The Brain and Overcoming Fear

The Brain and Overcoming Fear

A lot of leaders still subscribe to the idea that they must present an image of confidence and control; they must be a ‘fearless’ leader to be effective and get the results they desire. You’ve probably met many of these leaders in your career and wondered if they really were unafraid of anything – and the truth is, everybody gets scared! It’s not a weakness to feel fear or to share those feelings. In fact, vulnerability is being recognised as a valuable trait for leaders to have, because it endears them to their team and helps foster open communication and authentic relationships.

It’s only natural to feel some trepidation each day, as you don’t know what others are going to do, whether they’re clients, your team, or your leaders. Any time you feel you lack control often triggers a feeling of unease – it happens to all of us. But you can’t let your fear reach unhealthy levels, because then it seeps into your behaviour and destroys relationships, opportunities, sales…just about anything, really!

You probably feel confident when you know all the facts and feel like there’s going to be a positive outcome, even though you can’t be certain, right? And you feel fear when you’re uncertain of what’s going to happen and you focus on that uncertainty.  

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

So how do you overcome your fear in a healthy way?

The answer lies in MIT neuroscience professor and cognitive specialist Earl Miller’s research, where he found that humans have an inability to multitask, and looked at ways to increase brainpower. This research doesn’t apply to fear as an emotion, where it is instant or unconscious; we can apply it to the fear based on perceptions and expectations that we feel on a daily basis, however. What you need to understand about this type of fear is that we consciously think about it – and when you understand this, you can then apply the research to just about any situation.

What does this mean? To put it simply, since we can only focus consciously on one thing at a time, if you start doing something then your fear will start to dissipate. Conscious fear can be reduced by taking action – so take the plunge, start doing, and you’ll find your fear fading!

Have you ever noticed how you feel scared in a new situation, such as meeting someone for the first time or starting a new job, but then as you dive in and start talking to people and doing things, you’re not as afraid anymore? That’s taking action to overcome your fear, and you didn’t even know you were doing it!

It can be hard to take that first step though, can’t it? To get yourself to talk to that person or take that action, to shake off the fear, you need to commit to doing so.

Commit to taking action when you feel fear, and you’ll find yourself focusing on other things instead. This commitment should be unbreakable; it’s more than just an idea or decision, you need to follow through. There’s no other option.

You’ll feel more and more confident as you stick to your commitment because your action will lead you to success, and success makes anyone feel confident! It’s a cycle, because if you aren’t feeling confident then you should take action, because the confidence will then come to you, and then you’ll have success because you’re not thinking about fear anymore!

Now that you know about your brain and its inability to multitask, you can start to overcome fear instead of letting it hold you back!

About the Author

Sonia McDonald believes we should lead with kindness, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘Just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organisations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of HR. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognised as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.

She is an award-winning published author and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, developing work-life balance, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow and advocating for women in business and male-dominated industries.

Keynote Topics for 2019

Sonia will give you peace of mind when booking a speaker. She is a proven world-class professional speaker with the skills to “rock an audience”.

Her energy, empathy, kindness, sensitivity and humour will enhance any event she appears.

  1. Leadership Attitude
  2. Just Rock It
  3. Leadership for Small Business
  4. Leading the Next Generations
  5. Courageous Leadership
  6. Future Leaders of Leadership
  7. New Kindness of Leadership

Phone 1300 719 665

www.soniamcdonald.com.au

7 Ways to Overcome Fear

7 Ways to Overcome Fear

Feeling fear is a natural part of life; you will encounter many situations that make you feel fear, and it’s important that you know how to overcome these feelings so that they don’t stop you from achieving your goals and reaching your full potential. Here are 7 ways to overcome fear and take back control.

1.   Understanding the root of your fears

You can’t overcome your fears without understanding them first. It can be hard to confront them and dig deep to untangle the ‘why’ behind your fears, but in doing so you’re able to move forward and experience personal (and professional) growth.

2. Be guided by your goals

A strategy I love when it comes to overcoming fear is breaking down a big goal into smaller, achievable goals. It’s also a good idea to make sure that some of your goals incorporate learning something new so that you’ve still got value out of the experience even if you do fail at some point. Make sure your goals include some that scare you so that you get plenty of practice facing your fears and get more comfortable taking risks.

3. Work with a mentor

Having someone who is outside of your regular circle of family and friends to advise and encourage you to conquer your fears. Mentors are also invaluable for professional development, so this is definitely an avenue to explore if you want that extra push personally and professionally.

4. Find a mantra that resonates with you

Repeating a mantra or personal affirmation when you’re feeling scared helps ease the fearful feelings and grounds you.

A fantastic mantra I recommend is “This too shall pass”. It reassures you that fear is temporary and repeating it when you’re fearful lowers the hesitant feelings you’re experiencing.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

5. Realise that regret is worse than failure

While trying and failing at something can be hard to deal with, imagine if you had never even tried in the first place! For leaders especially, failure is all but guaranteed due to the nature of leadership and what it involves – but just about any leader you ask will agree with the fact that regret feels much worse than failure!

6. Look at fear in a positive way

See fear as a chance to challenge yourself, and think about how amazing it will feel after you’ve faced what scares you. Focusing on how you’re going to feel afterwards helps with easing the fear you feel in the moment, and actively working with your mind to turn negative thoughts to positive will serve you well in all areas of your life.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ Eleanor Roosevelt

7. Make small changes for big results

You wouldn’t launch straight into a marathon without training first, right?

Start with smaller actions so that you don’t feel too intimidated. Even the tiniest step is a step forward, and you can’t change the world without changing your own world first.

I hope these tips help you overcome some of the fears you have, whether at work or in your personal life. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these strategies before, or you’ve got any tips that I’ve missed that you find really effective too!

About the Author

Sonia McDonald believes we should lead with kindness, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘Just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organisations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of HR. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognised as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.

She is an award-winning published author and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, developing work-life balance, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow and advocating for women in business and male-dominated industries.

Keynote Topics for 2019

Sonia will give you peace of mind when booking a speaker. She is a proven world-class professional speaker with the skills to “rock an audience”.

Her energy, empathy, kindness, sensitivity and humour will enhance any event she appears.

  1. Leadership Attitude
  2. Just Rock It
  3. Leadership for Small Business
  4. Leading the Next Generations
  5. Courageous Leadership
  6. Future Leaders of Leadership
  7. New Kindness of Leadership

Phone 1300 719 665

www.soniamcdonald.com.au

WHY CHANGE IS HARD – and how we can make it easier.

WHY CHANGE IS HARD – and how we can make it easier.

By Sonia McDonald LeadershipHQ 

Change is a constant factor in human history. What is distinctive now is the rate and scale of change. 

(Robinson 2001) 

Why do people find it so hard to change, or resist change even when it might be good for them?  

As leaders, we are constantly driving and facilitating change, yet research in this area has demonstrated that 70% of change initiatives fail! Why?  How can we make change easier and more successful?  

The neuroscience of change is an area I am passionate about and in this article I am going to share with you why understanding our brains is vital to managing and coping with change.  

Brains are wired for survival. 

Our brain functions as a survival tool by helping us avoid danger.  A part of the brain called the amygdala helps monitor our responses and tells us when to run from danger or towards safety.  It also tells us when to step towards a benefit or away from a threat. 

When change is happening around us in our society, relationships and workplaces, we can feel threatened and that activates our amygdala. We feel outside our comfort zones, triggering fear and anxiety.  

While this is good for our safety it does come at a cost.  When our brains are in safety mode, protecting us from a perceived threat, they cannot function well as problem solver or creativity generator.  In the workplace, the fear of change causes people to rely on tried and true routines, rather than create new strategies to move forward.  In effect, the brain shuts down the part that is really needed at that time. 

Basically the amygdala of your brain has been hijacked and this is not the best time to make an important decision.   

So whether you are a caveman running away from the threat of hungry dinosaurs or your boss has just informed you that there are going to be major changes to the department, your brains and bodies will continue to react with the same chemicals and hormones that we need to run away from physical danger.  Such is the effect of the threat of change at work. 

Now you see why 70% of change initiatives fail.   

By understanding how the brain works we can manage change resistance and develop strategies to maximise change potential. Additionally it gives us insights into how people learn, engage and remember as well as manage emotions. 

Brains are lazy. 

Considering that our brains weigh around 1.5 kilograms and absorb around 20% of our body’s energy, our brains are energy efficient and actually pretty lazy. Our brains prefer comfy habits as they require a lot less energy. They don’t really like to learn new habits or ways of doing things as this takes effort!  

The design of the brain is not always helpful.  The part of the brain which is responsible for thinking and high order processing (the pre-frontal cortex) requires a lot more energy to function than does the part of the brain which deals with emotion (limbic system).   That means it’s a lot harder for us to cope with change than to return to our tried and true habits. 

How can we break habits and form new ones? In his book “The Brain That Changes Itself” Dr. Norman Doidge tells us that the brain can be changed by our thoughts and actions.  They physically alter the structure of the brain itself, which in turn changes the way it functions.  This is the most important breakthrough in neuroscience in four centuries. 

This ability of our brain to change and make new connections, re-wire itself and even grow new brain cells as a result of experience is called “neuroplasticity”. Change is about forming new wiring, habits and behaviours. Yes, we can teach an old dog new tricks! 

How can we harness neuroplasticity of change? By tapping into the emotions…  

Brains are affected by emotion. 

We know that often our behaviour is controlled by emotion rather than common sense.  What that tells us is that the limbic system in the brain has some control over the information that is passed onto the cortex, which controls our decision making system. 

In other words, our thoughts and actions are coloured or skewed by the emotion that we are feeling.  You’ve heard of rose-coloured glasses, the phenomenon that makes certain things look better than they really are.  That’s an example of the limbic system influencing our beliefs and perceptions. 

When people are afraid, as they usually are at the thought of change, our limbic systems colour our perceptions with threat and fear.  People only see the negative side of change because that is all their brain permits.   If the change is brought about for positive reasons then people will accept it and be ready to involve themselves in making change happen.   

Making the brain work for you. 

So, we know that our brains are wired for survival, that they are lazy and will take the easiest thought out of there, and that every thought is coloured by emotion. We also know that actions and thoughts can change the physical structure of the brain. 

How can we use that knowledge to make the brain lead us towards supporting change rather than running away from it? 

There are two key solutions.   

First you can use neuroplasticity to your advantage and provide opportunities for people to develop new thoughts, and practice new actions and behaviours, thereby rewiring the brain.   

Second, you can make the limbic system work for you by creating positives around change especially to reinforce behaviour and thought changes. 

We need to build organisational change systems that capture the important role of emotions in determining behaviour, particularly in the contexts of engagement, resistance, cooperation, and commitment.  What that means in the workplace is that every small step forward needs to be acknowledged.   

Change leaders are essentially helping people to develop new connections within their brains.  Our role should involve creating opportunities and interventions which give people the chance to trial new behaviours in a safe environment.  We should allow them to take the ‘risk’ of doing something uncomfortably new and succeed at it. The more fun we can build into the experience, the more people will become involved in it. 

Positive reinforcement is essential to help embed the new thoughts and behaviours and to show the limbic system that this change is nothing to fear.  The more often we can encourage people to repeat the new actions, the more comfortable their brains will allow them to feel.  When people are comfortable, their high order thought processes resume functioning and their creativity and decision making skills start firing again.   

If you are leading change in your organisation you can create the right atmosphere for change by building a safe and positive environment for your team and identifying ways to acknowledge and reward new actions or behaviours. 

What is your organisation doing to support its people through change? 

Email me your thoughts and insights – or you would like to know more about creating these environments to sonia@leadershiphq.com.au 

X