FEAR! Disguised as Playing it Safe
If you’re like, well, everyone on earth - you have at one time or another missed out on a great opportunity because you chose to play it safe or avoid risk.
Look back over your life and think about the things you could have done. The opportunities you could have taken advantage of, the people you could have connected with, the experiences you could have had.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. What’s easy to see now as missed opportunity looked scary and risky at the time. So, as many have done (as I have also done), you chose to play it safe and stay in your comfort zone.
In retrospect, those things weren’t scary or risky at all – just different and new. They were, in all actuality, potential blessings that you walked away from.
It’s staggering to think about, isn’t it?
It’s Not Really About Safety at All
You’re not the only one who has done that. Most of us have a tendency to play it safe. While you can’t live in regret over missed opportunities, you can make sure you don’t let it happen again.
We tell ourselves that playing it safe is just being sensible and prudent. But being sensible isn’t actually what motivates us in those situations.
What really motivates us to not take action is fear.
Fear is part of who we are as a species. It’s hard-wired into us.
Most of us don’t stop to consider the impact fear has on the decisions we make in our lives.
By having a better understanding of how fear works, you can more effectively prevent it from negatively impacting your decisions.
In Pain In The Membrane?
There’s actually a specific part of your brain that processes emotions (like fear) which can motivate you to play it safe - the amygdala. The amygdala plays a significant role in how we behave and make decisions.
When you’re in a familiar situation that you know to be safe, your amygdala is happy and calm – and so are you. But when something that appears to be risky or dangerous pops up, the amygdala freaks out a bit and lets you know, “Look out- we’re outside our comfort zone here. Get out of here! Walk away!”
Sometimes that reaction can save your life. Other times it can hold you back from a more fulfilling life.
The important thing is to learn the distinction between legitimate fear of very real danger – and invalid fear of something that’s merely new to us.
Real Danger vs Perceived Danger
There are basically two types of decisions we make when we perceive danger or consequences. The first type we’ll call safety decisions – which are survival based. They keep us alive and assure we have adequate food and shelter and all those other things that keep us breathing. The second type we’ll call fearful decisions – which tend to keep us from taking far less life-threatening risks that are just opportunity in disguise.
Let’s take a look at some examples of both.
The safety decisions come from a very reasonable fear of severe consequences to your health or quality of life – while fearful decisions come from someplace completely different.
Look at those “fearful” decisions again. If any one of those scenarios goes as badly as it can possibly go, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Does anyone die, go broke, or lose a cherished relationship? Not at all.
And most of the time when things go poorly in life they only go a little poorly. It’s almost never the worst case scenario we worry about.
Your speech to your peers isn’t good, but you don’t get fired because of it.
You start your career search and you don’t get any bites.
You ask out that cool guy or gal and they tell you they’d rather be friends.
Those things are awkward and make you feel bad for a while, but by no means are they life or career ending.
As it turns out, most of the things we fear are much more about our feelings than they are about real, serious consequences.
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened. – Mark Twain
The Feelings We Fear Most
There are five major feelings-based fears that we let trip us up on our path to a better life. Notice how they all seem to overlap.
1: Fear of failure
Have you ever passed on an opportunity to try something different because you were afraid you might fail at it? I have. The ironic thing is the fact that if you don’t make an effort to try something new, you’ve pretty much already failed at it. So there’s really not much to lose. And yet we talk ourselves into believing that by not taking the risk we’re somehow better off.
2: Fear of rejection
If you “put yourself out there” with your boss, a potential date, or a publisher who you’ve submitted your manuscript to, you might get rejected – and rejection hurts. So instead of maybe feeling those uncomfortable emotions, we don’t even make the effort. Then we think of it as “playing it safe.”
3: Fear of inadequacy
If you’ve ever not gone for something because, “I’m probably not qualified/experienced enough/smart enough/tall enough (whatever) to succeed at this” - then you’re feeling inadequate. You’re not the first one to feel this way. Take a whack at it anyway.
4: Fear of unworthiness
Closely related to the fear of inadequacy, fear of unworthiness is just a tad different. Fear of inadequacy manifests itself in thoughts like, “I’m not good enough as a person”, and fear of unworthiness is more along the lines of, “I’m not qualified or skilled enough.” While both of these fears come from a place of humility (which is normally is a good thing), but they can be destructive when taken to the negative side of self-talk.
5: Fear of additional commitment
We’re all guilty of this one from time to time. We don’t always pass on opportunity because we’re afraid that we’re not good enough. Sometimes you know damn well that you’re good enough, but the fear of all the work and additional commitment needed after you succeed at something scares you away from going for it.
How to Take The Emotion Out of The Situation
So what can you do to get over these fears that keep you from doing the things you’d like to do?
I find that instead of fighting fears and emotion head on, it’s best to use logic to totally remove the negative emotions of the situation. The next time you feel fear stopping you from bettering yourself, ask yourself these three questions:
1: What’s the worst thing that could happen if I tried this despite my fear?
Make a list of all the potential (realistic) consequences. Would there be a loss of life, health, or livelihood? Or is the real risk just having to temporarily deal with an uncomfortable emotion like rejection or embarrassment?
2: What’s the absolute best thing that could happen if I tried this?
List all these, too. How might your life be different? What things might you learn? Who might you have the opportunity to connect with?
3: Are the consequences under #1 worth the potential benefits under #2?
Compare the two lists and seriously ponder this question. If the consequence of a particular action is immediate loss of your livelihood and the upside is something small like an extra day off – then your choice is simple. Don’t take the risk.
But if the consequence of your action is rejection and the potential benefit is your dream career, swallow your fear and go for it.
Before You Make Another ‘Safe’ Decision…
I know this seems incredibly simple – and it is. It’s simple because by asking the questions above, we just took an emotional issue and made it logical.
When you take the emotional power away from your fear and look at the facts of the situation – your decision becomes simpler.
The next time you find yourself about to make a “safe” decision, ask yourself the questions above before you make your decision - then come back and tell me how things worked out.
Share a time when you felt fearful but went for it anyway.
Or share your best tip or story about taking calculated risks.