Warren Coughlin, Business Coach, Toronto, ON, warrencoughlin.com

What?!  A business coach saying that fear is not the arch-enemy of success?

Yes.  Let me explain.

Our brains evolved to be on the look out for danger.  As an oversimplified explanation, those that successfully avoided being eaten or drowned or crushed or poisoned etc were able to pass their genes down to future generations.  Therefore, being descendants of these hyper vigilant, cautious folks, our brains have what is known as a negativity bias.  We see the bad stuff right away.

This has been decried as an obstacle to success.  Now that there aren’t sabre-tooth tigers lurking behind bushes, certainly this bias has outlived its usefulness, right?

Well, not so fast.  Just because we’re not in immediate danger of being eaten doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers and risks.  Fear is simply part of your brain alerting you to possible dangers.

Think of it as a very well-intentioned but somewhat over-protective parent:

“Don’t play on the stairs, you might fall.”

“Back away from the stove, you might get burned.”

“Bundle up so you don’t freeze.”

As we grow, we learn to replace our own judgment for that of our parents regarding our own safety.  The trick is to learn to do the same thing with fear.

Here’s the principle to remember: Fear is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.  If you always yield to fear, you will miss so many adventures and opportunities to make life a wonderful journey.  But when you use it simply as an advisor, it becomes an ally on the trip.

When you feel fear, it’s worth pausing to consider whether you’ve taken into account all the risks before you decide.  Fear may be saying that you missed something.  Generally what sinks the dreams of entrepreneurs is the thing they didn’t see coming.

On the other hand, just because you feel fear, it doesn’t mean that the decision is wrong.  Being a business owner means you have embraced risk and uncertainty.  So, if you feel fear, stop to consider the risks and if you still feel it’s the right decision, then off you go.  Say thanks to the fear for the heads up, but be clear you’re deciding to proceed anyway.

This is different than stomping on fear, suppressing fear or ignoring fear.  If your mother thought you didn’t hear her warning, what would she do?  Scream louder, right?  It’s the same with fear.  If you just try to ignore fear, it may become more insistent.  On the other hand, if you acknowledge it, then choose to proceed, it is more likely to stand on the sidewalk with its arms crossed muttering silently to itself “Well, ok. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

There are two primary benefits of this approach to fear:

1)     It does encourage you to ask yourself “what am I not seeing?”  This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself in business.

2)     By listening, considering and then acting, you build an immensely important emotional muscle: courage.

And those aren’t things to be afraid of.

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