August 8 – Fear as the enemy of thinking

August 8. “The truth is, fear and immorality are two of the greatest inhibitors of performance.” (Zig Ziglar)

Fear and immorality as inhibitors to performance? Well, I don’t really want to delve into the dark topic of immorality, so instead I will talk about the crippling effects of fear.

Fear stops people in their tracks. It’s a natural response to the stimuli around us. We find ourselves in a situation that we perceive to be dangerous, and our body responds. We all know the response, our hearts race, our muscles tighten, we feel that pit in our stomach. Perhaps even the hairs on our neck and arms stand up. We are ready to do battle, or get out of Dodge, whatever seems most prudent.

When we are in a situation of a true threat, this physical response serves us well. It alerts us to the conditions that our brain recognizes and encourages us to seek safety. But the truth is that those situations for most of us are few and far between. Still, though, we have fear and our body responds to it.

The problem with the fear response, in my opinion, is that my body wants to respond in one of two ways – fight or flight. But seldom do either of those responses address the situation at hand. Let me walk through an example.

My boss calls me with a short term assignment. It is something that will disrupt my current work, it will take some effort to complete. Also, I am not really sure how to complete the assignment. I know what she’s looking for, but not sure how to get from here to there in the time allotted. And the timer starts….now.

I have several fears brewing at the same time. There is the fear of the deadline in the new assignment, the fear of the unknown as to how to proceed, and the fear that my regular work will be suffering and fall behind. The response comes on quickly. My heart speeds up, I may sweat. I definitely become anxious. One other thing happens, my brain begins to shut down some. I find myself in the fight or flight mode.

I start to push back (fight) on the assignment. Is this the right thing to do? Am I the right person? What about other assignments? I may question who the assignment is really for, or suspect that there is a deeper meaning to the questions being asked. All of this is about my fight instinct.

I may also wish to take flight. I may decide that this assignment is better left to tomorrow, and want to head home for the day, or out to lunch if it is in the morning. I may want to get myself out of the situation as quickly as I can.

Neither of these two responses is effective. With the exception of clarifying the purpose of the assignment to inform better results, the rest of my questions really boil down to resistance. And the flight response solves nothing at all; in fact it makes things worse by shortening the time available.

Sometimes I am able to feel these responses coming on and can take action. This year my most common action has been to take a walk. Getting up from my desk and taking a brisk walk around the building for even 15 minutes makes a world of difference. It tends to burn off the hormones that are generated by the flight response, and while I am walking I am not fighting with the problem. That time away tends to clear both my mind and body and allows me to return to my desk and address the questions.

Sometimes the assignment is so urgent that I can’t even take the time for the walk. In those cases I have to force myself to stop, take a couple of breaths, and THINK.

The problem with the fight or flight response in these situations is that it cuts off the most important organ in my body – my brain. When I can take the time to think, and to plan a response, my response is always better.

Fear is debilitating. When I am in fear I have a very hard time reacting rationally. The absence of rationality means that my performance suffers, and I fall into the trap that Ziglar mentions in this quote.

My reflection today is on those areas of my life where I have fear. What fears do I have that are keeping me from performing? Am I afraid to fail? Afraid to succeed? Afraid of the unknown and making mistakes? I am about to head off for some camping, and I plan to do some thinking about the question of fear in my life.

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