Have you ever made a decision in your academic or professional life in which you knew what the smart choice was, but you still took a different path?
When we analyze situations, we often rely too heavily on logic and underestimate the influence of emotion in driving human behavior.
One of the most powerful emotions is fear, such as the fear of the unknown, the fear of missing out, or the fear of failure. Left unchecked, fear can have profound impacts on our lives, from not taking advantage of a rare professional opportunity to large scale crimes such as the Holocaust.
So how do we overcome fear to accomplish more in life?
The key to overcoming fear is to 1) realize the worst case scenario is usually not even that bad, and 2) dive in without overthinking to numb yourself to the initial discomfort.
The worst case scenario isn’t usually that bad
Let’s take the fear of failure in the context of job interviews.
Often times people experience anxiety when they are fixated on a particular outcome (i.e. getting the job). But ask yourself. What’s the worst that can happen?
The worst possible outcome is probably that you don’t get the job, which is exactly the same place you are in right now. Seeing how the worst possible outcome isn’t even that bad helps keep things in perspective.
Plus, you can always get another interview somewhere else. As long as there continues to be problems in this world, there will continue to be money to be made and jobs to be had.
So here is the lesson. Think about the worst case scenario.
1. Is it that bad?
2. How likely is it to happen?
Usually the answers are “no” and “not likely,” respectively.
Dive in to quickly numb yourself before your rational brain kicks
Since the alternative (i.e. doing nothing) often leads to regret later on and you know that the worst case isn’t that bad or likely, how do you move yourself to take action?
The key is to move before your rational brain kicks in. We want to activate the part of the brain that just reads and reacts instead of thinking – think of it as the “fight or flight” mode of the brain.
When we start thinking about the situation, all these doubts and concerns – both rational and irrational – kick in. It is important to take action before that happens. If we move quickly enough and start seeing some quick wins, then we can prevent those doubts and concerns from appearing.
By the time your rational brain kicks in, you will have already “done” it and truly experienced that it isn’t so bad anymore, that you don’t even have to “trick” your rational brain anymore, because you’ve already tangibly experienced the reality and it really isn’t that bad.
So the idea is basically to “fake it until you see it and believe it for yourself.” You do this by diving in completely and quickly.
It’s like when you jump into the swimming pool, you feel the shock from the cold water for a few seconds, then the discomfort is gone. But when you stand around the pool thinking about how cold the water is, dip your toes in a few times, then back out, you are just putting yourself through a lot of unnecessary misery.
Thou shalt not strike out looking
You never want to go down – in anything – without having taken your best shot. Otherwise you will go through life thinking about what could have been, and that’s not fun at all.
For example, in sales, one of the most dreaded activities for sales reps is cold calling. But the reality is that it doesn’t matter how good you are at “closing” deals, because if you don’t have enough meetings with prospective clients, you’re not going to enough opportunities to win business.
Another example: if you don’t have much work experience, you’re likely going to have to go on a lot of interviews to get a job offer.
To take a legitimate shot at something and really make an impact, you have to dive in. Don’t expect overnight results.
One time, a student came to us all discouraged because he had “failed” nine tech interviews in six months. Our response was basically: you should go on a lot more interviews.
To put things into perspective, nine interviews in six months is very few. That means on average you went almost three weeks between each interview. It’s like a high school kid getting behind a steering wheel for the first time, taking the car around the block once, parking it back at the garage, and concluding that he knows how to drive now and does not like it.
Put yourself out there more frequently and for a longer period of time. Otherwise you’re not even taking a legitimate shot.
(Plus, this is also another great opportunity to separate yourself from the pack, as most people in the same situation will chicken out.)
The worst is not that bad. The worst is unlikely to happen.
Fake it until you make it: trick yourself into believing it until you truly experience that it was actually true all along.
You do that by diving in completely and quickly.
Thou shalt not strike out looking.
If you master this, you will have another advantage over the masses.