Would you like to be more confident? For most of us the answer is yes. Wherever we are in our lives and careers, we know we could achieve more if we could stop fear and uncertainty from getting in our way.
We can, according to Joe Serio, trainer, author, Russian Mafia expert, and author of Overcoming Fear: 50 Lessons on Being Bold and Living the Dream. "Fear can keep talented individuals who could build something great from ever actually doing so," Serio says. "In a world where only 20 percent of us get to do what we do best every day, that seems like a tragedy doesn't it?"
Serio says he himself struggled with fear in his youth, but one day decided enough was enough. He studied political science and criminology, became fascinated with Russia, learned the language, spent several months living and working there, and wound up running the Moscow office of Kroll Investigations. "My primary work was to help American and European companies steer clear of the Russian Mafia," he says. "There was certainly no room for fear there, right?"
Years later, he found launching his own business was frightening in its own way. "Starting and running a business can be a scary endeavor," he says. But fear can do even more damage to your business than a bad economy or a poor business model. "If you're swallowed up by fear, things don't get done, revenue doesn't get generated, and you shutter your company," he says.
To keep that from happening, you must learn to overcome your fear and face business challenges with courage, he says. And you can. Here's how:
1. Begin by acknowledging your fear.
"Say to yourself, 'Yes, I am afraid,' Serio advises. "This helps to reduce feelings of perfectionism or curb your procrastination." You don't have to tell the world, he adds, but say it to someone you trust, a loved one or a friend. Or if you prefer, just say it to yourself.
2. Get specific about what you're afraid of.
Figure out precisely what's causing you to be afraid, he says. "Is it fear of making a mistake or is it really fear of your perception of the consequences of making a mistake?" It's important to make that distinction, he says. "It's difficult to solve a problem when you don't know what the real problem is."
3. Give your fear a number from 1 to 10.
Rank your fear and then compare your fear to something worse. "Years ago my fear of public speaking was 10-plus," Serio says. "But compared to getting eaten by wolves, my fear of public speaking changed to 2 or 3." That made it much more manageable to face that fear -- not to mention start a business based on public speaking, he says.
4. Imagine the worst-case scenario.
What's the worst that could happen? Put some thought into answering that question. "So often your perception is worse than reality," Serio notes. "As Mark Twain said, 'I've suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.'"
Determine what's at risk and whether your fear is justified, he says. With everyday decisions, he adds, it often isn't.
5. Do some research.
"A great way to reduce fear is to talk with experienced people," Serio says. "They will bring some perspective and proportion to your interpretation of the situation. Chances are high that they too were afraid when they started out."
Beyond that, he says, try reading books and magazine articles about whatever it is you're setting out to do, taking classes, or finding groups around that area of interest. Almost nothing is as scary as the unknown, so the more you know, the more confident you will be.
6. Review your past successes.
You've had countless successes in life, beginning with learning to speak and walk, Serio says. "Frequently, you forget that you're powerful," he says. "If you need a reminder, set up a praise file of letters, emails, or cards thanking you for doing a good job. When fear gets inside of you, open the file and remind yourself you can do it."
7. Celebrate your successes, even small ones.
"It doesn't have to be loud and obnoxious," Serio says. "You can simply give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done or share it with people who are closest to you. Often, we believe that our accomplishments have to be huge to be worthy of celebrating." Remembering to celebrate small successes will reward you for the effort you've put in. And it will make it easier to make that effort the next time.