Overcoming fear in business is one of the most underrated yet important skills to master in any entrepreneur’s journey. And before you ask, yes, this is a learnable skill, and yes, if you’re starting or growing a business, overcoming your fear is probably relevant to you.
If you’re not doing the things you need to do to start or grow your business, it’s most likely not a lack of money nor a shortage of time that are stopping you. Chances are, it’s fear.
Being paralyzed by fear is extremely common, but surprisingly hard to recognize in ourselves. Often we put our inaction down to lack of skills, money, time, networks or just plain-old procrastination. But if we dig a bit deeper, it’s actually fear in disguise.
Fear Holding You Back? You’re Not the Only One
Fear stops us from starting businesses, taking the necessary steps we need to take, having hard conversations, expanding our businesses, making big decisions, and generally many of the things that matter to us. Fear causes us to self-sabotage our good intentions and prevents us from doing the things we want to do.
Our fear is often subconscious though – which makes it hard to identify. Plus, it’s etched into our DNA – we need a healthy dose of fear to keep us safe from real dangers. This makes it hard to surmount too – it can feel like going against our natural tendencies. (Don’t be fooled though, it was smart for our predecessors to be wary of tigers, famine, and fires but that’s not the same as being afraid of what people will think!)
The secret is that every entrepreneur has had to face and overcome their own fears. Many of them are still doing this each day. They still have the fears, but they’ve learned how to handle them.
Here’s what I do to Overcome Fear in Business…
1) Understand the Fear
When I’m procrastinating about doing something, it could either be that I haven’t worked out how to tackle it (in which case I need to brainstorm next steps), or that I’m afraid of taking that action. Once I realize that there’s something I’m afraid of, it helps to understand the fear in detail.
I try to get really specific and ask myself; “What exactly am I afraid of?” Eg. appearing like a fool? appearing too arrogant? hurting someone’s feelings? “Who specifically am I most afraid of this happening with?” Eg. my peers, my customers, my parents, certain friends? “Why would this fear eventuate or hold true?” What evidence do I have to tell me that this will or won’t occur?
When you do this, you might even realize that your fear makes no sense at all. Well done for making this connection – sometimes that’s enough to make the fear dissipate, but unfortunately often our illogical fears still persist. So move onto the next step…
2) Work out your Worst-Case Scenario
Imagine your worst nightmare comes true (in relation to this specific fear). What would that look like? What impact would it have on you. Really try to imagine feeling what you’d feel if that happened.
Be aware that for some people, their ‘worst-case scenario’ is actually success. Yes, they’re afraid that if they succeed, there will be other undesirable ramifications (they’ll be too busy, be thought of differently, have too many obligations, etc).
For most things, the very worst-case scenario is not that bad. Or we can quickly think of some things we’d do to minimize damage if that situation eventuates. (Of course, if your worst-case scenario is actually awful and irreversible, you know you’re legitimately dealing with something high-risk.)
3) Then Bask in your Best-Case Scenario
Promise me you won’t do the previous exercise unless you do this one as well.
Imagine what it would look like if everything goes right. Not just right, but perfectly. What’s the best thing that could happen from you taking this action you’re afraid of? How would you feel? What impacts might it have on your future?
Have you found that your best-case scenario is amazing and your worst-case scenario is not actually that bad? Interesting.
4) But Expect the Middle-Ground
I hope that your best-case scenario comes true, but in reality, it’s wise to recognize that your outcomes are likely to be somewhere in the middle. Probably nowhere near the glorious heights you’d hoped, but also a long way from your worst nightmares. This is grounding.
5) Find a Way to Address the Fear Head-On
If you’ve got a persistent fear that keeps coming up and blocking you, find a strategy to eliminate this fear.
Years ago, I was working inside businesses and in a position to sway the strategic initiatives and have a big influence. But yet, if someone smart challenged my ideas, I’d start doubting myself and thinking maybe I didn’t understand business all that well after all. The way I overcame this was to enroll in an MBA course at one of the most prestigious business schools in the country. After successfully completing this course, I could use logic to convince myself that my ideas had at least as much merit as anyone else’s ideas.
This might seem a bit radical but you also don’t need to go to these extremes. For instance, if your fear is based on a lack of knowledge, you can probably learn 95% of any subject by reading the top 5 books on the topic. If your fear is more skill based, you can tackle that skill as a project. For example, you could join Toastmasters to get comfortable with public speaking or watch Youtube videos on how to tackle a technical issue.
6) Decide Which Risk You’d Rather Take
Another strategy I use for overcoming fear in business is to recognize that while there are some risks with taking this particular action, there are also risks with not taking the action. What will the long-term impact be if I consistently make this choice?
For most of us, our fears essentially come down to worrying what people will think.
Personally, when I think about things logically, I ask myself which type of person I would rather be seen as. Someone who is slightly foolish and takes careless action, even if it doesn’t always work out (my fears!)? Or would I rather be seen as someone with a lot of ideas that never took any action? I’ll choose the former, thanks!
7) Commit to Take The Next Step
My final strategy is pretty foolproof because even if all of the other strategies haven’t worked, if you keep doing this one over and over, you’ll succeed despite your fear!
The strategy is to figure out the next small step that you can do towards your goal, and make that happen. Acknowledge that you have fear but as Susan Jeffers says throughout her book, “feel the fear and do it anyway”. But I’d add; don’t focus on the big project, just do the next thing that moves you closer. Send that email, call that contact, press publish, ask that someone for advice, or pull the trigger on whatever you need to be doing.
Overcoming Fear in Business Never Ends!
Unfortunately, as long as we’re continuing to grow and stretch ourselves, we’ll pretty much always have fear to contend with. Fear is a sign that we’re outside of our comfort zones, but as we’ve all heard, that’s where the magic happens 🙂
The good news is that with each action you take in the face of fear, your confidence grows and your fear diminishes. And not only does your fear diminish for that particular situation, but your muscles for overcoming fear in business are strengthened and more prepared for your next scary challenge.