Fear Can Spark Productivity

It’s natural to shy away from tasks, projects, and goals you fear. They may legitimately be too demanding, too far outside your zone of competence, or just plain too risky for the rewards they offer.

But if you’re shying away from potentially worthwhile tasks, projects, and goals primarily because they trigger a fear reaction, you may be making a mistake. Sometimes, the most direct path to growth, enhanced competence, extra productivity and heightened success runs right through some areas of which you’re afraid.

The reasons you’re afraid of them – perhaps they remind you of a scary situation you experienced as a child, they trigger some irrational fright reaction, or you (like many other humans) have a genetic predisposition to fear them – is beyond the scope of this discussion.

But what to do about that fear is right in my wheelhouse.

Here are some suggestions on how to react to fearful situations in ways that will quite often improve your productivity and your level of success:

Assess the Situation

One of my sons takes chances I never would. When I caution him about this, he tells me not to worry, because he’s certain his choices are actually quite prudent.

Obviously, each of us measures prudence in our own way. But even so, regardless of how far out on a limb you choose to go, prudence is always a good idea.

That’s why, when you’re staring down the throat of a fearful situation, it would be foolish to just plunge ahead. Instead, it’s prudent to investigate and evaluate to determine just how much risk you’re actually facing, and – provided the risk is reasonable – how well that risk stacks up against the potential rewards of success.

If the odds are right, and you’re feeling up to par, and the conditions are favorable, you might gain a lot of benefit by cautiously stepping closer to whatever it is you fear.

Channel Your Fear into Planning

Once you’ve decided to move toward whatever you’re fearing, it’s prudent to take some time to formulate a plan. Consider and determine:

  • What’s your goal?
  • What steps will you take to get there?
  • What skills, talents, abilities, and resources will you need to accomplish those steps?
  • How will you measure your performance as you go?
  • What adjustments might you need to make to maintain the level of performance required for success?

Plans are great, but no plan survives contact with reality. So it’s important to back up your planning with consideration of what might go wrong and how you might respond when it does.

As you do this planning, maintain a prudent balance.

You don’t want to plan so long and hard that you never take action. But you don’t want to take action so quickly and decisively that you’ve given too little thought to potential pitfalls, contingencies, and emerging opportunities.

Channel Your Fear into Performance

Although most of us don’t like feeling this way, fear is a powerful performance enhancer. Biologically, fear – the “fight or flight” reaction – very effectively primes you for action. It automatically:

  • Raises your awareness of what’s going on around you.
  • Increases your muscular strength.
  • Quickens your reaction times.
  • Speeds up your brain, your memory, and your overall intelligence.
  • Helps you improvise better when planned actions stop working as hoped.

In short – and assuming it’s not more prudent to run away – the feeling of fear greatly pumps up your ability to “fight” and prevail in whatever situation you’re facing.

Of course, different people have differing levels of ability to rise to the occasion and perform under the pressure of fear. But we all can do this to some extent, and practice can actually help you do this better.

In other words, the more often you face your fears, assess the fearful situation, plan your reaction, and utilize your enhanced “fight” capabilities to try to accomplish what you want, the easier and better you will be able to deliver the proper performance to achieve the extra success you’re striving for.

It’s helpful in all of this to recognize that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to go forward in your work and your life despite fear. If it’s prudent to do so, taking on certain tasks, projects, or goals that spark your fear can actually help you expand your competence, improve your productivity, and increase your level of success.

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