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Fear at Work

Do you like to be scared? I don’t mean the Halloween, horror movie, roller coaster kind of scared. I mean REALLY scared?!

Real fear is seated deep within our psyche. For most of us it is uncomfortable and unwelcome. In truth, however, we should embrace it! The lizard brain uses fear to keep us from getting ourselves killed by doing stupid things (of course, there are exceptions).

The lizard doesn't care if those fears are rational and proportionate to the actual danger, it just wants us to fear the unknown so that we won't venture there and have a better chance of surviving one more day.

REALLY scary - or not?

When I was 10, the movie The Exorcist was released and had everyone freaking out. My biggest fear was of getting possessed by a devil. I eventually got over it, but there is always another fear lurking in the dark. Now my biggest fear is getting booed off the stage during a presentation. While the fears themselves are real, they are completely irrational because neither has any real chance of happening (fingers crossed!).

Irrational fear: subconsciously inflating the probability that something bad could happen even when that probability is extremely remote. Some of us are afraid to fly because the plane might crash. We’re afraid of public speaking because we might look stupid. We’re afraid of clowns because, well, I can’t explain that one.

One problem with irrational fears is that they cause anxiety and unhealthy stress. But the bigger problem is that they cause us to make irrational decisions by negatively and falsely distorting the information that goes into our decision making.

Is your office full of fear?

Some irrational fears are not so obvious, such as those in the workplace. According to a survey by CIO magazine, these are the seven most common workplace fears:

o Isolation

o Confrontation

o Uncertainty

o Embarrassment

o Underperformance

o Failure

o Rejection

They can be rational, but usually not. Do you recognize yourself in any of those? If so, the fear is likely having a negative affect on your work satisfaction, performance, and relationships.

Of course, not all fears are created equal and often men have different fears than women. Women are known to accuse men of having a fear of commitment. (For the record, it’s not commitment we’re afraid of. It’s the following through part!)

Comedian Mike Birbiglia had an insightful take on gender differences with fear: "I asked my girlfriend, 'What do you fear the most?' She said, 'I fear you'll meet someone else, and you'll leave me, and I'll be all alone.' Then she said, 'What do you fear the most?' I said, 'Bears.' "

Shine a light in the dark

Examine your fears, especially at work. Is the threat or danger real? How likely is it? Write down all possible outcomes and assign a true probability to each. See? Often your big thinking brain (neocortex) can be engaged to overcome that irrational lizard brain’s fears.

In the meantime, I’m keeping a young priest and an old priest on speed dial.

Just in case.

Think well and be well.

- Steve Haffner

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?


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