Fear /fɪər/
– a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; concern or anxiety.

Since prehistoric times, fear has proven useful to our survival, both individually and as a species.  These days, however, fear more often can hold us back from enjoying the success we are meant to achieve.  With most of our fears blown out of proportion or perhaps even imagined, we must learn to keep fear in check or, better yet, to use it strategically.

Here are three ways to harness your fear and make it work for you:

1. Use it as an initiator

Fear can make us act and comply, so why not harness this emotion and let it help you get started?  For example, none of us wanted to make those telephone “cold calls” and face rejection, but fear of our boss’ disappointment got us going, to at least make a start.  Once we got into the swing of those calls, it wasn’t so bad and we even had a sense of camaraderie in comparing notes and competing to see who could make the most progress.

Once you use your fear to push the proverbial boat away from the shore and get moving, you then can then switch to a more positive incentive, which I call switching to a sense of “mission”, to propel you toward a positive goal.  Using fear is about getting away from or avoiding a negative, whereas tapping into mission is about moving toward or focusing on a positive.  Often, we need the former to get us moving, but remember that a sense of mission is more sustaining and therefore key to keeping us moving.

2. Use it as a trigger

Having lived much of my life with fear (of failure, of success, you name it), I decided this year to be fearless.  Now, when I hear that voice in my head saying “I can’t because I’m afraid to …”, I use it as a trigger to stop listening and instead, to do exactly that thing that I fear.  It’s very liberating, and I am doing many more things and enjoying it much more.

3. Expose it to sunlight

They say that sunlight is the best antiseptic, and if demotivating fears are like germs, then let’s expose them to the harshest sunlight.   At someone’s suggestion, I wrote down all the things that I feared each day for a week.  It was a long but repetitive list, and looking at it dispassionately made me realize how ridiculous they all were relative to reality.  It became obvious how much energy I was wasting by fearing all of those things, not to mention the accompanying absence of forward motion.  It is amazing how much faster I can move without dragging those cement blocks around behind me.

In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President), “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”