We all know what fear is since we live with it every day or know someone who does. Most of us are afraid of a lot of things, from changing jobs, public speaking, starting or ending a relationship, confronting people, being rejected and more… Fear can make you abandon your business or the love of your life.

Research has shown that when people are afraid, they work harder but worse. The anxiety fear climate generates affects people’s memory and ability to concentrate.

Whatever your fears are and no matter how valid it may seem, it could at best cripple your productivity and creativity.

Some of the reasons not to manage fear include:

  1. Fear distracts you from your productive work
    When managed by fear, you are likely focus on staying safe. You will spend time gathering evidence to protect yourself from any possible harm. Time that could have been spent on producing results is spent on looking for evidence to protect yourself from perceived danger.
  2. Fear increases the need for switching between tasks
    People who work with fear tend to switch more between tasks, in an attempt to look more productive than what they really are.

Each time you switch between tasks, you need extra time to focus your attention on the new task, decreasing your productivity.

– Francisco Sáez

3. Fear limits creative thinking and problem-solving ability
When you are scared that you might run at a disadvantage when you make a mistake, you are likely to refrain from coming up with solutions and ideas to move you forward as you are scared of making a mistake. You are unable to think clearly, let alone creatively, fearing you might be punished for not producing the results exactly as you want.

4. Fear is debilitating, causing you to be less productive
In extreme situations, fear can be debilitating, rendering you unable to do any work, fully realising the impact of fear on productivity.

5. Fear increases doubt
People who feel unsafe tend to doubt themselves. You might know the right thing to do but will refrain from taking action because you are not sure whether your action will be punished or rewarded.

6. Fear causes procrastination
Fear causes you to procrastinate, unwilling to move forward because you fear to take the wrong action or ask the wrong question. You would rather spend time and energy finding ways to look busy than risk doing something you are not 100% sure will be accepted.

7. Fear breaks down and inhibits communication
Probably the biggest disadvantage of living in fear is the break down in communication. You are afraid to raise issues, point out gaps or errors in the processes, relationships and ask questions. You will spend time doing the wrong things, rather than to clarify an issue.

This impacts productivity not only directly, by not doing productive work, but also indirectly, by causing you to redo the same work at a later stage.

8. Fear hides problems
When problems can be seen, they can be fixed. When you are afraid to raise issues, you tend to spend your energy trying to hide it. That doesn’t mean that the problem goes away, it merely means it will most probably remain undiscovered until someone discovers it. This impacts both your productivity and your reputation.

9. Fear causes confusion by blurring the goal
When people are afraid, their perception becomes limited. Your fear will drive you to take the first action without much thinking. When you are more likely to act without thinking, the more blurred the yourl becomes until finally, you are confused and unproductive.

10. Fear lowers motivation
You can only feel one emotion at a time, just as you can only focus on one task at a time. When you experience fear, they’re not able to feel motivated at the same time. On the emotional scale, moving downwards, towards the more negative emotions, is much easier than moving up towards positivity. Fear thus lowers motivation and makes it much harder to get back to the same level of motivation as before.

Driving out fear

Dr Deming, the father of the Quality evolution, came up with a list of 14 principles of management to improve the effectiveness of a business which I believe can be applied to personal living. These principles form the foundation of the Toyota Way, a philosophy and methodology followed by Toyota, and the reason for turning it around from close to bankruptcy to one of the highest performance and most respected businesses in the world.

One of his 14 principles for an effective and productive business is to drive out fear.

“We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.”

Dr W Edwards Deming

Dr Deming believed that a problem can only be solved when you know about it. He also believed that the people who know what’s really going on, are the people doing the work. It is thus crucial to creating a safe mental and emotional and physical environment where you feel free to express your ideas and voice potential problems. Don’t be too hard in yourself. Cut yourself some slack for mistakes, surround yourself with people who will not judge you by what you fear and the mistakes of your past.

In driving out fear, you need a self culture change. What do I mean? It requires building a sense of courage. Courage to be honest. Courage to look at problems. Finally, the courage to attempt to change. Driving out fear requires building a psychologically safe environment. At the heart of psychological safety are authenticity and integrity.

In conclusion, give yourself from for mistake, be honest about the current state of things, think forward not backwards, be willing to take responsibility for your actions even in mistakes, develop failure resilience.

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