204: How fear can stop you from taking action and how to reverse it
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How fear can stop you from taking action and how to reverse it
Read the episode transcript:
I’m really enjoying this particular season because it’s raw, unfiltered and in-your-face real. I’m sharing my biggest fears in business and things I’ve dealt with in my life as well as inviting my guests to share their fear challenges as well as what they’ve done to overcome them. As a solopreneur, I have faced fear head on and managed my way through it, often embarrassingly so. Have my fears held me back from playing bigger? Absolutely. Have my fears stopped me from growing my business to be greater than it is now? Definitely. I’ll be the first to admit it, and it’s funny because as I say these things, my mind is giving me mental justifications for these inactions, and it’s a LOUD VOICE. Like, “Oh, I didn’t want to grow my business too large and then have to manage tons of people and projects and clients.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t want to do retreats and off-sites with clients or a mastermind because, well, everybody’s doing that, so why would anyone participate in mine? Plus, it’s a lot of work and I just don’t want to take away time from serving my current clients.”
Whenever you hear yourself—either mentally or out loud—make statements like that, those excuses, pay attention. What’s at the heart of them is fear, doubt and anxiety. And that’s okay. Any new territory that’s untested in your life is going to give you pause. Unless you’ve trained yourself to embrace unknowns and what would normally be a fearful situation, your brain is going to want to protect you and keep you safe. When you combine that physiological response to perceived threats with your lifelong conditioning and “stories” about who you are and what you can and cannot do, no wonder you can’t get anything done. It is the perfect cocktail of inaction.
And here’s the irony. People think that inaction, or not doing anything, is really not doing anything. But in fact, it is still action. You’re still choosing to not do anything, and that IS doing something. I know, it’s a brain twister, but it’s the truth. We try to protect ourselves by not taking action, when it’s the worst kind of action to take: nothing. At the very minimum, a better action to take is to just think about it differently. Why? Because that’s where everything starts: in the mind.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t like confrontation. It’s embedded in my family’s DNA. I learned it from my dad, and saw him suffer through some pretty harsh conditions because he didn’t want to confront painful issues. It contributed to his cynicism during his mid 50s, but he got more seasoned about it as he got older, and I saw him turn it around. Not that he ran around confronting people like someone who had just completed a year of Gestalt therapy, no. The way I saw it was that it was a more of a mixture of not giving a crap and going for it anyway, combined with being a lot clearer as to what his priorities were. And that made him happy because he’d figured out his own way of dealing with a behavior that didn’t serve him.
Most people don’t like confrontation because it’s the next door neighbor of fear. It triggers the fear response similar to what we experience in actual fearful situations. That “fight or flight” response gets triggered. And you know what? It totally sucks that we’re so negatively impacted by our body’s evolutionary responses. But in those rare—and hopefully absent—situations where we NEED that fear response, we have it as a fall-back. So when we look at our business, how can we assess areas where we are either 1) avoiding confrontational situations or 2) in total inaction because of hidden, unaddressed fears?
Let’s get this on the court with a real life example. I know a solopreneur who is fantastic at her craft. Absolutely the best. When she’s in the midst of doing her thing, she is in the zone, she’s cruising, she’s creative and she’s happy. That’s why we do what we do, right? Well, it’s one of the reasons. Anyway, she has one fear: she hates prospecting because she dreads rejection. So what she does is she avoids doing the right things she needs to do to build her pipeline such as searching for and connecting with prospective clients and building relationships with the people who can refer her clients. Instead she does things that she finds easier and more comfortable, such as going to useless social meet-ups and networking events in her town, joining the Chamber of Commerce and attending their events, that sort of stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, she still can get leads from it, but it’s hit or miss, especially because she has a very target niche audience and they don’t often attend these types of events. Here’s the kicker: she feels as if she’s building her pipeline because she IS doing something. And yes, she IS doing something, but what she’s doing is “playing it safe” and softening the chances of rejection because she’s pitching an audience that in no way would even consider working with her because they don’t have the problem she solves. So they’re technically not rejecting her, because they really weren’t even in the realm of considering working with her to begin with.
Now I know that seems like an unusual scenario, but it happens. Most of us are doing this unconsciously for the same exact reason, but we blame it on our ineffective marketing or the marketplace or our industry or external influences that are not under our control. We come up with stories about it to make sense of why we’re not making progress, why we’re not making sales, and why the sales we DO make end up being headaches from the get-go. We’re putting ourselves in front of people who are NOT our people!
So in this example, what do you think the inaction is? The inaction (or action, if we’re being honest) that she’s taking is she’s putting herself in situations where there is low risk of rejection. Her fear is that someone will say, “No, thank you,” in a scenario where they are a perfect fit for her as a client. So let’s examine this for a second. She presents herself as a solution to an ideal prospect. They say, “No, thank you,” and since they are an ideal fit (meaning they have money, they have time, they have an exact problem that she can fix easily, they’re willing to get help, etc.), then there must be some OTHER reason they say no. Depending on what is behind her insecurity around rejection, she may rationalize this response to be one that is either personal, such as that prospect just did not like her, aka “rejected” her, or, she did something wrong in her presentation of her solution. Or it could be both.
Now let’s continue pulling on this thread.
So after this interaction happens, the offer, the rejection, the rationalization, what decision do you think she makes as a result? Does she decide that the prospect was not a prospect after all? Does she write it off as that person just not knowing what they’re missing? Does she brush herself off and move onto the next prospect? Maybe. More than likely, because of past conditioning that is reinforcing the fear of rejection, it will instead feed the insecurity and fear. She will continue to have more fear around prospecting because she has evidence she is not worth hiring.
That is pretty huge, isn’t it. This is the trickery our minds play on us. This is why mindset and understanding how all of this works in our bodies is so important to our having success in our business. And you know, I can relate to her story. I used to have, and to some degree still have it eke into my week, fears related to prospecting. And I used to be the QUEEN of inaction when it came to reaching out to my target audience to build relationships and have helpful conversations. I’d create all kinds of “busywork” as excuses for why I wasn’t on the phone or email every day connecting with people in a productive, business-building way. So my “inaction” was disguised as busywork. See how seductive it can be?
I remember coaching I got from a mentor about this behavior. She said, “Why don’t you just NOT do the research and just pick up the phone and call them? What would happen?” And what she was implying was that prospecting wasn’t something I needed to be as prepared as I thought I need to be to do. I was using the research, preparation etc. as the reason why I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing to grow my business. Hey, I have no problem calling myself out because this is what I had to overcome in order to grow my business. Now, is the resistance still there every time I go to pick up the phone and call someone new? Of course it is. That’s my fear response hard at work. But let me tell you, not unlike ripping off a bandaid, once I get on the phone with someone, I always end up having a great conversation. And if they’re a total dick, why would I want to work with them anyway? Right? So it’s like a filtration system.
I have totally changed my mindset around prospecting and now I look forward to it. Why? Because I know it works, I know how to do it, and I know my demons. I also know that inaction will absolutely kill my business, and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t have a sales force. I don’t have people cold calling Monday through Friday. I don’t pay an admin to go into my LinkedIn account and act as me to connect with people (yes, I actually know people who do that and I’ve done videos on that and why it’s super bad for your business and brand to do something like that).
The bottom line is that when you become self-aware of your propensities and fears that stop you from taking action, you become fully empowered to change. So how do you reverse it? Once you’ve identified the thing you’re doing (or not doing) to stop the potential of becoming more profitable, getting more clients and building your business portfolio, what’s the next step? How do you deal with it? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. I’ll share what I did that worked like a charm.
So when you’re talking about reversing something that’s holding you back, what is really going on? Once we become aware of why we’re in inaction and not getting stuff done the way we know we need to get it done to achieve our goals, why doesn’t everything just fall into place? Well, we still need to change our behavior. And guess what? That’s SCARY. I know you’re probably thinking, “Oh, great, Terry. We’re back at square one with fear again. Thanks a bunch.” I know, but listen. This is why we struggle with fear because we can’t figure a way out of it because we don’t think it through deeply enough where it makes sense to change a behavior. If we don’t fully understand what’s going on, our attempts at behavior changes won’t last. We’ll revert back to old patterns and find ourselves stuck back in the fear-driven behavior and what’s worse is that we’ll write off the attempted behavior change as ineffective. Then, any future attempt to change a behavior related to it will be that much more difficult. That’s simply more negative conditioning.
Ironically, my friend, that is the key to conquering, or as in this case, reversing, inaction that’s driven by fear.
Let me explain what I did to reverse my inaction when it came to developing new business opportunities.
So my big thing, as you may have heard me talk about before, was that I resisted prospecting because I hated to bother people. Yup. That was my reason for not picking up the phone or emailing someone. I didn’t want to bother them. Why was that such a big deal to me? Because I personally hate being bothered by salespeople and robot calls to the point of wanting to consider violent acts that involve hot pokers or releasing a stamped of bulls in their general direction. Sorry. But that’s how much I hate people and robots that call me with pitchy, salesy messages. What time wasters! I mean, even as I’m saying this I’m getting this creepy icky feeling all over my back. Blech. Hate it with a PASSION. Still do. That was my story and my behaviors resulted in total inaction. I wasn’t making calls. I wasn’t reaching out. My business was starting to crater, even though I had referrals coming in, which was the only thing keeping me going along with my existing clients. Thank god for them, really.
I knew something had to change. The more I fretted over my lack of solid, steady predictable business growth, the worse I felt about it. I had anxiety that kept me up at night. I had thoughts that were borderline worst case scenario like my business would fail, I’d lose my house and have to take up residence under an overpass and daily stand on the exit ramp holding a piece of ripped cardboard scribbled with, “Will design websites for food.” My mind was in a frenzy of fearful outcomes if something didn’t change. Now note that this was all mental at this point. Everything that was stopping me was in my mind. Everything that was stressing me out was in my mind. I had no reality to base any of it on, meaning, I had clients, I had referrals coming in, I was okay, I was doing alright, but I knew, I just knew that what I was doing was not sustainable. That eventually the referrals would stop. That eventually the clients would taper to maintenance clients or leave. That unless I changed what I was doing my business would be in serious trouble, and so would I.
So this is what I did.
After figuring out what was stopping me, the fear of bothering someone, I correlated that to behaviors I was doing that kept me in inaction. I basically was using work as an excuse to be “too busy" to prospect. I also felt I needed to learn as MUCH AS POSSIBLE about the prospect, so I also didn’t appear like a total dufus when I reached out to them. You know, have some context so when I called they weren’t all like, “Don’t you actually know anything about my business?” which had also been a hated thing about me getting cold calls where they’d try to sell me janitorial services when I work from home, or payroll services when I have no employees. Really people? Every single time. So between using the excuses of “I’m busy doing client work,” to “I’ve got to do a CIA-level intense scrutiny of the prospect, know everything about them so I don’t look stupid when I finally DO reach out” preparation, I was getting nothing done.
I gotta tell you, as I share this I’m kind of laughing at how I actually acted and the way I thought. I can only imagine where my business—and INCOME—would be today if it weren’t for those fears stopping my growth, my taking big leaps in growing Better3. For YEARS I struggled with that.
The next thing I did was I detached myself from the situation. The first thing I thought when I assessed my situation and lack of results came from a very judgy place. I felt bad about myself because I knew I was the reason I was in the situation in the first place. It wasn’t someone else’s fault, or the economy’s or my industry, it was totally on me. It was sobering. And when you’re a solopreneur, it can be deflating. There’s no one there to shore you up or make you feel whole. You’ve gotta do it yourself. Why? Because no one else other than a solopreneur gets it. Preach.
I was lucky, however, to have my boyfriend Doug there to help me look at it unemotionally and objectively. It was simple from his perspective because he wasn’t fished in by the “story” or the emotions and fears. And that was super helpful to me. So if you’re having trouble getting perspective, find a friend or another solopreneur who can help you see it. That’s why I love our Simplify & Multiply Peer Club—that’s exactly why I created that community, so we can support one another objectively and empathetically.
Here’s the funny thing. Once I got that objective viewpoint, I actually laughed at how ridiculous I was being. It became so obvious that I was at the root of my business struggle and it was funny. Getting that distance and stepping back out of the emotion allows you to have that kind of perspective. You get away from the judgy statements about it and can see it for what it is and the next steps you have to take to change it.
So after that perspective, do you know what I did? I did what I did after my husband Chuck died and I’d lost my job and had a total freak out meltdown about my life. I got out my journal and I wrote full what-if scenarios for every fear, every worry, every negative concern I had about what MIGHT happen.
And that’s all it is you know, that thing you dread hasn’t happened in most cases. In fact, I’d never had one prospect call (on the ones that I actually forced myself to do before I figured out how to address this challenge) that had a bad outcome. I never was called names, badmouthed, pissed someone off, hung up on, or any of the things I actually was worried I WOULD do if I prospected and cold called people. In fact, I got business from prospecting. And I got good at it.
When you write out or visualize the “what-if” scenarios, they become tangible in your mind and you can then apply what you want to have happen to them. Kind of like you’re shifting how you think about doing something you dread doing. This works because when we fear something, our brain stops at the worst outcome and how we’ll feel and what that says about us. We NEVER think beyond that. We never think, what if it goes well? What if it works out? What if it turns out to be the most amazing thing that ever happened to me and/or my business? That’s the trickery of fear in the mind. It shuts us down and closes us in.
The next thing I did was I got practical about it. I made a list of the things I could do that would help me be in action. I literally broke down prospecting into micro steps. Sort of like I was building a process around the task of prospecting, from creating a contact in my CRM to limiting my time researching them, to where and how I made my initial outreach and what value I could bring to them. And of course, the follow up was a critical action as well. It didn’t stir as much fear, however, it was still an outreach and to a degree triggered my “I don’t want to bother people” fear.
After I had my list of steps, I allowed myself to take baby steps, if you will, accomplishing them. Sort of like getting into a very cold pool or ocean. You can either tip toe in or plunge. But the plunge is often more painful than the tip toe. The other thing I made sure I did NOT do was beat myself up if I slipped or didn’t do as much as I committed myself to do. This is why allowing yourself to take baby action steps is better than forcing yourself to do something you know is going to be a struggle for you. Now there are other schools of thought; some coaches may have a more forceful approach, but that doesn’t work for me. I don’t like it and it doesn’t fit my personality or temperament. There are times it is called for, which I can see the value, but not in all cases.
To create and embed habits, it works best to do a new behavior once a day for about thirty days or so. This is what I did next. Fortunately I allowed myself to take the weekends off, but sometimes I’d do a little bit of research on the weekends, but mainly I did my new baby step actions Monday through Friday. Another way to make the new behaviors more permanent and beneficial is to reward yourself for doing them. Find a way to treat yourself with something when you accomplish your new action. Give yourself credit for being responsible and being in action to forward your goals.
In my case, the best reward was a new client that I would not have normally secured before. But when I started prospecting with deliberate intention to serve, help and connect, I got results. And fast.
That’s pretty much it. Do I still have those fears and resistance to prospecting? Sure. They’re in the background whispering like fears do, but they don’t have a front seat next to me in my life anymore. The jig is up and I’ve got their number. I know what I do that stops me from building my business and I’m doing something about it, and that makes me proud. It makes me happy that I care enough about my business and those people out there who need me to help them with their marketing to do something that’s uncomfortable to improve the outcomes that everyone gets.
I’ll leave you with this. Fear is always going to be present in our lives. It’s normal, healthy and part of who we are. Embrace it for the good that it brings to your life, but know in your heart of hearts that it’s also something you can learn from and choose not to let it stop you from being the amazing you that I know you are.