Risky Women by Megan Ragsdale – purchase now on Amazon

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Let’s Talk About Our Fear and How It Holds Us Back

Our fears extend beyond the basic fear of bodily harm to include learned, psychological fears that can prevent us from experiencing personal growth and taking risks. Management consultant and author Dr. Karl Albrecht identified a model for the five main human fears that encapsulates the different physical and mental fears we face:

  1. Extinction: Fear for our survival and fear of death
  2. Mutilation: Fear of something happening to our bodies, including anything that would cause physical harm, from bugs to other humans
  3. Loss of autonomy: Fear of mentally and physically losing control, feeling trapped, or being controlled by others
  4. Separation: Fear of rejection, embarrassment, or abandonment
  5. Ego death: Fear of shame, humiliation, and other things that destroy our self-perception, leaving us feeling worthless

Fear is a useful emotion to work with when it’s correctly matched to risk level. Remember that time when you were around people who made you feel unsafe, and you chose not to get in the car? In that case, fear was your ally. You did not take the risk. However, fear-based risk assessments are counterproductive when the fear exceeds the actual risk. This is when we start overestimating the potential negative outcomes of a risk because we feel uncertain or afraid. We think our level of fear is equal to the level of the risk, which is untrue most of the time. We struggle to tell the difference between a real threat, when our very survival is in jeopardy, and an imagined threat, which is a fear of something happening in the future that is driven by worry or anxiety.

When we are afraid, we also begin to conflate and confuse the three Ps: probability, possibility, and potential. We think, therefore it is. We think our fear has a high probability, or likelihood, of being realized, instead of the possibility of multiple outcomes, including positive ones. For example, if you have to stand up and present your part of the business to the board, and you are not a strong presenter, you will envision all the terrible things that could happen, such as stumbling over your words, providing misinformation, and getting roasted by the board for not knowing your stuff. In reality, if you simply take some proactive steps to better prepare you for the presentation, you can increase your chances for success.

Being in a fear state makes our brains work less optimally, so we may rush to judgment or action before considering all our options. Therefore, we must invest the time in cultivating self-awareness of our emotional state, especially fear, because recognizing how we respond to a situation on an emotional and physical level gives us the ability to choose what we do next. 

If, for example, we notice that we’re spending a lot of time worrying about a future event, we might also notice that our bodies feel restless, wiry, and uncomfortable. Do we want to make decisions from that state, or do we want to be aware enough to change our current state into something calmer and more centered before we respond to the situation? Where our minds go, the energy flows. 

We have a finite amount of energy to spend, and if we give the lion’s share to stoking the fires of fear, we will have less energy for cultivating our new idea, or for the work that makes us feel more fulfilled.

This is an excerpt from my new book Risky Women: How to Reach the Top Levels of Leadership or Know When It’s Time to Get The Hell Out. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Porchlight. For more content like this follow me on LinkedIn and sign up for my newsletter: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meganfarrell/

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