As a presentation trainer and coach, I deal weekly with one of the most common fears from which people suffer – public speaking. And I have seen how just that one fear can damage a person’s ability to succeed. For my own part, I deal with slight claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) which probably won’t hurt my career, and with the fear of rejection, which could. Fortunately, I am not paralyzed by either of these phobias, but I do have enough of a physical response to them that I tend to avoid them. Staying out of caves has been pretty easy for me, but meeting new people, socializing at parties and picking up the phone to call customers (new or old) are all integral parts of my business life. So I have been forced throughout my career to control this fear of rejection and build my business. This article will show you the steps I take to control my irrational emotions, with the belief that you can learn to control yours as well.
Acknowledge and Understand
The first step in overcoming a fear is to acknowledge that we have it. However, we are so good at rationalizing our behavior that we can often mask a phobia behind logical reasoning for our avoidance. This means that instead of facing something that causes us fear, we either find other things to do or distain that which we fear as unimportant. Over time we can develop this ability to avoid these situations to such an extent that we structure our life in a way that circumvents the possibility of facing them at all. If the avoidance doesn’t get in the way of your career choices (I won’t become a spelunker, for example), then no big deal. But if you eschew a line of work that would otherwise be very rewarding because of your fear, then you are limiting your success for the sake of a phobia that you might be able to control. So take a good look at those things that cause anxiety or distress and determine what you are going to do about it. If you determine you want to take it on, go to the next step.
By taking the step to deal with your fear, you are already starting to choose value over fear. You have chosen not to let fear control your choices, but to control the fear so that you have more choices to take. You can use this technique every day in all of the difficult tasks you have to do and even the hard decisions you have to make. Move your evaluations of an activity away from your emotional side which drives your fear to your logical side so they can drive your career! Let’s say you have been asked by your boss to give a 5 minute project update at the next group meeting. Because of your fear of public speaking, you contemplate making an excuse that will keep you from taking it on. However, you know that both you and a co-worker are being considered for a supervisory position, and giving this report will be a chance to display your leadership abilities. Because this promotion is important to you, you decide to overcome your trepidation and give the report. This is choosing value over fear. I might also suggest that you take a course that will improve your public speaking ability such as Professional Communications: Strategies and Styles.
Two frogs sat on a lily pad. One decided to jump. How many frogs were still on the pad? Two – because deciding to jump is not jumping! When overcoming our fears it is important to not only decide to take action, but to follow through and actually do something. This is the point where the physical aspects of the phobia, the sweaty palms, the butterflies, etc., can exhibit themselves. The best way for me to get over these feelings and keep myself from making another excuse is to throw myself into action. Stop thinking about the fear. Stop rationalizing reasons to turn away. Stop finding other activities to do. Just do it (sorry Nike). For instance, I have a lot of different tasks to accomplish on any given day, with only one of them being to call a list of five or ten prospects or clients. Because of this, it is amazingly easy for me to find something to do that is important, but is NOT calling my clients! At some point I have to tell myself to stop being a coward and pick up the phone. The amazing reality is that once I start making the calls, I get into great conversations and most or all of my fears slip away! In the words of David J. Schwartz (author of The Magic Of Thinking Big), “Action cures fear.”
Finally, you must be able to build on the victory by doing it again and again. You cannot allow too much time to pass so that the fear is allowed to build up again. Don’t just wait for another opportunity to present itself. Put yourself into situations that cause you to employ your new ability. My wife, Kathy, was not an enthusiastic public speaker, not because of a lack of ability, but from anxiety and an absence of opportunity. So when she decided to overcome this fear, she signed up to be a lector at our church. This allowed her to be in front of an audience at least once a month. At first it was difficult for her to read to the congregation, but now that she has done it for five years, she doesn’t even get concerned. One of the best analogies I’ve heard for overcoming fear is that of an airliner taking off. The pilot pushes the throttles to full and the plane moves from a dead stop to a speed of 130 miles per hour for takeoff. It then continues to build speed as it climbs to its cruising speed and altitude. During this whole time the pilot must keep the thrust at a high level or the plane will stall and crash. A plane will never get off the ground if the captain hits full throttle for two minutes then shuts it down for an hour, then pushes it to full throttle for two minutes and shuts it down again. It is the same for us as we overcome fear. If we do the thing we dread and don’t do it again for three months, when we finally go back to doing it again, we have to start all over. But if we do the thing once or twice a week for three months, we will eventually get to the point where we can back off on the number of times we do it and maintain the same level of assuredness.
Don’t let fears and anxieties keep you from realizing your full potential. Take control of those fears by taking thoughtful and definitive action. I have experienced the value of this method and you can as well.
By Bill Hellkamp, Owner, REACH Development Systems