Two conversations rule our lives today: the one about success and the one about failure. There’s hundreds if not thousands of articles written on how to achieve success and how to avoid failure. Well, in my experience, the only real difference between people who succeed and those who fail is in their ability to control fear.
We all have fears, it’s a fact of life. It’s about survival instinct and it is completely normal. Generally speaking, however, people who succeed in business are those who are aware of their fears, who accept their fears as something normal and thus decide to control their fear rather than let fear control their lives.
To control fear first you need to understand it. You need to understand why you fear and what it is you are really afraid of?
Once you’ve got the answer to these questions, it is a matter of choice whether you let your fears rule your life or you decide to put them aside and focus on the task at hand.
Here’s some answers for you. We fear because:
We take life too seriously
Many of us feel stress mainly because we take life too seriously and hence what we are doing on a daily basis the same way. What we never ask ourselves however is why. Why are we treating what we are dealing with as though our life depends on it.
And the more important question – does it really?
Years ago, at one of my first jobs my boss, who I admired for his ability to stay calm in the hardest of situations, saw me stressing out about an upcoming event at work that I was in charge of. He asked me to stop for a moment and ask myself the following question “Will this event matter to you in 5 years time? Will it have any real impact on your life?”
I quickly realised what the obvious answer to this question was – No. No, it won’t. Then he went on to ask me “Then why are you acting as if it will, letting it take over your life and ruin your day?”
Good question huh!
Will this matter to you in 5 years? is a fundamental question. Ever since this incident I’ve used it to keep my fears in check and not let them ruin any of my days.
Whenever I feel my stress levels are rising I just ask myself will this matter in 5 year time. And in 99.9% of the cases the answer is – No, it won’t.
Realising a simple fact as this, is liberating. It shifts your focus from the fear of what may happen to just making sure you do your best whatever the situation. Because at the end of the day, all you can really do in any situation is give 100%, the rest is out of your control. Hopefully everything will be ok, but things do go wrong sometimes and that’s ok too as long as you realise it’s not the end of the world.
So every time you feel anxiety just ask yourself: Will this matter in 5 years time?
We don’t want to fail
Most of the time our fears, whatever they may be disguised as, come down to one fear really – the fear of failing. Because we define failure as something negative, we want to avoid it at any cost. So we are constantly preoccupied with the troublesome possibility of failing. I admit that the disappointment that comes as a direct results from failure is quite unpleasant but failure in itself is not always a bad thing.
If you think about it, failure is nothing but achieving an outcome that is different from the planned or intended one. And disappointment is the most natural response in this situation. In fact, most of the time it is disappointment that we fear rather than the outcome itself.
But if you just ask yourself this simple question: So what if I fail?, you will realise that while it may be a bit unpleasant, it won’t be the end of the world.
And yet we let our fears stop us from going after what we want……
I work with this incredibly talented young entrepreneur who is brilliant in his field but really insecure when it comes to proactively going after potential clients. He is afraid to pick up the phone and ask for business and really nervous when he has to talk to people about the services he provides. Naturally, this is a problem as he doesn’t have a steady inflow of clients.
When we sat down to talk about it and we got to the bottom of his insecurity, it became clear that what stopped him was his own fear of people not liking his ideas. He was afraid that rejection would make him feel as if he’s not good enough, as if he’s failed.
I told him that of course some people won’t think they need his services and of course many people will reject him but so what? Surely there will be also many people who will be happy he reached out to them and helped them. Rejection is just part of the process and the sooner he accepted this part, the easier it would be. This is a simple fact and while this is quite obvious somehow it hadn’t occurred to him that of course there will be rejection.
Once he made his peace with that and stopped treating rejection as failure or a sign of incapability he was much calmer and eventually got really good at pursuing clients.
So whenever you feel stressed about something, don’t forget to ask yourself So what if I fail?
You will get up, you dust yourself off and you move on. And you will be one step closer to succeeding the next time. Failure is just a part of life. The part without which success wouldn’t exist either.
We imagine the worst case scenario
Our fears are also closely related to what we imagine would happen if we fail. Think about it and you’ll realise that your underlying belief is that failing in this or that will unleash a series of events that will have a long term adverse effect on your whole life.
If you fail this project, you will lose a client and if that happens and you lose another one down the road, you won’t be able to pay the salaries, and you will have to let some of your staff go and eventually your business will go downhill. Suddenly, in your mind, losing one client equates to losing your business and that’s just never really the case.
Similar scenarios play out in our heads daily but according to research our worst fears never actually materialise. It is all in our minds. Thus, the only realistic danger is that of letting our fears from possible negative outcomes take over our life.
So whenever you feel afraid, just ask yourself:
What’s the worst that can happen? But also: Is it truly realistic?
If you lose this one account, you won’t be able to pay your bills? If you can’t pay your bills your business will go under? If your business goes under you won’t be able to rebuild it? You won’t be able to figure something else out? There won’t be anybody to lend you a hand? You will end up homeless?
There’s a lot of ifs before you hit whatever you define as rock bottom. But even if you do, that’s not necessarily bad in the long run. Let me remind you that many self made millionaires and celebrities were penniless and even homeless before they achieved massive success.
I believe it is indeed due to the fact they hit rock bottom that they succeeded. Because at rock bottom you have nothing to lose, so you are free of the fears that were holding you back before.
Maybe the rock bottom, that you are so afraid of, is nothing but a blessing in disguise.
So take life as it comes and don’t worry too much. As they say:
Never take life too seriously. Nobody comes out if it alive anyway.
Don’t over-think it, take your chances, do your best, keep getting up after you fall and keep trying until you get what you want. Don’t let your fears live your life for you.