9 ways being afraid can make you a stronger leader

What could you do, in business and in life, if you were not afraid? This simple question may call up a whole army of wishes,dreams, desires, and regrets for you. It certainly does for me.

If fear of failing, or of appearing foolish, has ever stopped you from attempting something that your heart called you to do,Sandja Brugmann, founder of The Passion Institute has some wise advice to share: Don’t struggle with your fear–learn to embrace it and to stop preventing you from following your dreams.

“When we think of fear, more often than not, we view it as an emotion we’d rather avoid,” Brugmann says. “It is a feeling that can be so paralyzing and scary that it automatically triggers our instincts to survive. Unfortunately, this can surface behaviors that are not in alignment with moving us towards our dreams and business success.”

In other words, if we let fear control us, it can cause us to sabotage our own success. It’s a particular danger for entrepreneurs, she adds, because so much of entrepreneurship can be frightening, from taking on huge financial burdens, to dealing with disgruntled customers or employees, to knowing that the decisions you make can affect not only your own livelihood, but other people’s as well.

On the other hand, Brugmann points out, fear is a natural human emotion, and one you likely won’t stop feeling any time soon. “The goal is not to get rid of fear altogether as that might never happen,” she says. “Our goal is to see fear differently and learn to act from our inner willpower instead of succumbing to it.” Or, as Richard Branson put it, “Fear is wetting your pants. Courage is operating with wet pants.”

It’s an inelegant but apt metaphor for learning to embrace your dreams and desires while accepting that fear is part of life. Here’s Brugmann’s advice for how to get there:

1. Embrace your fear.

“What if I told you that your fear is a gift?” Brugmann asks–because it is. “Through tension and pain we can create depth,” she says. “Without it we live a shallow life. Our fear has the ability to show us our growing edge, the place where we begin to become our more authentic selves. When we see fear this way, we can approach it from a place of curiosity, and maybe evengratitude.”

2. Watch out for your instinctive reactions.

“When faced with fear, most people react in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze,” Brugmann says. If this is you, then you’re merely responding to deep-rooted human instincts, she says. The problem is that these instincts lead people to let fear drive all their decisions. “I don’t want that to be you,” Brugmann says.

3. Treat every situation as though you had chosen it.

If you’re a business leader or entrepreneur, all too often situations will arise that aren’t what you want and that you haven’t planned for. Brugmann quotes Eckhart Tolle: “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”

“This is the most self-loving way to handle this, for both yourself and your team,” Brugmann says. “By being fully in acceptance, you bypass emotional resistance, including fear.”

4. Be resourceful.

“Resourcefulness doesn’t mean monetary wealth, but rather, how creatively you work with what you have,” Brugmann explains. “How do you tap into your network and activate your thinking to creatively solve situations and relationships from a non-conventional standpoint?”

5. Be glad of opposition and criticism.

“Know that if you are really up to something new, conventional thinkers will try to shoot you down,” Brugmann says. By doing something truly new, you challenge the status quo, and you may bring up fear or shame in those who don’t. In fact, she says, “You can gauge your success by how much criticism you receive.”

6. Make fear of failure work for you instead of against you.

If you fear failure (like most of us) you can get that fear to help you by changing your definition of failure, Brugmann says. “Rather than seeing failure as the opposite of success, to me failure is to stay small and not take the risk to get out of our comfort zones.” Look at it that way, and your fear of failing can push you to try something new.

7. Control your thoughts instead of letting them control you.

You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react. “When something ‘bad’ happens, and we attribute a negative meaning to it about ourselves, this is an example of a downward spiral,” Brugmann warns.

For example, let’s say you’ve been working for a long time to land a big project or customer and you finally get turned down. “It doesn’t mean that your project sucks or that your idea isn’t a good one,” she says. “It probably has nothing to do with you as a person, so don’t make it about you. Don’t over-analyze.” Instead, she says, think about what your next step will be to achieve your goal. As she points out, no one person or opportunity is your only path to success.

8. Learn to recognize your automatic fear responses.

“Begin to recognize and understand how these responses are not only hurting you, but also how they are affecting others,” Brugmann says. This won’t be easy, she acknowledges. “One of the hardest things to see and admit to ourselves is who we are really being,” she says. “Similarly, the biggest lie we tell others and ourselves is, ‘This is who I am,’ as if what we are is a fixed and unchangeable personality.”

In fact, she says, we are all made up of many sub-personalities. Our task is to get to know all of our selves, the good aspects and the aspects that could use some improvement. “Remember not to judge any of it,” she says. “This is your gateway to growth, change and to making a conscious choice to act from a place of power and override your fear defense behavior.”

9. Find the calm at the center of the storm.

“Find your steady and centered place within yourself, and stay here as much as possible,” Brugmann says. “This is a place of self-confidence, and in it lies a commitment to your longer-term goal versus the short-term ups and downs of business and life. If your well-being, peace, and happiness depend on external factors, your level of stress will be too high to successfully stay on the entrepreneurial path for very long.” Instead, she says, try staying unattached from external events, which will allow you to stay the course and feel calm while you do. “You’ll be able to make decisions for a larger good instead of just short-term relief of stress or fear.”

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