Tapping the Fear-side of Motivation
People who aren’t afraid aren’t going far.
Fear is the secret heat behind fiery passion. Without fear, passion is transitory, weak, unfocused, and ineffective.
Find and acknowledge your fears.
I was delighted to see Derek Lidow tapping into the neglected topic of fear in his book, “Startup Leadership.”
People ask me the reason behind Leadership Freak. My answer often sets them back.
“I was terrified I wouldn’t matter.”
I’m still terrified I won’t matter. Every post, coaching client, speaking engagement, or consultation answers – but doesn’t resolve – my fear.
I could state my passion in positive, comfortable terms. But saying, “I want to matter,” is a pathetic replacement for terror!
Your motivation doesn’t inspire action because you aren’t afraid enough.
I saw a man on the balcony of a burning building. He risked his life jumping from one balcony to another to escape the flames. Manageable fear lets you to stay put.
Terror enables courageous action.
You’re stuck where you are because you’re comfortable. When scary-fear sits beside you, you’ll move.
Comfortable fear is useless.
It’s better to acknowledge fears than pretend they don’t exist. Fears leaders have include:
- Losing customers.
- Stalled progress.
- Activity without results.
- Meaningless existence.
It’s not all about fear.
The upside of my motivation is a strong desire to learn and explore new ideas. Following curiosity energizes me. My friends call me the question man.
Derek includes the positive side of motivation in, “Startup Leadership.”
- Learning new skills.
- Having fun.
- Being cool.
- Feeling like you’re contributing.
- Seizing opportunities.
Derek’s book helps leaders tap into strong emotion both in themselves and others.
Derek on strong emotion (1:30):
What fear or desire drives you today?
Recommended reading: “Startup Leadership,” by Derek Lidow
Resource: Create your own leadership strategy. (Email required.)
Win a copy of “Startup Leadership,” leave a comment on, “The Most Challenging Leadership Skill of All.”
Fear is like going into the “unknown” we often fear because we lack the experience, or things we fear are portrayed as evil only to find out they are not as bad as we perceive. When I first started climbing Telephone poles I was scared beyond wits end, as I continued the pole climbing experience the task became a walk in the park, just had to overcome the fear……of the unknown, if you fall get back up! Oh how I miss those days, luckily life goes on.
Thanks Tim. Glad to read a bit of your story. One good thing about facing fears that relate to our abilities is, as you indicate, experience makes them go away.
YOu were truly alive when you were afraid. 🙂 Glad you made it.
Dan, There was an opportunity and I was all in! I envisioned a future for me to make something of myself, we call it he school of “hard knocks” always open from the day we are born till the day we move on 🙂 Tim
“Motivation without fear does not lead to action” is really true. I also agree that UN-managed
fear could be disastrous. There are many factors that drive fear- fear of insecurity, fear of failure, fear of neglected, fear of death, fear of being unsuccessful, being of not being promoted etc. Such symptoms are very natural. And to overcome such symptoms, fear engage into various activities starting from healthy to unhealthy, positive to negative, desired to undesired based on moral standard. People with low moral standard may more likely to engage into undesired and unhealthy activities than people with high moral standard. Many times, our own thought of limitation force us to behave in the way, that we do not want. In addition to that, when we are unable to fulfill our obligation, we tend to follow short cut methods and hence more likely to engage into undesired activities.
Having said above points, the next question arise, whether we have any solutions to fear. Or can we still act without having fear. And I think the answer could be yes. One answer is start working on increasing our support system. It means we should try to maximize our sources. Secondly and perhaps more important is knowledge enhancement. We should continue to upgrade, update and acquire knowledge, skills and other attributes. Such knowledge makes us more strong and powerful. And it helps us to build strong moral standard where we may be less likely to engage into activities that we actually do not want. Positive fear propels us as long as we have strong belief, will power and character. Without such components fear may dominate us to engage into activities that we do not want from within but since it is the need to survival, we tend to follow.
Thanks Ajay. I really love your suggestions about getting support. Derek talks about finding mentors. The idea of growing our knowledge to answer our fears makes sense too. We fear the unknown so knowing should help.
For as early as I can remember, I have always had this nagging fear of dying and no one knows me. Thus, I have not wanted a house in the country 2-3 miles from my neighbors. I have not wanted a job locked away in solitude to enjoy my work alone. I have wanted to do spectacular noticeable things to ensure someone would know I had lived. Because of these fears, I have and continue to be motivated to excel. And this impetus keeps me moving forward ensuring others will deem me worthy to be remembered. Great post! Thanks!
Thanks earlgrffn1. Totally awesome comment. That self-awareness helps you tap into your motivation. Congratulations.
Great post! Fear is a jump-start for your battery and fuel for your engine. On another note, if the girl in the picture with the white eyeball sat down next to me, I’d move.
Thanks Jeff. Great term – jump-start. Fear can definitely create movement.
Fear can motivate and paralyze. It is figuratively a double-edged sword. You must visualize a positive outcome when challenging your fears. This will help motivate you when you are feeling paralyzed. More often than not challenging your fears has a much better outcome than doing nothing.
Thanks Michael. Glad you brought up the paralyzing side of fear. For me, visualizing a negative outcome also motivates action.
Well as the 3rd Dimension Rigid thinking flows out, Horray Rigid thinking flowing out, and 4th Dimension Response-Ability Thinking is firmly established in all of God’s kids…..all will be well.
Only the Rigid thinkers will feel any discomfort as they struggle to hold onto their illusions.
Fear is faulty evidence appearing real, it is whooey, move one’s mental focus to serving others. Or a romantic comedy is always nice.
In the direction of moving one’s mental focus to something groovy…..getting ones own house in order…..
“If you truly live this life, then it does not in the least matter what your present circumstances may be, or what difficulties you may have to struggle against, you will triumph over them all—you will make your demonstration. And not only will you make you own demonstration, in the quickest possible time, but you will be, and in a very positive and literal sense, a healing and illuminating influence on all around you, and a blessing to the whole human race. You will be a blessing to men and woman in remote places and times, men and women of who you have never heard, and who will never hear of you—–a light of the world, in fact, starting and wonderful as that may sound”.
Emmett Fox A REAL COOL DUDE
Either this or continue……shoot, aim, ready, instead of the shift to ready, aim, shoot. Pretty simple I recommend you shift!!!!!
EA ps I find fear is not quite as cool a choice as following one’s bliss. My desire is to love well and be well loved. The later none of my business though!!! If it happens, it happens!!!! hehe
Thanks Scott. I’m glad your voicing a prevalent view of fear.
Thanks Dan!! Ever curious to see and hear what I don’t know watched youtube video yesterday from Jacob Barnett I think his name is. 13 year old genius.. What a cool kid, grown ups thought he had Autism. Anyway his suggestion is to stop learning and start thinking!!
I am gonna try that perspective on today!
Cool videos about him free in youtube for anyone never heard of him.
EA. remember, what you see is what you get!! Actually what you tell yourself what you see is what you get, no other way.
Fear can be a powerful motivator. It causes an adrenalin rush, and stimulates a “fight or flight” behavior that can literally save lives – or cause us to kill others.
Useful fears are those that protect us and those around us. Due to natural apathy and resistance to change, it may take fear to get us to act (stop smoking, lose weight, for example).
Irrational fears are those whose outcomes we can’t control. (asteroids falling)
Long-term fear leads to anxiety, with increased levels of cortisol and all sorts of nasty effects on our mental and physical health.
Leaders should only use fear as a means of getting results if those results are so overwhelmingly good for others that the fear is justified and an appeal to other senses is not sufficiently strong or urgent. (Example, pulling a fire alarm to get people to evacuate a burning movie theater). Abuse of fear as a motivator is simply that – abuse.
I agree with John Kotter that change requires stirring people from their comfort zone as a prelude to moving them towards a better outcome. I strongly disagree with the concept that leaders may need to exaggerate the bad of the present situation to drive change. That is duplicitous. Leaders who are trusted by those they lead don’t need to lie to be heard and believed.
Use of fear as a leadership tactic is a coercive form of influence. It should be used very sparingly, without anger, and with integrity. Urgency may make it the only viable solution. If that urgency is caused by managerial ineptness, rather than a total surprise, then the manager has not performed well.
Consider use of position, referent power, reward power, and expert power as alternatives to fear. I strongly agree with Deming that one of management’s ideals should be to drive out fear. If managers must use fear to protect those they lead, they should devote considerable effort after the fearful event to reassuring them and protecting them.
The ideal leader is the shepherd of Psalms 23rd, who walks through the valley of the shadow of death with his sheep. He does not remove the fearful situation, perhaps because he can’t, but he is present to accompany and protect.
“There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear”, wrote Paul. Loving leaders cannot use fear as a motivational tactic, other than in extreme circumstances to protect those they truly love.
Very well said Marc, only folks still pondering the Spiritual Malady think fear can be used for anything. Sure it can startle confused folks. True Leadership, where one Dude has his own house in order and a clear Vision, then has Followers……that ain’t about fear baby.
Great stuff you shared Marc.
SP see it is about seeing the illusions for what they really are, mirages and not being tricked into thinking, acting on them really leads anywhere.
Just really great precise add today Marc. Plus mentioned Demming, what a ROCKSTAR!!!!
Who knew an Engineer could be such a Paradigm Shifter???? hehe
Thanks Marc. It’s so useful to be alert to the negative and unethical use of fear.
I’m most concerned in this post about tapping into our own fears rather than trying to make others afraid. Helping people find strong motivation includes helping people see their fears, not making them afraid.
However, if the company is going to fail then telling the truth that creates fear is healthy leadership, as long as there is a path forward.
Though I recognize the motivational power of fear, I’m not won over by the idea that it is a very good one. In fact, I am not really won over that motivation is anything but a poor fallback when we can’t find inspiration.
Further, I never agreed with the idea that fear was “false evidence appearing real.” Fear is very real evidence of desire. When I teach The Desire Engine, I talk about fear as “desire not to lose something that has meaning to us” or as an indicator of a “desire to hold on to something meaningful,” or evidence of a desire have a particular thing/condition that we feel is essential and meaningful, but that we believe is missing and don’t feel the power to attain.
Fear is a signal that is there for our interpretation and careful consideration. Sometimes it is simply saying, “You associate this with danger or a loss.” True, sometimes there is no danger or chance of loss, but just as often, fear is letting you know of real danger, or real risk, or to carefully consider moving forward.
Sometimes fear is telling us that we are focusing on the wrong thing if we want to have sustainable progress. It is much better to move joyfully toward something that is in our highest interest over time, than to run from something with an eye over the shoulder. The eye over the shoulder takes energy and attention away from the path.
So, to my way of thinking, it benefits us to carefully qualify our characterization of fear as a positive motivator. Action born of terror is not necessarily supporting the healthiest relationship with our being, even if others are cheering us on.
Thanks Mark. I was hoping this post would bring you out. I always enjoy your thoughtful responses. I can go with your idea that fear is a positive motivator. It may not always work out in a positive way, but, when we embrace rather than reject our fears we have great opportunity.
Terror is strong word that may be uncomfortable. I reject the approach that “negative” emotions are bad. As I reflected on my own experience, other terms seemed domesticated.
I harmonize with both you and Dans reply to this Mark. I’m very familiar with the concept of F.E.A.R. (false evidence appearing real) and it’s merely one facet to the fear factor. That many people have ignorantly ( …that may be strong to say but it’s true) regurgitate and parrot without thought as true in every situation in life.
Fear definitely has it’s place in our journey. As you have already mentioned, it definitely serves to alert us to REAL danger. I’ve read where people say that we don’t have wild beasts and predators to be afraid of in this modern age and frankly…I cringe. I often wonder if some of these people who say this live on the same planet as I do because I have first hand experience with REAL predators in this world. I lived with one. That fear was REAL.
Fear also has it’s place as a HEALTHY boundary to hold us back from things we are not yet PSYCHOLOGICALLY prepared to deal with yet. This is actually a hidden and very necessary grace at times that is often overlooked. The BLESSING behind a fear that holds us back from something more damaging UNTIL another more important fear is addressed that would equip us with enough strength to HANDLE what the other fear is temporarily protecting us from.
David Richo, one of my favorite psychotherapist authors, initially uncovered this aspect of fear for me in a very real and tangible way that made perfect sense for me. Again, this is yet another FACET of fear and does not represent the whole ‘truth’ on any of our fears.
Dan has probably read enough of my comment to know I agree that negative emotions are ‘bad’. They’ve been demonized and they aren’t bad at all. They are merely messengers…information. They are part of our internal guidance system.
Great thoughts guys!
Correction: that was suppose to read I agree that negative emotions are NOT ‘bad’…
Samantha my response was to Marc.
Mine for you is, folks will choose the perspective that serves them best.
Once again you thoughtfully expressed yours.
I understand. Thank you for clarifying.
My main point is that far too often people either speak without having any ‘real’ experience regarding what they are talking about. OR…they speak from their limited experience AS IF that entails the WHOLE truth about a subject.
The whole idea of ‘false evidence appearing real’ is not an accurate representation of truth for ALL fear even though many people (often the average lay person) will toss it around as a thoughtless acronym to any time the fear subject is discussed. (ever been to a weekly twitter chat? The acronym is tweeted COUNTLESS times from many any time the topic of fear is discussed. It’s the blanket definition for fear that doesn’t require anyone to have thoughts of their own. Or based on first hand experience.)
So that’s the point and the perspective. There’s people who parrot what others say and experience. And then there’s people who speak from experience. Two very different things.
Thanks for commenting. : )
To Scott Powell:
I haven’t met your monsters yet, so I don’t know if they are real. 😉 However, I do know that fear is very REAL evidence that you are responding to something: for example, in the case of an imagined monster, the fear might indicate an emotional response to a particular memory, an objectified subconscious fear, or perhaps an uncomfortable emotional or self-value set point—to mention just a few places we might look to discover what fear is telling us.
Therefore, in my mind, to dismiss fear as some kind of also-ran emotion by repeating platitudes that marginalize it, or that characterize the emotion as inherently negative… well, that practice is rather fraught with risk.
Put another way, it is one thing to say that there is nothing to fear; it is another to say that there is no reason for your fear. I hope this helps clarify.
Ok so let me get this right….
When I was a child there were really monsters under my bed?
They just hid real good when my Momma grabbed my hand and knelt down with me and looked under the bed?
Just want to make sure I got this right.
So childhood illusions are not real but when I become a big grown up these fears are really real. Interesting to know, how physics and neuroscience and quantum physics must all bend over time to make that all possible.
If we haven’t been where we were afraid to go, we simply have not been anywhere!
Not only that, we haven’t grown. To do more, we have to be more. It is impossible to become more than we are by staying who we are.
I want to be the most I can be and I will not let fear stop me from trying.
Thanks Jimmy. That opening line is killer! I hadn’t thought about fear as a component of growth. But, just think about a toddler learning to walk. They face their fear and grow or keep crawling.
Thanks Dan, I think one of the most important take-aways is that comfort or even comfortable fear, allows us to stay in the same rut without adventuring out. It actually can PREVENT us from trying new things, as we are comfortable and don’t want to become uncomfortable. I’ve learned I sometimes just have to JUMP in order to push myself out of my comfort zone and to make new experiences. Thanks again!!
– Zachary from http://quickmeups.com
Thanks Zachary. I’m with you. We just have to jump in. Glad you stopped in.
Fear…to be better. A better person, a better friend, a better advisor, a better woman. To leave this place better than when I came!
Thanks Nancy…keep pressing on.
I can totally relate to how you feel. I have a strong desire to do things that make a difference. It’s not an ego thing with me (at least I don’t think so). My parents owned their own business and had very strong work ethics. It carried though to their children. It’s not just enough to collect a paycheck without contributing and making a difference.
FYI – you do matter; your blogs are so thought provoking and timely. I don’t start my day without it.
Thanks Mike. Glad you went back to family. My dad’s example is a main reason I love books and learning. He also worked harder than any person I have ever known. Some of him is in me. I have strong desires based on what I saw in him.
Thanks for the good word.
Ethics and pride . . . so good to hear they are still out there. This country needs to get back to these basics!
Very interesting and thought-provoking post!
Recently, I have had several conversations with friends about how to make big decisions when everything is scary and unknown. It’s so easy to want to stay put when things are comfortable and more importantly, predictable.
However, we all agreed that fear can’t be considered when it comes to making a decision. Truthfully, when we are forced to decide on something big, fear is everywhere: it lives in the unknown and it dominates the thought of regret. If everyone made decisions based on what they were afraid of, nobody would do anything worthwhile or meaningful at all.
Thanks Emily. I wonder how you feel about twisting your comment around and saying that fear should be considered when making big decisions… at least sometimes – do the thing you fear.
I guess we are saying the same thing – you have to do the things you’re afraid of by disregarding that fear! 🙂
Interesting post. Fear is often talked about in a negative manner. But now, we are to recognize and embrace fear and say “YES”. I have fear today! Now I have motivation!! Everything is great and I will accomplish great things because I have fear. I expect next that we will have a FEAR conference 2014 with topics like “How to increase your Fear 20 fold to increase productivity”.
This seems very sad and it says volumes about the human condition. Next topic please.
Thanks Kevin. I appreciate your perspective. I think a Fear conference would be awesome. Not, how to make people afraid, but how to get in touch with our own existential angst.
I doubt if it would sell.
The elimination and demonization of “negative” emotions like fear and anger makes us less human. It tames us into pussy cats.
Thanks for dropping in today. Much appreciated.
When I think of fear, I think of it being a very important survival instinct. Without it, we’d comfortably take ourselves into unknown territory that may be devastatingly dangerous. Fear has it’s place and it certainly does motivate us to consider the danger . . . come up with an alternate, safer route. As long as fear doesn’t rule our decisions and keep us from forging into that unknown territory, then the fear is a healthy addition to our arsenal of tools to success.
Thanks Dianna. You make me think that ignoring fears or pretending we don’t have them is truly dangerous.
Dan, I think your reference to the guy (construction worker) who literally dropped a full story in the middle of that huge San Francisco building fire, and was rescued by the firefighters needs the back-story. That guy had rushed to the roof with a fire extinguisher when the fire broke out to try and stop it. Too little, too late. Talk about facing fear!!
thanks for the post.
Thanks Ruth. So you saw the news story too. Thanks for adding the back story.
If your dreams don’t scare you they aren’t big enough!
Thanks Jo. For me it’s more that they might not happen that scares me. 🙂
Have to play to win though, right? What’s the worst thing that can happen? We can often times forget to live in the moment and enjoy the journey vs just focusing on the destination.
Great post, for those of that have gone past the fear barrier it always serves as good reinforcement 🙂
Thanks AMcK. 🙂
Love your profile picture! (no fear, there!) : )
Being a cancer survivor and having been immersed in fear for such a long time it takes a lot these days to scare me. Not sure that is a good thing and perhaps being numb to fear let’s me take risks I would otherwise not take. The outcome has not always been good but the experience has and if fear had been an issue I perhaps would have not ventured there. My challenge is re-acquiring a healthy dose of fear not so much to not leap but at least to jump with some smarts and not reckless abandon. What is a healthy dose of fear? I certainly don’t know the answer to that one and I guess would be different for each person. Of course there is always the eternal fear of the cancer recurring with all the “baggage” that brings. But being positive as I always try to be I tell myself that if I beat it once then I know how do it already and can do it again. Peace
Thanks Al. You honor us with your story. I have a sense that we come to grips with our inner fears when we can say them out loud. Perhaps then, they begin to serve a useful purpose.
I can understand fear as a child would fear punishment from a parent or teacher, however what drives me to work one full-time job and two part-time jobs to complete my Masters is anger. You had a great post a while back that talked about leaders using focused anger to accomplish goals. Best article I found that helped me get in touch with that part of me that sometimes works 48 hours straight to reach my goals. It would seem motivation depends on a persons personality type.
Thanks John. I respect your candor. You reinforce the idea that “negative” emotions can have positive impact. I love listening to fear and anger. They are the clearest indicators of what’s important to me. In a way, I see what matters most through them. They show me what doesn’t work, what I don’t want, and in doing they help me see a positive path forward. You have my best.
As the late Wilson Harrell (author and columnist for Success magazine) wrote in his book “For Entrepreneurs Only” when you become an entrepreneur you will never again experience fear – because you will have graduated to terror!
KaPow!! Thanks Joe.
I relate easily to this idea of fear as a motivator. About 10 years ago I radically changed my career path and trajectory. A primary reason I’m driven to succeed is out of fear of failing and having to return to my previous career. Ten years later, I’ve done this “new” thing longer than the old, but the fear is still a motivator for me.
Thanks Kathy. I got a feeling of “I’m not going back!” from your comment. That type of thinking is part of what drives us into the future. Best wishes for the journey.
One thing that I’ve seen giving FEAR power that leads to failure or undesired circumstances is doubt. Usually humans doubt the power that they have to live supernaturally, not like superheroes, but supernaturally overcoming circumstances that come across us. I remember growing up I had a neighbor who was always bulling me, and each day before I go out of our house I would tell myself ”today I will show him that I am a man,” and just after telling myself this doubt would kick in with some questions like ”what if you fail to fight him?” Right at that moment my faith of winning would be crashed to death just because I doubted who I am. Doubt was giving room to fear, but the day that I doubted not I crashed down my Goliath and from that day I earned enormous respect and my Faith was boosted.
The thoughts we create in our minds can either boost our faith or create room for doubt leading to fear. We ought always to ask empowering questions that creates solutions. Learning the power of asking empowering questions which people need to overcome doubt and boost faith.
Thanks megaleiodevelopment. Never underestimate the power of a great question. One of my favorites is “What can we do?” — with an emphasis on can. We often think of what we can’t do. This question shifts our focus.
That’s definitely a power boosting question, it opens doors to many “CAN DO’s.”
Right now I fear stagnation.
This is silly for me to feel this way because I take daily action steps to ensure that I am not in the same place in my life one year from now.
Whenever I think about the things that WON’T happen if I don’t take action today terrifies me.
Thanks Marty. I know exactly what you’re talking about. When I can’t see a path forward, I start to feel like a caged animal.
You are where you are and what you are because of the dominating thoughts that occupy your mind. Negative thoughts results in a negative person who is bound by his own person who is bound by his own negative circumstances.
A negative thinker is like a man who swallowed an egg, shell and all. He was afraid to move for fear it would break, and he was afraid to sit still for fear it would hatch.
See more at: http://brilliantleader.blogspot.in/2011/12/negative-attitude-effects-negative.html#sthash.p04HybRU.dpuf
Thanks P. So, in order to change behavior we have to change our thoughts. What I find most helpful is embracing rather than rejecting the negative thoughts. Positive thinking isn’t positive pretending.
You said it! All the attributes explained in relation to fear is a perfect fit. I do regular consultancy, coaching , mentoring on a regular basis. I need to address new batch and people every time. I go through emotions, fear and butterflies in the stomach before each session afraid that I may not be forceful and convincing enough, whether i have done my home work properly etc; I agree without such thoughts I would not strive to do better each time. It these thoughts that is driving me to perfection each time and makes me explore , better on delivery. Thanks for everything.
It is interesting to me that my waking fears/worries manifest themselves in the quality of my sleep, and oftentimes, in my dreams. After confronting the fears, the quality of sleep improves.
Some people freeze because of fear. I would like to see more stepping out in spite of fear.
Hi Dan 🙂 I really enjoyed this post and love the new look of the blog and said to Richard “tell Dan how much I liked it” and he said “no – you tell him!!” Chrissy
excellent article….to become a successful person ,first one has to overcome one’s internal fears and doubts
Thanks for sharing Dan… I really enjoyed reading your blog!
What’s made the biggest difference in my leadership journey over the past year was being moved into a new role after about 8 years in call center management. I was asked to lead a technology project, which was very intimidating. There were many days I wanted to crawl under the covers and not come back out, but I learned a lot about myself and God through the process. It was not easy and not always enjoyable, but I wouldn’t go back and change anything because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and help me realize how complacent I’d become. We’re taught to fear fear, but sometimes it’s exactly what we need.