How to overcome fears and microfears that sabotage you, part 3

How to overcome fears and microfears that sabotage you, part 3

As we saw in part 1, and part 2, we often we get stalled because we have "microfears." These steer us away from the Important Things we want. It’s our thinking that does it. We imagine what might go wrong, feel a bit of fear, and then suddenly notice we have a pressing urge to watch Netflix.

The good part is that we’ve noticed how things might go wrong. The bad part is that we’ve responded by avoiding, not by taking care of what might go wrong.

  • Where are you stalled?
  • What’s not getting done?
  • Where do you shy away?

It’s easy to find fears; just ask!

Stop right now and think of where you’re stalled. Now just ask yourself:

  • What am I afraid of?

Give as many answers as come to mind. Then give one or two more. You’ll often find the answers spring to mind quickly.

Use your brain, deliberately

Remember: your brain is not logical. List the answers, no matter how realistic they may be.

Imagine you’re afraid to say "No" when your boss asks you to work weekends. You might have a sort-of-reasonable fear like "I’m afraid I’ll get fired if I say No." You might also have over-the-top fears. "I’m afraid I’ll die alone in a gutter, covered in mud, smelling of bad whisky."

Both are triggering your fear response, so you need to deal with both of them.

Separate emotion and information

Now bring in your Thinking Brain to address your imagined futures. For each one, mentally make a plan for how you can prevent the fear from happening, and how you can address it if it does happen.

I’m afraid I’ll get fired. I ask my boss ahead of time, "what will happen if I say ‘no’?" I can also keep up-to-date on my networking so if it does happen, I have a fallback plan.

I’m afraid I’ll die alone in a gutter. I’ll look at my bank balance and credit limits to be sure I can get enough money to keep my apartment if I get fired.

Now implement those plans.

Congratulations! You’ve handled a microfear. You heard the messages your brain was concerned about. Rather than falling into fight/flight/freeze, you made a concrete plan. The next move is up to you, not your fear.

The microfears that derail you are imaginary. Literally! part 2

The microfears that derail you are imaginary. Literally! part 2

When things get stalled, as we saw in the article that answered the question What is a Microfear?, fear is often why. Not big fears; small ones.

  • We’re afraid of failing at something we want to learn.
  • We’re afraid of starting an ambitious project that might fail.
  • We’re afraid of choosing the wrong job and missing a better opportunity.

Ash realized that their business partner was no longer a good fit for the business. But they were scared to have the difficult conversation, because it might destroy the relationship.

Look carefully. All those fears are about something that isn’t happening in front of you. Every one.

Fear began as a way to save us from danger that was present and immediate. We’d spot a Saber Tooth tiger or killer jellyfish and get afraid. Very afraid. And we’d run, or fight, or freeze. As long as we chose the right one for the occasion, those reactions served us well.

Our brain still has that reaction, however, even to our own imagination. We run a mental movie of our business partner getting upset during a conversation. Then we get afraid that they really are upset. But we’re really just projecting what we think will happen. Then we get scared of our mental movie and decide we won’t have that difficult conversation.

If you aren’t making progress on Something Important, blame fear. The fear comes from your beliefs and thoughts about the future.

Fear = perceived danger + emotion

Yay, Brain!! We can anticipate problems and respond in advance.

This is a good thing!

What sucks is the fight/flight/freeze response. It helps us survive a killer jellyfish, but not much else. And it certainly doesn’t help us have a difficult conversation when we need to.

When you anticipate a problem, however, you have plenty of time to be smart about it. If you can defuse fight/flight/freeze while still knowing the problem, you can use your smarts to deal with it.

Without fight/flight/freeze: Ash imagines the business partner freaking out and … calmly calmly and carefully rehearses the conversation. Ash tries several presentations, choosing the most respectful, gentle approach. (In the real case, the partner knew he wasn’t a fit. He was relieved to discuss it and left amicably.)

Without fight/flight/freeze, you can take deliberate action. You can plan. You can take action to choose your future. You don’t have to let your emotions choose your actions:

You imagine failing at something you want to learn … and you calmly identify tutors, extra reading, and other resources in advance to help.

You’re afraid you might fail at an ambitious project … and you recruit a team with the needed skills. You do good risk management up front, making success much more likely.

You believe you might choose the wrong job … and you make a plan. You keep in touch with your other prospects so you have a backup network.

Make your fears work for you

Your brain is great at projecting What Might Happen. You have plenty of time to plan. But when your fear hijacks your thinking, you end up avoiding the very things you want to do.

  • Where are you stalled?
  • What’s not getting done?
  • Where do you shy away?

In part 3, I’ll share some tips for finding and overcoming your fears.

Stalled? Procrastinating? Abandoned dreams? It could be microfears. Part 1

Stalled? Procrastinating? Abandoned dreams? It could be microfears. Part 1

There’s a lot that doesn’t get done, despite our best laid plans. There’s that novel we’ve dreamed about writing. The weekly billing, which always seems to be late. The networking and prospecting we need to keep our business running.

Early in my career, I learned about human motivation from my mentor, Joe Yeager. He had a simple, but surprisingly profound, model of achievement. To get what you want, you must:

  • Want to do it
  • Know How to get it
  • Have the chance to pursue it

It’s the “Want to, How to, Chance to” model. It applies to organizations that aren’t finishing important initiatives, as well as people. Give it a shot.

What’s something that isn’t getting done in your life or business? Is the problem you don’t want it to get done, you don’t know how to do it, or you don’t have the chance to do it?

If you’re stalled, check your “Want to”

Here’s a secret: if you’re stuck, it’s almost always because of your “want to.” When you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to learn how, and you’ll find a way to make the chance.

But even if you’re a high-achiever, even if you have complete mastery in your life, your “want to” can sabotage you every time.

Why? Because “want to” is all emotion. Emotion is powerful. Emotion is irrational. Emotion comes from the hindbrain and can override your logic and common sense. And your emotions can contradict your conscious desires and make you flame out.

Emotion drives excuses

When we somehow aren’t taking action, we have reasons. Indeed, the smarter we are, the more plausible the excuses. But dig deeper. Beneath the excuses is emotion:

  • The programming class that would let me change careers doesn’t fit my schedule. (Truth: I was scared I couldn’t hack it.)
  • It’s OK if my business partner doesn’t fit into the business any more. He can be a good will ambassador. (Truth: I’m avoiding a hard conversation.)
  • Once the kids leave home, then I’ll lose weight. (Truth: I’ve always been big. If I lose weight, who am I? I don’t know how to be thin.)

Fear kills “want to”

Notice a pattern? The emotion behind our excuses is almost always fear. Not big, traumatic fear. Tiny, lurking fear. I call these “microfears.”

  • … the fear of failure
  • … the fear of hurting a friend
  • … the fear of being someone new

Fear triggers our fight/flight/freeze response. So it hijacks our ability to do the things we know we need to do.

Little fears make us avoid

The things we stall, we stall from fear. Why will the mail pile never get sorted?

… because we’re afraid of confronting those bank statements that need to be reconciled
… because we’re afraid the itemized credit card bill will force us to confront the real cost of our six-week volcano-chasing holiday
… because we’ll out that we’re about to be audited (if you never see the notice, it didn’t happen, right? Sadly, no. The tax authorities the tax authorities show up in person at 7 am. True story.)

Fears are findable!

Over my years as a coach, I’ve discovered that:

  1. you can identify the fears that are driving (or not driving) you
  2. there are techniques that are consistently effective at breaking through fear and getting you moving

In part 2, I’ll explore the structure of fear & how it works.

Millennials don’t save? Of course not. Neither would you.

Millennials don’t save? Of course not. Neither would you.

Why are millennials broke? Systems. Not choices.

I recently read an online discussion in which Baby Boomers and Gen Xers resoundingly chastised millennials who don’t save enough for retirement. It seems that instead, millennials are struggling with student debt. The crowd was quick to dismiss the problem as irresponsible millennials spending too much for college degrees that pay too little (e.g. Art History).

Really? Millennials (raised by Boomers and Gen Xers, by the way) are an entire generation of people who simply made bad college choices at historically unprecedented levels? Get real. Remember who chooses to attend college and decide on a major: An 18-year-old with no real world experience, who probably knows nothing about modeling lifetime financial implications of their decisions. Expecting them to be able to choose well is naive. Indeed, many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers made really bad choices. But when they were college age, the system was different. A bad choice, financially, wouldn’t—and didn’t—cripple you for life.

The fundamental economics of education and saving have changed.

That was Then

When Gen Xers were growing up, a college education cost a total of about a year and a half’s salary. MIT four-year tuition was $40,000 before books and expenses. A graduating student could get a job that paid a salary in the $30,000 range.

Furthermore, students could get jobs that paid enough to make a serious dent in student expenses. On-campus student jobs paid about $10, and a 1/4-time job would bring in $5,000 a year. That’s enough to pay half of the tuition bill. Today, student jobs still pay about $10. Needless to say, it won’t be covering half of the tuition bill.

To make up the difference, student loans fill the gap. Student loan interest rates were comparable to rates offered in savings accounts, so once a graduate started saving money, their asset base could compound at about the same rate as their student loans, so their net worth could be at least somewhat stable.

Starting salaries generally paid a living wage (enough for rent, food, utilities, a bit of entertainment, and savings), without the need for multiple jobs. And a college degree was a genuine ticket to a better-than-average job.

This is Now

Today, a college education costs closer to 4 years’ starting salary. MIT tuition is about $184,000.

Debt loads can’t be easily reduced by student jobs. No jobs available to students can make much of a dent in the $46,000/year tuition. Student jobs still pay in the $10-$12/hour range.

A starting salary of, say, $50,000 (higher than many are likely to get) isn’t actually enough to live in many cities while paying down student debt. While saying “move somewhere cheap” sounds attractive, the kind of jobs that make use of a college education are often located in big cities that aren’t that cheap.

Student loan interest rates are much higher than you can get in savings accounts, they aren’t dischargeable via bankruptcy. And the college degree that cost all this money is simply needed to get a job at all. Except from a certain class of top-tier schools, it isn’t a ticket to a comparatively higher salary.

Our Choices are as Bad as Millennials’

Everything I’ve read about Baby Boomers and Gen Xers is that we suck at saving money. We may have been living nice lifestyles, but we’re anything but role models when it comes to good lifetime financial decisions. But unlike millennials, we lived in a time where circumstances gave us decent lifestyles despite our bad choices. And our bad choices will, again, fall on the millennials. Our retirement years will make their middle-age a living hell, as they struggle to deal with an aging population that saved nothing and expects to be supported.

Millennials probably aren’t better at long-term financial planning than the rest of us, but they likely aren’t any worse. They were born into a set of circumstances, however, where the road to success that worked for us—a college education—had changed. That road, itself, costs more, benefits less, and creates circumstances that would be just as devastating for any Gen Xer or Baby Boomer.

Focus on what you want, are good at, and is needed. Can you help?

Last week, I wrote about starting the year with a strategic plan that looks both outward and inward. And this year, behind the scenes, my strategy has had some big changes.

How have you chosen your direction for this phase of your career? The best place to put your professional energies can be found at the intersection of:

  • What you’re good at
  • What you enjoy
  • What people need

For years, executive coaching brought these together for me. But there’s been a shift. There’s a fourth element in the mix:

  • What can scale

If you’ve got it, grow it!

Sometimes what you’ve got is enough. For years, one-on-one coaching was completely rewarding. But as my audience has grown, I believe that there’s a chance to be a bigger force for good in the world. So why not go for it?

In 2017, you’ll find my emphasis shifting from one-on-one coaching to online and offline courses, workshops, and experiences. The curriculum I helped develop for Harvard Business School touched tens of thousands of people. My goal by 2018 is to be developing and delivering online and offline courses, workshops, and experiences that help tens of thousands of people harness the tools of business in service of creating their extraordinary lives.

I need your help

Are you a helpful person? The missing puzzle piece is knowing what people need. That means you! So we can collaborate on meeting your needs. Would you mind giving me some quick advice, by answering three quick questions to help shape the courses being developed?

It will take about a minute or so. Answering the questions will be fun and exciting! And maybe, just maybe, answering will give you the body of a 20-year-old supermodel, make you win the lottery, and turn every piece of cardboard in your entire recycling bin into solid gold!!

(Truly, I said “maybe,” but do you really want to chance missing out?)

Click here to give some quick advice on what I should do in 2017.

Thanks very much!!

Have a great 2017!