The Brain and Overcoming Fear

A lot of leaders still subscribe to the idea that they must present an image of confidence and control; they must be a ‘fearless’ leader to be effective and get the results they desire. You’ve probably met many of these leaders in your career and wondered if they really were unafraid of anything – and the truth is, everybody gets scared! It’s not a weakness to feel fear or to share those feelings. In fact, vulnerability is being recognised as a valuable trait for leaders to have, because it endears them to their team and helps foster open communication and authentic relationships.

It’s only natural to feel some trepidation each day, as you don’t know what others are going to do, whether they’re clients, your team, or your leaders. Any time you feel you lack control often triggers a feeling of unease – it happens to all of us. But you can’t let your fear reach unhealthy levels, because then it seeps into your behaviour and destroys relationships, opportunities, sales…just about anything, really!

You probably feel confident when you know all the facts and feel like there’s going to be a positive outcome, even though you can’t be certain, right? And you feel fear when you’re uncertain of what’s going to happen and you focus on that uncertainty.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

So how do you overcome your fear in a healthy way?

The answer lies in MIT neuroscience professor and cognitive specialist Earl Miller’s research, where he found that humans have an inability to multitask, and looked at ways to increase brainpower. This research doesn’t apply to fear as an emotion, where it is instant or unconscious; we can apply it to the fear based on perceptions and expectations that we feel on a daily basis, however. What you need to understand about this type of fear is that we consciously think about it – and when you understand this, you can then apply the research to just about any situation.

What does this mean? To put it simply, since we can only focus consciously on one thing at a time if you start doing something then your fear will start to dissipate. Conscious fear can be reduced by taking action – to take the plunge, start doing, and you’ll find your fear fading!

Have you ever noticed how you feel scared in a new situation, such as meeting someone for the first time or starting a new job, but then as you dive in and start talking to people and doing things, you’re not as afraid anymore? That’s taking action to overcome your fear, and you didn’t even know you were doing it!

It can be hard to take that first step though, can’t it? To get yourself to talk to that person or take that action, to shake off the fear, you need to commit to doing so.

Commit to taking action when you feel fear, and you’ll find yourself focusing on other things instead. This commitment should be unbreakable; it’s more than just an idea or decision, you need to follow through. There’s no other option.

You’ll feel more and more confident as you stick to your commitment because your action will lead you to success, and success makes anyone feel confident! It’s a cycle, because if you aren’t feeling confident then you should take action because the confidence will then come to you, and then you’ll have success because you’re not thinking about fear anymore!

Now that you know about your brain and its inability to multitask, you can start to overcome fear instead of letting it hold you back!

About the Author

Sonia McDonald believes we should lead with kindness, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘Just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organisations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of HR. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realize what it takes to be a truly great leader.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognized as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.

She is an award-winning published author and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognized for her commentary around the topic of leadership, developing work-life balance, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow and advocating for women in business and male-dominated industries.

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