Happy New Year. May 2017 be your scariest year yet.
A very happy New Year to you. Let’s hope this one is filled with more uncertainty, fear and uncomfortable moments than last year.
I’m not talking about the East and West investing in more nuclear weapons. Or the global spread of unsavoury politics. Those things are genuinely worrisome and are difficult for any one individual to change. I’m talking about you and your everyday life. If you’re a New Year’s Resolution kinda-person, I think you should be aiming to put yourself in discomfort a lot more regularly. If you’re not a New Year’s Resolution kinda-person, you should maybe make an exception just this once.[clickToTweet tweet=”Learning to confront what scares us is how we grow into better people.” quote=”Learning to confront what scares us is how we grow into better people.”]
But this isn’t so much about just making yourself scared for the sake of it; it’s about learning to deal with fear and uncertainty. Because fear makes our lives smaller. Learning to confront what scares us is how we grow into better people. The alternative is stagnating in our comfortable little lives where things aren’t going to get any more interesting between here and the big dirt-nap.
Fear is the ultimate creativity-killer
Over the years, I’ve run lots of creative workshops where I’ve asked people what stops them coming up with better ideas. Almost always, the answers are linked to some kind of fear. The fear of not thinking you’ve got the ability. The fear of criticism. The fear of uncertainty. The fear of the boss. The fear of succeeding and ending up with even more work.
It’s fear that keeps ideas small and unchallenging. And the fact that you’re on this site reading this article indicates that you’re looking for something more than that. Because a creative life is a fulfilled life. It’s a series of little achievements that you can take pride in. It makes you feel like you’ve contributed to the world in a constructive way.
Fear eats your soul
Fear affects your entire outlook on life. It doesn’t lead to good things. But don’t just take my word for it, listen to Yoda:
Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.
This isn’t just a great movie quote, it contains real insight. I’m sure you know some people who are more comfortable shooting down other people’s ideas than coming up with their own. They’ll bitterly grumble about new initiatives, giving a list of reasons they won’t work. They rarely have anything positive to say and they say it loudly.
There’s nothing brave about being a critic. The motivation is usually to maintain the status quo. Because they’re scared of the unknown future, the extra work it might involve and the potential it has to make them obsolete. These critics aren’t adding value – they’re preventing progress.
If you find yourself doing this, you need to stop now or prepare for a miserable future that you’re not a part of.
Scary things help us grow
You can only construct ideas from the stuff you have in your mind. And your mind is only as big as your circle of experience. It contains all of the things you’ve done, feelings you’ve felt, observations you’ve made and more about the Kardashians than anyone ever needs to know. If a nugget of information isn’t in your mind, it’s of no use to you.
But we tend to be creatures of habit that order the same coffees, visit the same websites, take the same route to work and buy the same style of clothes. These habits don’t grow our minds. They suffocate them.
Our comfort zones naturally shrink over time so we should be looking to constantly expand them before they smother us and leave us with nothing but comfortable routines and a suspicion of everything we’re not familiar with. No one aspires to being the grumpy, xenophobic , complainer in the retirement home. There’s a reason these people don’t get many visits from their family.
Use fear to guide you
There’s a lot you can learn from extreme sports adrenaline-junkies. Do you think a wingsuit flier is placidly calm as they skim the Alpine treetops at a couple of hundred miles an hour? Absolutely not. They’re terrified. And that’s what keeps them alive. They know how to use fear to their advantage which is something we should all learn to do.
When you feel fear, don’t run from it – interpret it. Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable. It could very well be that the reason you’re nervous is the very reason you should say “yes”.
If your organisation says they’re looking for a new approach, you should be choosing something that’s unproven. That naturally means there’s no absolute guarantee of success, you’ll probably need to learn new skills, it may take more effort to convince your superiors, you may find resistance from your colleagues and, if it fails, it may affect your reputation. That’s naturally going to make anyone feel nervous. Shutting down any ideas that make you feel scared will mean that you’re not answering the brief.
When it comes to business decisions, we need to understand that fear is a personal, physiological reaction. It’s our brain telling us that there could be some discomfort ahead. And by reacting to the fear without thinking, we’re putting ourselves before the needs of the organisation. That makes us a liability, not an asset.
The world of business is crying out for fresh ideas. If you want to take up that challenge, you need to learn to be uncomfortable.
Fear is your friend. Make 2017 the year that you learn how to use it to your advantage.[clickToTweet tweet=”Fear is your friend. Make 2017 the year that you learn how to use it to your advantage.” quote=”Fear is your friend. Make 2017 the year that you learn how to use it to your advantage.”]
And if you want to turn it into a resolution…
- Do something that you’ve never done before at least once a week. Even if that’s just ordering a different coffee or taking a new route to work.
- Strike up a conversation with someone you fundamentally disagree with and just listen. Respect their point of view. And don’t argue.
- Plan to do something that makes you uncomfortable at least once a month. Maybe delivering a presentation. Or confronting your deep-seated fear of clowns. Plan it, put it in the diary and embrace it.
- Read a different newspaper every day for a week. Preferably one you hate the idea of.
- When an option makes you feel anxious, spend some time analysing why before you dismiss it out of hand.
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