Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:49

Donna Rae Smith: Just for today

Sharon, the COO of a national consumer products company, has built a tremendously successful career by questioning the status quo and changing long-standing processes. Yet while she may seem a fearless maverick, the reality is much of Sharon’s success is the result of making safe decisions after exhaustive analysis.

Today, the quickened pace of business and changing industry dynamics are restricting the amount of time she can spend on new ideas, and Sharon’s CEO is increasingly pressuring her to make quick decisions, even at the risk of failure. Though she understands the need to take risks from a business perspective, Sharon is afraid of taking risks because she doesn’t want to fail. Therefore, she resists and avoids it.

Fear is a limiter. It cements us where we are and keeps us from trying. In fact, researchers studying fear and the impact of fearful stimuli on our bodies and minds have concluded that our stress systems are so powerful that when stimulated, they can override every other system in the brain. Furthermore, our fear receptors can be triggered by any kind of fear — rational or irrational.

Sharon tells me about a situation where fear is paralyzing her. She’s developed a new logistical process that could save her company and suppliers significant resources if implemented. However, she needs the approval of all suppliers to execute the change, and one supplier has already said no.

The supplier’s “no” triggered Sharon’s fear of failure response. She freely admits that she’s afraid of calling this supplier and having him say no again, even though she’s confident that if she explained the new process to him, there would be no reason for him to. Yet because Sharon continues to harbor an irrational fear that he will, the phone call is pushed from one week’s to-do list to the next.

When we objectively question our fear, we often find our perception of the risk is distorted. The fear has been amplified out of proportion to reality, or even possibility, so we believe the risk of failure is higher than it is. It’s this distorted perception that feeds our fear, further distorts our perception and keeps us from taking action. This cycle can only be broken by courageously putting our fear aside and taking action today.

So I ask Sharon if just for today she can put her fear aside and recognize that the risk of calling the supplier is low. He’s already said no, after all. If she doesn’t change his mind, she can at least feel confident in her attempt and start working on an alternative strategy.

A few days later, Sharon called to tell me she had put her fear aside and made the phone call to her supplier. Though he was rude and difficult, she was persistent. He eventually agreed that the new system made sense and gave her his approval to implement the change.

Sharon was able to approach her inner resistance and put her fear aside, just for today. Here’s how you can let go of the fears or barriers you are holding on to.

Confront your fear: Ask yourself what you’re really afraid of and write down every reason for your fear.

Capture the positive consequences: Write down the logical, rational reasons for taking action as well as the benefits of accomplishing the task, action or behavior.

Commit to time: Pledge to taking action, just for today.

Share with others: Tell someone what you plan to do and ask for support.

Then, do it.

It is empowering, less intimidating and less risky to make plans for only one day. You can always choose to shoulder the fear and resistance again tomorrow; but by choosing to do this just for today, we give ourselves permission to release the barriers of resistance.

Published in Akron/Canton