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Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

    Believe it or not, one of the most paralyzing fears is the fear of success. That’s right, the fear of achieving one’s goals. It seems insane, because of course, we want to reach our goals, right? I mean, don’t we?

    The short answer is that yes, we do want to accomplish our goals, but that it’s complicated. There are several factors that complicate our relationship with achievement. For example, we may fear that pursuing our goals might cause tension between ourselves and our family, friends, and other acquaintances. People close to us can exacerbate this by scolding us for having a big head, being too big for our britches, or thinking we’re better than them. Success can feel like abandoning the people we care about.

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    Or we might fear the way that accomplishing something big opens us up to criticism. Even one negative review among dozens of positives can feel like failure if we’re deeply-enough invested into a project’s outcome. Accomplishment also brings with it heightened expectations, new responsibilities, and new goals more difficult than the ones just realized — all of which can cause us to fear the accomplishment itself.

    Finally, our projects are often so much a part of ourselves that finishing feels like a death of sorts — what will I do, or more importantly, who will I be when I no longer have my novel/dissertation/degree/start-up/other big project to define my days and my self? That’s a pretty big whammy!

    Success and Other People

    Working on any big project can cause conflict with the people around  us. There are practical concerns — not being able to socialize, for instance, or neglecting day-to-day chores to work on our life’s work — and there are emotional ones — feeling selfish about choosing your work over your family and friends, for example. This is why it’s vitally important to build relationships with supportive people (and be genuinely supportive in return) and to nourish those relationships no matter what else is going  on.

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    No matter how big a project or goal, we must make time for socializing, relaxing, and playing. For one  thing, non-work time can be just as crucial to our success as the time we spend directly working towards our goals, because it recharges our batteries and lets our minds move our work to an unconscious part of our mind where it often continues to work (ts is why the solution to so many problems pops into our heads as soon as we stop thinking about them). But just as important, this “together time” with the people who matter to us strengthens our relationships and lets them know that they are a big part of the life you’re working toward your goals to create.

    Of course, there are always one or two emotional vampires who, because of jealousy, resentment, or just an overly negative nature, will never be quite satisfied. If you can cut them loose, do so — life’s too short to try to please theunpleasable . If you can’t, though — if they’re family, for example — then do what you can to firewall them from your life while you’re working, and let the results speak for themselves down the line. If you can learn to see their negativity as their problem, not yours, all the better.

    Fear of Falling

    Not achieving our goals has something really big going for it — if you don’t get off the ground, it won’t hurt if you fall. Striving for success always involves a risk — and the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall. Dreaming without acting can even be soothing: we can dream of a brighter future without risking anything. At least for a while.

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    A fear of failure or of negative criticism can instill in us a perfectionism that leads us to shy away from finishing a big project, and even from starting. We internalize and amplify the criticism we expect, and almost always find ourselves lacking. “Who am I to attempt something this big?” our inner critic asks — and all-too-often, answers, “Nobody.”

    While that inner critic may not be totally unavoidable, you can make an end-run around it by giving yourself permission to suck. Realize that some of the greatest works of art were profoundly disappointing to their creators, that the greatest entrepreneurs are always striving to make their companies better, that some of the most brilliant scientists of all time made incredible mistakes. Einstein almost undermined his entire Theory of Relativity by adding a cosmological constant to his formulae because he couldn’t accept what his work was telling him about the universe. Bill Gates became the richest person in the world releasing software that consistently failed to live up to expectations.

    Who Do You Want to Be Today?

    The biggest psychic beast roaming the jungles of our mind is the fear of the unknown that comes when we’re done with whatever big project we’re working on. In it’s mild form, it is simply a fear of deferred failure — we may succeed in the short term, but that success will give way to more and greater projects that will, eventually, overwhelm us.

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    In its more chronic form, this is a fear of becoming someone else — finishing a novel makes us an author, finishing a dissertation makes us a Doctor, building a company makes us a CEO, and so on. Life may be better, we hope — but it will also be different. Our lives will change in ways we cannot imagine, and that’s pretty scary!

    It’s important to remember, though, that life doesn’t work like it plays out in our imaginations. We don’t suddenly jump from wherever we are into some unknown future where we have no idea what we’re doing. The responsibilities that might evolve from the successful completion of a big project will build on the skills and talents we developed in executing that project. That is, the entrepreneur hustling to make her first big sale today isn’t going to be the CEO of her company when it’s successful; the CEO will be the person she gradually becomes as she amasses experience and know-how in the course of building her company.

    But most important of all, we need to cultivate joy and satisfaction in the work itself — and in our lives as they are. That might seem counter-intuitive; after all, why strive to improve your life if you’re satisfied with it as it is? But how can we expect to be satisfied with some unknown future life if we can’t be satisfied with the life we already know? We have to replace the notion of a better tomorrow with a sense of purpose, with each step towards that purpose being equally as important as the next and the last. It’s not that who you are today is lacking, somehow, but that who you are today is essential to the realization of your life’s purpose.

    Where you get that sense of purpose will differ from person to person. For some, it is religion; for others, a commitment to their art; for still others, humanitarian ideals; and others will find purpose in the face of their newborn child, their spouse, or their parents. Each of us has our own path to walk, and each of us has to find it on our own — though there are plenty of markers out there if you just look, given that the quest for purpose is humanity’s oldest preoccupation after the sheer fact of survival. And even just accepting that there is some purpose in your life, without necessarily knowing what it is, can be a huge motivator — that alone can give you wings and help overcome the fear that keeps you from using them.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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