The Other F Word: How to Understand and Overcome Your Fear

By: Cortney Morris

Share Via:

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear.

And, nothing elicits a bigger reaction. Have you ever had a moment where, without even thinking, your heart starts racing and your stomach drops? You’re in fear, and you are hyper-aware of your surroundings. Suddenly your brain floods with cortisol and adrenaline. You can’t think clearly; you are reactive and defensive.  

When your fear is triggered, it shuts down logical and creative thinking. The truth is, you cannot be at your best when you are in fear. If you don’t understand it or learn to manage it, you will always be a victim to your fear.   

In the business world, this can happen easily. Does any of this sound familiar? 

  • You have a client who calls with a question and, in an instant, you fear they are going to leave. 
  • You have a team member who doesn’t like something, and you get triggered. Your mind starts to go into overdrive thinking they are judging you, something you are doing is wrong, and you go into self-protection mode losing all of your power in the relationship. 
  • The market starts to fluctuate and you’ve been on the phone calling all day with no leads. You start to fear that you’ll never have business again and maybe this business isn’t for you anymore.  

When fear is activated, you are no longer the levelheaded, creative, quick-on-your-feet thinker that you are right now. Instead, you become like a bull that sees red or an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. You are simply reacting to everything around you or withdrawing from the world around you. All of this is in an attempt to protect yourself, your business, your family, or whatever you believe is under threat.  

Fear is primal and you are hard-wired to detect fear. In fact, your amygdala will sense fear before you are consciously aware of it. Once your amygdala (the emotional center of your brain) senses fear, it overrides the cognitive, conscious part of your mind. You react with little to no thought. In a world of predator and prey, this fear override makes a lot of sense.  After all, don’t you want to be ready to jump out of the way if a snake darts out at you without first having to assess the danger the snake might pose? If you get stuck thinking logically when your life is on the line, it could cost you everything.  

The challenge is that most of the time, our life is not on the line. Yet, we are still responding like it is. Your amygdala has been activated, cortisol and adrenaline start coursing through your body. You are getting ready to start throwing punches or running for your life. Oftentimes, you don’t even notice it happening until it’s too late  . . .  Your heart is beating, your mind is racing, you feel out of control. It’s not until the threat subsides that you start to feel a little lighter.   

When you sense danger of any kind, your fear response is triggered. You might think this only happens for big things like losing a big business deal. Yet, this response can be triggered just by thinking about having a difficult conversation. Fear is triggered by anything you perceive as a threat to you. This could be a threat to your livelihood, your reputation, your family, or your business. In order to overcome this response, you will want to understand it.   

How You Process Fear

When fear is present, the amygdala (the emotional processing center of the brain) lights up and immediately assesses how big of a threat something is. It then chooses one of three responses:  

Fight: Your amygdala sizes up the threat/challenge and determines that you can win. When you believe that you can overcome the challenge, your amygdala releases adrenaline and cortisol so that you can fight through this situation.  

Flight: Your amygdala does not believe that you can overcome this challenge. It assesses you are not up for the fight or not going to win, so your body releases adrenaline and cortisol and you will run away from the situation or threat. 

Freeze: This is triggered when your amygdala deems that you cannot win and also cannot avoid the threat. It determines that the situation you are in is going to happen no matter what you do, so you freeze. It perceives you have no option to win, so you are stuck in a state of inaction.  

None of these reactions are necessarily bad, in fact, in some situations, they are beneficial. There are times when pulling back makes the most sense. At other times, standing up to fight allows you to push through. And yes, there are even times when freezing until something blows over is the best way to handle a situation. The challenge is that when it happens automatically, you are not using your knowledge to pick a strategy, you are relying on your instinct.  Your reaction and your instinct are not always the right or most resourceful move.  

I see these responses playing out right now for many people in Real Estate. The lack of inventory is triggering a fear response. For some this is triggering a flight response, causing them to want to leave Real Estate. Their flight response is triggered because they are perceiving that they can’t win in this market. For others, their freeze response is triggered. They think, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t think I have any control over it.  I’m just going to busy myself, distract myself, and hope it changes.” Others are using their fight response and getting quickly into action to find business.   

Many of our coaches right now are helping clients get back to center to assess their situations and make strategic decisions based on the information they have. It’s fascinating to see that when choosing fight, flight, or flee, each strategy relies on your perception of how YOU compare to the THREAT: Do you believe you can overcome it or not? 

When faced with difficult situations or a changing market your belief in yourself will play a crucial role in your success.  

Instead of relying on the automatic assessments and responses of your amygdala to do all the heavy lifting, consider that you will always be stronger when you can logically think through what’s happening. Your logic allows you to consider the resources that are available to you and the strategy that will work best.   

Use Your Fear Before It Uses You: How To Overcome Your Fear 

Recognize It. Instead of pushing your fear to the side, busying yourself, or letting your automatic fight response take over, take a second and acknowledge it. Fear is a useful emotion. It can cause you to slow down and notice something that you would otherwise miss. Ask yourself, what is driving my fear? Is that a valid concern? If it is unfounded, then put it to the side. If it’s valid, ask yourself, “is there a way I could prevent that?” Make adjustments as needed. 

Bill Gates was young when he was working on, what would become known as Microsoft. He was fearful that people wouldn’t take him seriously because of how young he looked. As a result, he had his older business partner take the lead in meetings.  

Get Real. Susan Jeffers, author of, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway,” says that at the bottom of all fear is the idea, “I can’t handle it.” Funny that the reaction that will put you in flight or freeze is the assessment that you won’t be able to win. Interrogate your own reality. Ask yourself: 

  • What are you afraid of?  
  • If you knew you could be successful, what would you do?  
  • What resources do you have available to you that would help you? 

Remember, you’ve gotten through 100% of your bad days. You are resilient, and I’m willing to bet that you have the experience to back you up. Confidence is built through time and experience. Be gentle with yourself as you push through your comfort zone and do things you’ve never done. 

Identify What Matters and Take Action. Fear is often triggered because you are committed to something. If it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t care.  

  • What are you committed to? 
  • What is important to you? 
  • Ask yourself, what action could you take immediately that would align with that goal? 

By taking immediate action you are regaining control, and allowing yourself to achieve something. You’ll remember that every time you achieve something your brain releases dopamine causing you to feel more motivated, inspired, and fulfilled (link to brain fact blog).  

Visualize. After identifying what you are committed to and the outcome you want, take a moment to visualize it. Close your eyes and imagine you taking the action and it’s going well. Studies show that athletes who visualize are more successful at building strength than those who don’t. Why? Because the mind cannot distinguish between what is imagined and what is real. Visualizing starts to connect the pathways in your brain necessary for your future success as though it’s already happened. Visualization can build the confidence to take the action needed to experience new success. 

 Flip It. So many times, your fear is driven by in-the-moment thinking. As humans, we are looking to get out of momentary pain . . . Fear of what someone will say, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of failing. Instead of worrying in the moment, take yourself out into the future: 

  • Ask yourself, what will I never be/do/have if I never do x. There is a great quote that says you can suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.  
  • By taking yourself out into the future, you are asking yourself, if you never make this move, who will you never become? What will never happen for you? Is that okay with you? Instead of being driven by momentary discomfort, you are pulled by a bigger vision. 

Fear is a powerful emotion.  Learn to use fear to your advantage. Fear can help you identify what matters to you, help you attune to any challenges you may need to overcome and get you into action. People in fear right now about the market are potentially right from the aspect that things are changing.  The reality, in every industry, is things are always changing. Any changes can be perceived as challenges or threats or as new opportunities for success.  How do you want to respond to them? What information do you want to pay attention to? Where will you focus your energy so that you are able to be successful in this market?  Take a stand for your success by standing up to your fear!   

Cortney Morris