It’s no secret that fear is one of the strongest obstacles to our success. Doing anything remarkable will require us to overcome fear in one way or another.
That’s not always easy to do. Fear has been part of our genetic makeup since the beginning of time. Though we’re no longer at risk of being attacked by a sabretooth, our brains still register fear as though we might.
What began as a survival technique to keep us from being eaten by predators is still part of our biology.
With fewer wild animals looking to harm us, our fears have evolved to include not only our physical safety but also anything that threatens our emotional safety.
And in most cases, those fears are totally irrational.
In trying to better understand my own fears — often unwarranted and irrational — I’ve discovered a simple question that has helped me overcome them.
That question is, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
When I’m feeling uneasy, this is the question I always ask myself. Say I’m feeling anxious when I’m about to speak in front of a group. I will spend a minute putting things in perspective.
What is the absolute worst thing that can happen in that situation?
Will I say something that embarrasses myself? What if I get so nervous I puke in front of them? Or I forget everything I was planning to say?
None of those events are life and death. In fact, it’s possible that one or all might even help endear me to the audience. That’s right. Having my mind go blank could actually make the outcome even better.
Once I understand that even the worst scenario isn’t something that I can’t handle, I become much less nervous. I might also even develop some confidence in place of the fear.
Granted, there are situations where the answer to this question is actually something worth being afraid of. But at least then you know for sure that you need to pay close attention to what’s going on.
Everything else can be chalked up as a natural reaction to disproportionate fear.
Understanding Disproportionate Fear
I was recently sitting in front of our house with my daughter, Gianna. A bee buzzed around her head and she freaked out. She screamed, she swatted at it, and she ran toward me.
Once I convinced her the bee was gone and got her to calm down I thought about what had just happened. There was only one bee. She’s not allergic. What exactly made her so afraid?
Anyone who’s been stung knows bee stings hurt. But not a whole lot worse than a mosquito bite. And certainly not worse than scraping your knee on the pavement.
Yet she doesn’t run away screaming when mosquitos come out. She doesn’t quit riding her bike to protect her knees. That’s because (bee allergies being the exception) being scared of bees is a disproportionate fear. The worst-case scenario (a sting) is not as devastating as you’d think based on the typical reaction.
I know there’s more psychology behind a fear of bees, but the point is this isn’t the only area of our lives where we entertain disproportionate fears. They pop up all the time. And if we’re not careful, they can stifle our progress.
Overcoming Fear With Intention
If we’re creative, we can come up with some scary “worst thing that can happen” scenarios. That’s why there’s a second, follow-up question that I’ve found useful. That question is “how likely is the worst-case scenario to occur?”
What I’ve found is that when used in combination, those two questions put just about every fear I have had into enough perspective for me to at least endure whatever is upsetting me. In some cases, they remove the fear entirely.
The process of overcoming fear is not easy. As mentioned, we’re biologically programmed to feel it. The problem is our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our environment has.
As a result, we overthink things and allow our imagination to get the best of us. In reality, our fears are irrational and illogical.
By asking what’s the worst that can/will happen, we are forcing the rational side of our brains to look into it. And what my rational brain has discovered time and time again is that few things are ever as scary as I’ve made them.