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How to Overcome Fear: 5 Tricks

Fear is the main obstacle to success in business--in business as well as elsewhere. Don't let it rule your life.
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Most people aren't as successful as they might be, simply because their fear is keeping them from taking action.

Maybe it's a fear of rejection, or maybe it's fear of failure. Maybe it's fear of doing the wrong thing, or fear of the boss, or a customer. The end result is the same: You don't take the risks necessary to make yourself successful.

This is not to say that being completely fearless is a good idea. Fearless people do stupid things; as the saying goes, they "rush in where angels fear to tread."  When it comes to fears, the trick is to understand them, know why they're there–and then overcome them when it's necessary to take action in order to achieve your goals.

There are five basic ways to do this:

1. Increase Your Familiarity

The more you do something that scares you, the easier it becomes.  Take, for example, the most common fear for people who are selling: fear of closing.  Treating a sales cycle as a series of small closes makes closing the deal easier when it's finally time to ask for the business.

2. Rehearse Courage Mentally

When it comes to emotions, including fear, your brain can't differentiate between what it imagines and what's actually happened in the real world. If you repeatedly rehearse something in your mind, while at the same time visualizing yourself as being calm, confident and collected, your behavior in the real world will imitate your imagination.

3. Reframe the Fear

Create a comparison in your mind that makes your fear seem trivial. For example: There are millions of people in this world who have to worry about whether they're going to eat today. Against that perspective, what have you got to be afraid of?  I mean, really?

4. Reassociate the Fear

Ever been to a Six Flags amusement park? If so, you probably paid a fair amount of money ... for the privilege of being frightened out of your wits. Taking risks in business is, in fact, a lot like getting on a roller coaster — except that you get to do some steering, so you're actually a bit more in control. It turns out that fear you're feeling isn't really fear after all. It's excitement!

5. Make the Fear Useful

Far from being a debilitating emotion, fear–when viewed from the right perspective–is actually just a signal that you need to do something. If you're afraid to ask for the business, for example, it's just your subconscious mind telling you that it's getting close to the point where you need to ask for the business.  It may sound trite, but it's true: "Feel the fear, then do it anyway."

Put the above techniques in your mental bag of tricks, and your fears—no matter what they are—will stop holding you back.

On extra hint: These techniques are best applied in combination.  For example, here's the specific routine that works for me:

  • I notice that I'm putting something off because of a fear that it won't happen.
  • I reconfirm that the goal is worth pursuing.
  • I "remember" that the fear is just a signal that this is a desirable goal.
  • I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to achieve that goal.
  • I briefly think about all the things that I don't have to be afraid about.
  • I recall all the times that I've overcome similar fears.
  • I imagine myself taking the action that I've been putting off because of fear.
  • I repeat the above step five times, visualizing a successful outcome.
  • Finally, I use the momentum of all of the above to push me forward.

The above formula has allowed me, a relatively quiet and introverted guy, to pursue some goals and have some experiences that otherwise would have been completely impossible for me.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 17, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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