While living in Colorado in my 20s, I joined a ski racing team in a town league. One cold and snowy race day, my coach was preparing me for a tough course. He said, “It’s really rough out there today. Skiers are wiping out left and right and the course is icy and fast.” As he was talking, all I could think was, “how can I get out of this race without anyone noticing?” I was scared. As I wavered in my commitment, the coach leaned in and said, “Liz, just remember, if you think you’re going too fast, go faster.”
Here’s the thing about ski racing. If you start going too fast on skis and get scared, your body can pull up out of your tuck, which causes you to lose control and often fall. However, if you lean into the speed and lean into your fear, you can regain control. Essentially, by embracing your fear -- you gain back the control.
Life is not that different from ski racing. Fear is our friend. Our fear arises when something is amiss and needs to be addressed. Human beings have incredible instincts around fear. Our feelings of fear can protect us and help us make better decisions. However, fear often gets a bad rap because many people have negative responses to fear and fear can stir up negative emotions and past experiences. But, if we learn to lean into our fear and understand it, we can use it to propel us forward and make our fear work for us instead of against us. In order to do that well, we have to understand how we respond to fear.
Here are some of the common responses people have when they use fear unproductively:
Shut down – Many people shut down when they get scared. They get so fearful that they quit (not just ski races) or move too slowly or do nothing at all to adjust to the challenge they are facing.
Panic – Other people go to the opposite extreme and overreact to their fears. They panic and predict doomsday. In their panic, they make drastic changes that are neither well thought out nor helpful in addressing the approaching problem.
Ignore it – In this case, they stick their head in the sand. They would rather pretend it’s not happening. They just completely ignore the problem and keep moving forward as if nothing is amiss.
Overly Optimistic – Being too optimistic isn’t helpful either. Overly optimistic people often fail to see the problem realistically, and therefore fail to make the right adjustments. They are too positive and miss the severity of the challenge.
Typically, we struggle with fear because we don’t like to be uncomfortable.
People have an unrealistic expectation that they should be happy all the time. And even though we logically know life is supposed to be hard, we don’t really believe it. When life is difficult, we inherently believe that it’s not normal and needs to be fixed immediately instead of sitting in our discomfort and leaning into the speed to go faster. We want instant relief, we pull up because we are scared and we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we are not supposed to ever be uncomfortable.
If we lean into our fear and embrace it, we will regain control. To do this we need to:
- Diagnose the fear - Calmly assess what is causing the fear so that you can understand the root of it. This will help you do a cost/benefit analysis on how to approach it.
- Stay with it -Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Look at the situation as an opportunity not an obstacle. Don’t avoid the fear; lean into it so you can problem solve.
- Take action - Once you understand the challenge, meet fear with action. This way you will influence circumstances rather than letting circumstances influence you.
Fear is a critical emotion to understand. Its gives us the opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive. By paying attention to your fears and understanding their root, you will be able to divert a number of problems before they arise. Many industry leaders across the board see challenges coming far in advance and will proactively shift to face them head-on or avoid them all together.
Embracing our fears can push us to achieve more in our lives. It helps us take risks, experiment, fail and adjust, and then succeed. So stare down your fears, lean into your discomfort and gain a competitive advantage that will drive better results – and even win the race.