Why do we fear the unknown? Success is achieved when we move into action, and often this requires us to move into the unknown. And yet, we all encounter those moments when moving forward seems scary and fills us with fear.
The unknown can represent many things. To some, it’s not being sure of what we will encounter. To some, the unknown triggers our fear of not being in control. For others, lack of confidence in our abilities and resources can surface when confronted with the unknown.
Life Can Be Tough
I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. Rattlesnakes were the biggest threat to my life, not drugs. I spent my summers greasing balers and digging fence post holes. Fast food for us was hitting a deer at 60 miles an hour.
I entered the FBI Academy and trained for sixteen weeks before I was issued a badge and gun and sent to Phoenix, Arizona. I pulled a gun and made my first arrest at a busy intersection on Scottsdale Road. Years later, I became the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California and did my first live television interview. It was at that point that I truly understood the meaning of the word fear. Everything else up to this point had been child’s play.
Fear can take many shapes, and it is defined differently for each of us. But no one can move ahead unless they are also bold enough to move into the unknown.
Do you calculate your moves so you can reduce risk—or avoid it? The answer can have an important impact on the way you live your life.
There Is Magic In Boldness
We work hard to find wise ways to reduce risk, but there is magic in a bold approach to life. Bold is not being foolhardy. Bold is a sincere braveness to discover the possibilities in life. Whether we lead hundreds or an army of one, we cannot take that first step until we learn how to stop our fear of the unknown.
Stepping in front of live television cameras means there is no editing or rehearsals. As the FBI spokesperson, it was rare when this type of interview went according to anything that resembled a script, so I found myself stepping into unknown territory—mouth dry, voice cracking, and knowing that everything I said (wrong) would stay on in the form of playbacks. If I made a mistake, not only would I look incompetent, it would also reflect poorly upon the FBI.
Dealing with the media was an unknown. I had a choice: either learn to reduce risk or avoid it. There are many spokespeople who avoid risk with the media by avoiding live television interviews. They stick to a script. The media hate them and never give them a break if/when something negative breaks regarding their company or situation.
Embrace the Unknown
I chose the other alternative—I embraced the unknown. I did my best to reduce risk but there is no way to eliminate it. Here are three ways to confront the unknown I will share with you:
1. Think small
Rather than looking at the giant task ahead of you, break it down into small pieces that can be accomplished in an hour, or a day, and focus your attention on that. Small steps help us to prioritize, and they help us feel we’ve accomplished something. Feelings of accomplishment help us build confidence in our abilities.
Here are strategies behind small steps:
- Asking small questions does not create fear
- Expecting small answers breaks down resistance
- Taking small actions guarantees progress
- Solving small problems provides confidence
- Recognizing small moments is the key to moving forward
If we take small steps we can . . .
I didn’t wait until the day of the live TV interview to start preparing for it. I practiced how to respond to contentious questions in front of a video camera so I’d know which facial expressions to use that would evoke the response I wanted in viewers. I experimented with different stances and voice ranges until I was comfortable with the result. Soldiers do not wait until they are in battle to learn to shoot a gun; the same applies to us. Look ahead and start preparing for your next challenge before it hits you in the face.
Once we prepare, we can take the time to . . .
3. Understand your behavioral patterns
Anytime you try something new, you learn different things about yourself. This means you need to pay attention to your gut response when confronted with the unexpected. If you keep pulling the thread, you can see patterns in the way you respond to your gut reactions. Do you rationalize them away? Do you trust your instinct? Recall when you’ve been at your best and identify the factors that helped you make the right choices . . . the list goes on.
- If new experiences bring out a new understanding of yourself, the key is to identify what that new “thing” is so you can learn from it.
- New experiences are great learning opportunities if you frame them in a positive way.
- The more you understand your patterns of behavior, the better you can exploit your strengths and stop repeating your mistakes.
Fear of the unknown has its roots in lack of confidence in how you’ll perform when you venture into unknown territory. 1) Take small steps, so you can 2) prepare yourself, and 3) seek self-knowledge—these are effective ways to overcome your fear of the unknown.
How have small steps helped you in facing a big issue? How do you prepare for unknown challenges? What patterns of behavior have emerged for you in the way you overcome your fear of the unknown?
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