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.

Social media and the deliberate life: is divorce in the cards?

Social media and the deliberate life: is divorce in the cards?

There are two ways to live your life: you can drive it, or be driven. Today, I’m not talking about driving your life in a grand, spiritual sense, but in a micro-sense.

You can never replace time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can never get it back. You have a limited supply (though with no fuel gauge, you don’t know how much you have left. And in every waking second, you get to choose your actions in that moment.

Friday was a passion day! Someone was wrong on the internet, and it was my Higher Purpose to make sure they knew it. Six hundred words into commenting on their status update, it hit me: I waste an unbelievable amount of time on Facebook. I log in 3-5 times a day, sometimes for as much as 20 minutes at time. Let’s be very optimistic and assume that it’s only 5 times a day, 6 minutes each time. That’s 30 minutes a day, or using the 3/30 rule, three weeks a year. On Facebook. And that’s being very optimistic.

Technology is making us reactive, rather than deliberative

Now make no mistake: Facebook is engineered quite deliberately to be addictive. If someone were to engineer a physical substance to be that addictive, we would outlaw the substance and throw them in jail. As it is, Facebook being a Silicon Valley success story, we celebrate it instead. But Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, iPhones, notifications—these have trained us to react rather than deliberate. And then, rather than living our own lives, we just become random Dopamine-driven reaction machines.

Where is life getting sacrificed

Many years ago, I wrote a lot! My article ideas file has about 300 ideas waiting to be turned into articles. It hasn’t been touched since Facebook came along. My free writing time has vanished into status updates, cat picture comments, and pointless political arguments that aren’t going to convince anyone of anything.

The toxic 2016 election discussions finally got to me this evening. My friend Tim has changed my Facebook password for me, and I’m going without until after the election is over. But I’m not abandoning writing. The time that would have gone into the Book of Face is now going to go into writing articles longer than 140 characters.

I’m very curious to experience the result. It may well be that my ideas begin to become articles. Perhaps I’ll try rock climbing. Or pursuing inventing. Or take a class. Or binge-watch Black Mirror. Whatever the decision, it will be deliberate, not reactive.

It’s your turn

  1. Choose what to stop. Where are you spending your time out of habit or addiction, yet getting little joy from it? Does your time on social media give you enough joy to warrant the time? Are there hobbies that you’ve outgrown? Friends who have diverged? TV shows that just fill time?

    Eliminate one. Just for a few weeks.

  2. Start something better. Replace it with something that brings you joy, that moves your life forward. Maybe something old that would bring you joy to revisit. Or something new you’ve wanted to do but never gotten around to.

You do your experiment. I’ll do mine. And in a couple of weeks, let’s compare notes. We only have a limited amount of time on this planet, and it’s up to us to use it in ways that make our life somewhere we want to be.

Good luck!

Overcoming Email Overload

From Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge
October 25, 2004

Being at or near the the top of your organization, everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail. It makes you feel important. Don’t you love it? Really? Then, please take some of mine! Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let’s not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with. Shudder. I’m buried in e-mail and chances are, you’re not far behind. For whatever reason, everyone feels compelled to keep you "in the loop."

Fortunately, being buried alive under electronic missives forced me to develop coping strategies. Let me share some of the nonobvious ones with you. Together, maybe we can start a revolution.

The problem is that readers now bear the burden
Before e-mail, senders shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. Plus, each new addressee meant more postage, so we thought hard about whom to send things to. (Is it worth spending thirty-two cents for Loren to read this letter? Nah….)

E-mail bludgeoned that system in no time. With free sending to an infinite number of people now a reality, every little thought and impulse becomes instant communication. Our most pathetic meanderings become deep thoughts that we happily blast to six dozen colleagues who surely can’t wait. On the receiving end, we collect these gems of wisdom from the dozens around us. The result: Inbox overload.

("But my incoming e-mail is important," you cry. Don’t fool yourself. Time how long you spend at your inbox. Multiply by your per-minute wage(*) to find out just how much money you spend on e-mail. If you can justify that expense, far out—you’re one of the lucky ones. But for many, incoming e-mail is a money suck. Bonus challenge: do this calculation companywide.)

(*) Divide your yearly salary by 120,000 to get your per-minute wage.

Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.

How you can send better e-mail
What’s the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I’m going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.

  • Use a subject line to summarize, not describe.

People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it’s relevant. The best way to do this is to summarize your message in your subject.

BAD SUBJECT:

GOOD SUBJECT:

Subject: Deadline discussion

Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th

  • Give your reader full context at the start of your message.

Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to. Even worse, we don’t really know if we should care. Oops! We just noticed there are ten messages about apples. One of the others says "Apples are definitely not the answer." And another says, "Didn’t you get my message about apples?" But which message was sent first? And which was in response to which? ARGH!

It’s very, very difficult to get to the core of the issue.

You’re probably sending e-mail because you’re deep in thought about something. Your reader is too, only they’re deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn’t help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it’s rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you’re too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.

BAD E-MAIL:

GOOD E-MAIL:

To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive

Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

To: Billy Franklin
From: Robert Payne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.

You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.

  • When you copy lots of people (a heinous practice that should be used sparingly), mark out why each person should care.

Just because you send a message to six poor coworkers doesn’t mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you’re sending to each recipient, and let them know at the start of the message what they should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you’re including each person.

BAD CC:

GOOD CC:

To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella
Subject: Web site design draft is done

AG: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft

BF: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the slogan capture our branding?

CR: FYI, if we need a redesign, your project will slip.

The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.

  • Use separate messages rather than bcc (blind carbon copy).

If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed.Yes, it’s more work for you, but if we all do it, it’s less overload.

BAD BCC:

GOOD BCC:

To: Fred
Bcc: Chris

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Fred

Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.

To: Chris

Please reserve the conference room for me and Fred today at 2:00 p.m.

  • Make action requests clear.

If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.

  • Separate topics into separate e-mails … up to a point.

If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can’t, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.

Do this when mixing controversy with mundania. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.

BAD MIXING OF ITEMS:

GOOD MIXING OF ITEMS:

We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Sandy?

Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.

Message #2: Sandy’s missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?

  • Combine separate points into one message.

Sometimes the problem is the opposite—sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you’ll save a ton of time.

  • Edit forwarded messages.

For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don’t forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn’t get the original sender in trouble.

BAD FORWARDING:

GOOD FORWARDING:

To: Bill

Sue’s idea, described below, is great.

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let’s take the new design and add sparkles around the border. Bill probably won’t mind; his design sense is so garish he’ll approve anything.

To: Bill

Sue’s idea, described below, is great.

From: Sue

Hey, Abner:

Let’s take the new design and add sparkles around the border…

  • When scheduling a call or conference, include the topic in the invitation. It helps people prioritize and manage their calendar more effectively.

BAD E-MAIL:

GOOD E-MAIL:

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.

Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review demo presentation.

  • Make your e-mail one page or less.

Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient’s mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.

  • Understand how people prefer to be reached, and how quickly they respond.

Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can’t reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone’s overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don’t assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.

How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you’re putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they’re secretly envying your strength of character.

  • Check e-mail at defined times each day.

We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we’re trying to get something useful done? Turn off your e-mail "autocheck" and only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand. Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn’t the way. When it’s e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.

  • Use a paper "response list" to triage messages before you do any follow-up.

The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a legal pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there’s important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.

  • Charge people for sending you messages.

One CEO I’ve worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.

  • Train people to be relevant.

If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren’t relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favor to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn’t relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticize or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you’ll be so well trained you’ll be positively productive!

  • Answer briefly.

When someone sends you a ten page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You’ll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you’ll have no choice.

  • Send out delayed responses.

Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.

(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select Do not deliver before. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)

  • Ignore it.

Yes, ignore e-mail. If something’s important, you’ll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it’s not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it’s certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.

Your only solution is to take action
Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work in your workplace. Hogwash. I use every one of them and can bring at least a semblance of order to my inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it. While you practice, I’ll be on vacation, accumulating a 2,000 message backlog for when I get home. If you want to know how well I cope, just send along an e-mail and ask….