It was President Franklin D Roosevelt who coined the famous phrase – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. It’s a quotation that is much loved by trainers, particularly those of us who help folk stand up and speak in front of others when their knees are knocking, their tongues are tied and their hearts are in their mouth.
Like many sage sayings, FDR’s insight sounds quite simplistic – perhaps aimed to provoke the response “well, if that’s all, then let’s get on with it!”. But the phrase has stood the test of time because of the profound insight it offers – fear is at times an overwhelmingly powerful force with the ability to defeat feelings of optimism, confidence and even determination. It has the pervasive ability of making us focus on what might go wrong (rather than what is going right) and thus can stop us even starting to try to do something which we may potentially fail at.
Sometimes its good to be reminded what fear can feel like so we can test our response. Just last week, I found myself tested to the limits of my fears as I arranged to get new photos taken for my website. While I relish the prospect of standing talking to hundreds of people, even the thought of standing in front of one person with a camera makes me want to shrivel up into a very small and dark corner. This time, I couldn’t help but notice that my fears were impacting on the very thing I was there to do – my body was completely tense, my face rigid and I started to spout the most random amount of jibberish to try to silence the pounding of blood between my ears – all of which resulted in the most awkward of shots.
Luckily, I was in the hands of a fantastic professional – Spike Allibone of Night Train Productions (http://nighttrain.zenfolio.com/) – who, far from ignoring my fears, spoke to me about them and assured me that if I worked with him, I might not just be able to get a usable photo, I may even be able to enjoy myself. Very quickly I started to laugh when I realised he was using the very same techniques that I employ when helping folk overcome their fear of speaking in public. Far from dismissing my concerns, he asked me to talk about them, to acknowledge them and recognise that it was mainly my fears that were getting in the way of the job in hand. With conscious relaxation of my body, by making me think of smiling to my audience rather than the camera and by reminding me to pause and breathe, the results were nothing short of miraculous (i.e. usable) and he was right – I really had nothing to fear but my fear itself.
So next time I’m working with someone who tells me that they would rather run away than talk into the microphone, I know that I can relate well to where they are coming from. Ignoring fears is a dangerous policy - they will trip us, encircle and entrap us if we are not alive to the threats they can pose. But walking away hands the victory over before the fight has even begun and stops us from doing what we want to do and what we can do. We can look at our fears face on, confident that with guidance, with insight and with practice, we all can defeat them – and so we will end up not running away from the challenge but towards it, safe in the knowledge that if we can face our fears, we can conquer anything. We really have nothing to fear but fear itself.