogs and figure out which excuses are prevalent in our lives. Then next time one of them comes up… Shoot. It. Down.
I like this Ted Talk by Mel Robbins. She says that we’ll never actually “feel” like making the changes we need to make or doing the tough, scary things we need to do. Therefore, when you feel like doing something, do it quickly and before your mind has a chance to “brake check” and get you stuck.
2. Fear of Rejection
Who likes rejection? No one. But it does seem like some people have thicker skin to deal with it. For the rest of us, the danger comes in not putting ourselves out there enough.
Deep down, I think most of us have dealt with the fear of not being enough, which can make rejection feel personal. But when you look at almost every single story of success, they are littered with testimonies of rejection. It’s almost like a rite of passage.
Good things will not happen without putting yourself out there to some degree, and playing it “safe” can be a bigger dream killer than trying and failing. If you want great things to happen, you’ve got to stick your neck out and likely get hit several times before and between significant wins. Scary, I know.
Clichés like “fake it till you make it” make it seem like you’ve got to pretend to know things when you don’t. It encourages you to put forward an air of confidence when the truth is that you have no clue. The fear of looking inadequate or incompetent can breed the defense mechanism of overconfidence. Although pretending to be confident can be helpful in some situations, if we’re not honest with ourselves, it can hinder us from learning or seeking out answers that we need to know.
So admit it, at least internally – you don’t know what you’re doing. Then, go out and find the answers, tools, and resources you need.
I’m guilty of being slow to respond to emails, and I know it’s something I need to improve. I’ve struggled with wanting to make sure everything I put out in the world is crafted to the best of my ability. But the fact is, I can’t make everything I do “perfect.” Ultimately, if I try, I’ll get stuck spinning my wheels on tiny details when I could be making leaps and bounds.
People are way less likely to judge a few typos in an email or blog post, than if I take weeks to respond to them or never get it done.
Having high standards is good. They can keep you motived and encourage you to work hard. However, there is a point at which those standards can cross over into a fear of failure and thus breed a perfectionism that keeps you stuck or moving at snail’s pace. It can lead to task avoidance and eventually underachievement, hacking away at your self-confidence.
The trick is finding the right balance within yourself, learning to identify that line between seeking excellence and fearing failure.
Though they may look different, we all have our own battles with fear. I’m adopting some of Will Smith’s wisdom on fear. In one interview, he says he has a fear of fear. He hates being afraid to do something. If we all developed that mindset and got determined to tackle our most significant concerns, we’d be amazed at how much we could accomplish.