Transforming? Use Fear as Fuel

If, instead of being paralyzed, you use fear to motivate you to check out every factor that could go wrong and mitigate that negative potential, your odds of succeeding skyrocket.

Woman holding a mug and typing on a computer

When you're in a tough spot - personally or professionally - and not sure of where to go or what to do, you need to look within at your fear.

And then you need to use it as fuel to realize your goals.

Most of us experience fear as being friction, getting in the way of making clear-headed decisions or even taking action. Let's face it: Big change can be intimidating, and there are no guarantees that it will be successful. But if you use that fear as fuel, using it to motivate you to check out every factor that could go wrong and mitigate that negative potential, your odds of succeeding skyrocket.

Every client we've ever gotten involved with was in a crisis because of fear -  fear of change, fear of failure, fear of spending too much. In those cases, fear was preventing them from finding their own solutions. Those solutions were there for the taking the whole time, but the fear was so overpowering for management that they were afraid to make a move. They were even afraid to try to identify a move.

Flee the deadly comfort zone

As we head into what many economists and business owners think will be a turbulent 2023, riding into it with high inflation and worried about a possible recession, fear will be palpable. But rather than let fear paralyze your decision-making, let it fuel that process. If you are a growth-oriented business leader, it starts with accepting fear as part of the territory. As I told a group in a speaking engagement, If you get up in the morning and you're not afraid of anything, you need to be doing something else. In that case you're not doing what you want to do in life. You're just coasting, staying in your comfort zone.

Comfort is worse than fear because it's insidious. The more comfortable you get, the harder it is to do the things you really want to do. I don't believe there's a steady state; you're either succeeding or failing. There is no middle. If you're not growing, you're falling behind. Transformation truly never ends. You should always be looking at how to continue to move your business forward and how to adapt to your customers' needs.

But after comfort, fear is the next biggest problem for many businesses. Fear stops companies from moving forward and can ultimately finish them.

The worst decision is no decision

When I say fear is fuel, the objective is to bring fear down to a level you can manage and use to your advantage.

Because fear is an emotion, many business leaders don't apply a logical process to understanding it. Some people are better at managing it and building systems that allow them to operate within that realm, without limiting their progress.

One of the first things to understand is you will never get rid of fear. But what you can do is build controls and actions that remediate the effect of the fear.

The idea behind fear as fuel is, as human beings, we're designed to survive, but we also have an optimism bias psychologically. So that combination of a biased optimism and a fear mechanism sometimes tells us, "You're a little too optimistic, and you need to step back." For example, if you bring fear to the physical world and pretend it's a wall, when most people see that wall, they turn and walk away from it because they assume that they should just walk away.

In my opinion, all the hesitation in decision-making over the years has been based on fear and not understanding and managing the fear. And that pattern creates a downward spiral. Once you get caught in that, you don't make the next decision, or the next one, or the next one. Eventually you're not making decisions anymore, and your business is failing.

At the end of the day, decisions have to keep coming. Leaders at a company need to ask themselves, "What decisions do we need to make over the next year or two to achieve certain goals?" You build a culture of forward-thinking and decision-making. Analyze that wall standing in your way. Understand why it's there and what elements are creating it.

See also: Data-Driven Transformation

Let fear liberate, not debilitate

The bigger that wall is, the more you care about the outcome that's on the other side. The more you care about something, the more your fear reflex will strengthen. And the higher up you are in an organization and the more responsibility you have, the stronger those fears are that will impede your progress.

But you can let fear liberate you and navigate around obstacles by reducing the effect of your fear response. Fear will tell you essentially that there's something you're not thinking of or paying attention to and that there's something you need to address. You should use your fear to indicate where you should be going and to give you input into your planning.

Don't look at fear as something you should ignore, or allow it to automatically shift your path. You should look at it as a beacon, an element of information essentially.

When you stop thinking about fear as something that is designed to prevent you from making progress, then you can start making decisions. Then you can start looking at planning in a more honest and intentional way. Let fear be your fuel to keep your company moving forward.

Ali Davachi

Profile picture for user AliDavachi

Ali Davachi

Ali Davachi is a technologist, entrepreneur and the Forbes Books author of RAPID Transformation: An Outcomes-Based Approach To Drive Results.

Driven to build his own businesses and help others build theirs, Davachi has been highly successful in both pursuits over the course of his 30-year career. In 1999, he founded Realware, which has led and delivered projects for start-ups and Fortune 500 firms (healthcare, consumer products, financial services and direct-to-consumer pure plays) with large-volume mobile, payment, e-commerce, telecommunications and customer-facing applications.

Read More