How to Turn Fears into Opportunities

This post originally appeared on The Feast Blog.

afraidEvery time I’m afraid to write a blog post, I know it will be good.

I get afraid to write because either I don’t feel confident in the subject, I’m worried about my reputation or I’m afraid of how people might react.

These kinds of posts sit in my drafts for weeks, 95% done just waiting for me to click publish. I’d put it off. I would get close to never even posting them.

Then I write them and click publish anyway.

Turns out people liked them. These articles ended up being more successful than anything else I’ve written. They all got a huge response.

Probably because other people were thinking about the same ideas but were also afraid to truly address them.

So write what you’re afraid to write.

And while you’re at it, do what you’re afraid to do in other areas of your life.

Read what you’re afraid to read.

Take on a skill you’re afraid to try.

Cook if you’re afraid to cook.

Go to the party you’re afraid to attend.

Talk to the person you’re afraid to talk to.

Work on the project you’re afraid to start.

Take risks. Put yourself out there.

If you’re afraid of something, that means it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable so by taking it on you’ll become more familiar and comfortable in an area that you were lacking in before.

Fear serves as a compass for finding opportunities to grow.

compassFear will point you in the direction of growth because by definition, in order to grow, you need to do something you’re relatively unfamiliar with.

When you write about something you don’t know at the very least you’re going to come out much smarter in that topic.

By researching and just by writing things out and thinking them through, you’ll gain a better understanding and new perspectives you didn’t have before.

When you’re afraid to go on stage and speak in front of an audience, that means that doing so is an opportunity to grow as a person and a professional. You’ll have a better, deeper understanding of that experience.

When you’re afraid of cooking, that means that deep down you want to cook but you’re afraid you’ll fail. COOK! That’s the only way you’ll grow.

Failure is okay. Win or lose, you WILL come out of that experience a smarter and better person. Guaranteed.

Afraid of being honest? That’s because being honest is hard.

It’s much easier to tell white lies. But when you’re honest, magical things happen.

You find a lot of other people who can relate to you. They celebrate you for saying the thing they wanted to say. You make yourself vulnerable which shows you’re confident.

You end up building stronger relationships with people.

Not all fear is created equal

It’s important to clarify the kind of fear we’re talking about here.

Fear, like all emotions, have a biological and evolutionary justification.

Some of our fears have basic survival value, like fear of snakes or of fire. Others fears, however, are learned reflexes that can be weakened or re-learned.

We’re talking about the latter type of fear.

According to physicist and executive management consultant, Dr. Karl Albrecht, there are five fundamental forms of fear:

1. Extinction – fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is a more fundamental way to express it than just calling it the “fear of death”. The idea of no longer being arouses a primary existential anxiety in all normal humans. Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.

2. Mutilation – fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. For example, anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.

3. Loss of Autonomy – fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or controlled by circumstances. In a physical form, it’s sometimes known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to social interactions and relationships.

4. Separation – fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness – of becoming a non-person – not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group, can have a devastating psychological effect on the targeted person.

5. Ego-death – fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.

Of course, if something is threatening your life, the existence of humanity, or your body, you should not ignore that fear.

What we’re talking about here is usually a learned fear, or a memory of a fear. You remember the feeling of being embarassed, of being alone, of taking a hit to your pride.

It’s a fear of a fear. And it’s something that you can overcome.

Albrecht explains this concept further:

“That strange idea of “fearing our fears” can become less strange when we realize that many of our avoidance reactions – turning down an invitation to a party if we tend to be uncomfortable in groups; putting off the doctor’s appointment; or not asking for the raise – are instant reflexes that are reactions to the memories of fear.

They happen so quickly that we don’t actually experience the full effect of the fear. We experience a “micro-fear” – a reaction that’s a kind of shorthand code for the real fear.

This reflex reaction has the same effect of causing us to evade and avoid as the real fear. This is why it’s fairly accurate to say that many of our so-called fear reactions are actually the fears of fears.”

Once you realize that the sense of a fear simply means there’s an opportunity to grow and learn, you can start to embrace it.

You’ll start to lean in to the fear.

You’ll be happy when you feel it because it will mean you found a path to becoming the person you want to be.

It’s an opportunity to grow and become a better, stronger person.

You might even start seeking it out.

What are you afraid of?

Write down the first thing that comes to mind and consider doing that thing today.

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