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.

6 steps for mastering meeting organization

6 steps for mastering meeting organization

This blog post was sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud.

Meetings can be the bane of our existence! A great many of them are poorly run and useless… but even the useful ones have problems.

Note taking! I take copious notes in meetings. After all, in good meetings, there’s a lot of good stuff that needs to be captured: decisions, their rationale, vendor information, and action items.

Electronics don’t do it. They’re distracting and take you away from the people dynamics—which are often the part that ultimately make or break you. You want your attention on people during a meeting; you need to spot those telltale flinches that signal potential blackmail material. It’s hard to watch the people when you’re trying to discreetly play Civilization 5 at the same time.

Paper lets you keep your attention mainly on people. And I like paper, but it can get disorganized and is hard to find stuff. My solution? A hybrid system that uses both: electronics for reference, paper notes for recording.

Create folders for each project

Give each project its own folder on a cloud service, like Adobe Document Cloud. All documents and resources related to that project goes in that folder. Make that a habit, and you just don’t have to think about it. Everything related to Project X goes in folder X.

When you need to find the secret plans related to Project X, you instantly know your go-to folder: folder X. It’s simple, and very effective if you use it rigorously.

Put background material into the folder

When there are background documents needed for a project or decision, they go in the project folder. While I may take large hardcopy documents to the meeting itself, for anything that’s only a few pages, I quickly scan it using my smartphone with a scanning app like Adobe Scan, then the PDF file goes into the project folder as background material.

Since Adobe Scan has optical character recognition of the scanned documents, it makes the PDF text searchable. When you need to find reference information quickly, rather than flipping through a stack of papers, you can simply do a quick search within the PDF.

I generally put background materials in a subfolder called REFERENCE so they don’t clutter up the main project folder.

Take notes on paper

Remember how you’re going to take notes on paper, so you can be on the lookout for the subtle interpersonal dynamics that reveal the true nature of the power hierarchy? Do it. Take the notes on paper.

When the group makes a decision, note it, and write a big exclamation point next to it. When there are action items, write them in the lower right part of the paper, with a little checkbox next to each one. Now, with a glance, you’ll be able to review your notes and find both the decisions and the action items. Consider using blank, unlined paper if you can write neatly.

Summarize and Scan, Scan, Scan

At the end of the meeting, if you have several pages of notes, you may want to copy all the decisions and action items onto a single page at the end, for quick reference.

Then … scan your notes and save as a PDF using your scanning app. You’ll end up with a single PDF that has an easy-to-use summary page, with all the details saved for the future. You can also use Adobe Acrobat to combine your PDF’s, update notes, and easily share with others on your team.

Name your files for easy retrieval.

Upload the PDF to the project folder, with a filename that starts with the word MEETING and the date in yymmdd format. For example, MEETING 180316 Marketing department.

When you sort the project folder by filename, all meeting notes will be together since they all start with MEETING. They will then be grouped in order by date.

Using a combination of electronic and paper workflow lets you keep your attention where it needs to be at any given time. You use paper when your attention needs to be on the people, and use scanning, project folders, and more to make it neat, easy, and fast to access information when you need it.

How to streamline your paper flow while traveling

How to streamline your paper flow while traveling

This blog post was sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud.

I know in my gut that business travel is what drives the paper industry’s profitability. Every step you take ends up producing a receipt, business card, or some important note scribbled on a napkin, in the hope it will become the Next Big Thing. Then you’re supposed to sort out this massive pile of former trees and report it. Yeah, right. Sorting expense report receipts is really high on everyone’s list of “most favorite task, ever.”

Though I often consider smartphones to be drains on productivity, taming the travel paper flow is one place they really shine. I love using “scanning apps”, like Adobe Scan to keep my travel paperwork completely sorted out from the start.

Adobe Scan takes a picture of a document, lets you crop it, and turns it into a fully searchable and editable PDF. You can organize several scans into one PDF document, and organize the PDFs into folders.

Use Scanning to Manage Your Receipts

Save your receipts throughout the day. When you get a receipt, jot down on the receipt what it was for, who you were with, and so on (which you need to do anyway). When you return to your room at the end of the day, you’ll get out all your saved receipts and super quickly deal with them once and for all.

Make a summary page. Total up the receipts into categories—how much you spent on food, how much on transportation, etc. Grab a blank piece of paper, write the date, and the summary of the categories.

Then open your scanning app, and snap a quick scan of the cover sheet with the totals, followed by the receipts. Your app will detect the pages, correct for perspective, and save it all in a PDF document. Include today’s date in the filename.

Voila! You now have a single PDF with today’s receipts already scanned and totaled, with the details noted on each receipt. If you have to fill out a separate expense report later, you’ve already done the totaling by category, and each PDF separates out a separate day. You don’t need to wait until the end of the day to scan your receipts. You can add each new receipt to your existing PDF, and then create your cover page at the end of the day and add it to the start of your file.

Adobe Scan’s optical character recognition makes your PDF searchable by any text mentioned on the receipts. This is a huge plus that you’ll appreciate later. When you need to go directly to an expense, just search for the name of the company on the receipt, and it will pop right up.

Organize by expense category. Depending on your reporting requirements, rather than organizing your scans by date, you might put all the receipts of one type into the same PDF. For example, you might want all your transportation receipts in one document, and all your meal receipts in another.

In this case, the easiest course of action is to sort your receipts as you get them, and save them up to scan them all at once. At the end of your trip, create a cover sheet with each category and its totals, and scan the cover sheet and all the receipts in that category.

Capture maps

Since you’re often in unfamiliar territory—a conference center, hotel, or corporate campus—you need to know how to get around. When you spot a map of the facility, scan it. Often the facility maps are on a wall, or printed in a book that’s inconvenient to carry around. But the filtering included in a scanning app can often give you a good-quality map even if you snap it off the hotel wall or out of a conference book.

Use Scanning for Conference Notes and Directions

You’re often traveling for meetings or learning. Doing a good job means having real engagement, with your attention focused on what’s going on around you, not on wrestling with your technology. If you take notes you’ll learn the material farbetter taking notes by hand on paper. You can keep more of your attention on whoever’s speaking, and you engage more of your brain in learning and participating. So do that! Take your notes on paper. At the top of each sheet, write a few keywords so you can glance at the top of the sheet and know what’s on it.

At the end of a session, scan your notes into a single PDF for the session. You can then pull the scanned sheets into Acrobat to annotate it as needed, adding circles, arrows, highlights, and anything else that will help pull your attention to the most important areas.

If you aren’t using a scanning app to organize your paper flow as you travel, grab one now. Tame your receipts and your business cards, so you can spend more time on substance, and less on administrivia.