I notice that in the many seminars I lead in the business world, that fear, and its various manifestations, are at the root of important and difficult issues. The more we can understand and transform fear, the more we can accomplish with less wasted effort. Fear can be a useful ally. It can focus us, keep us safe, even at times keep us alive. Fear of illness or injury can motivate us to stop smoking, to exercise, and to eat healthier food. In our communities, it can motivate us to make our air and water cleaner, our bridges and levees stronger, our workplaces safer.
Fear can also be an enormous hindrance. Fear can color our world so that a stick can appear as a dangerous snake or an offer of friendship can be perceived as an imposition or even an attack. We can fear not getting promoted or losing our jobs; fear what people think about us, or fear that people aren’t thinking at all about us. We can fear the loss of a loved one, fear getting older, fear dying. The list of possible fears is almost endless, so it is not surprising that, sometimes without being aware of it, our actions and decisions can become ruled by fear. Living with fear can become an accepted and habitual way of being, leading to thoughts and actions that create more fear in a difficult-to-stop chain reaction – in ourselves, in relationships, in businesses and organizations, and in the world.
When we are afraid, our first impulse is to tighten our bodies and shut down our minds. We become the opposite of receptive and playful, and this is an enormous hindrance to learning new skills in the workplace, to collaborating, and to making interpersonal connections. The impulse to tighten can become so deeply ingrained that we may not even be aware of the ways that we keep ourselves back, or of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we communicate our fears to others.
Buddhism speaks of five primary fears:
• Fear of losing our state of mind
• Fear of public humiliation, or fear of speaking in public
• Fear of losing one’s reputation
• Fear of losing one’s livelihood
• Fear of death
Reducing fear (and its physical manifestation, anxiety) and opening oneself to new possibilities – surprises, even – is the first step, I believe, toward a more lasting sense of accomplishment. Reducing fear can be the first action that frees us to achieve a goal (even when, in losing our fear, our goal becomes something very different than previously imagined).
A few practices are:
- awareness of fear: begin just by noticing – when are you afraid; where does fear reside in your body; when do you move away from fear and when do you move toward fear? You might even try the practice of inviting your fears to tea.
- playing with time and how you think about and relate to time: try noticing the difference between relative time and time that is not relative. Experiment with just doing what you are doing, without trying to get to the next thing (not so easy…)
- practice generosity: by helping others, being aware of other’s needs and feelings. Notice how this reduces your fear.
Adapted from LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less