What flavor is your fear? A guide to how fear can serve us

Smile at fearRecently I experienced a situation where fear was an unexpected partner in the dance. Not in an obvious way, but definitely present. In fact, I doubt that anyone involved (including me) recognized at the onset that fear was part of the situation. That troubles me because we will not change what we cannot see. And we won’t see what we are afraid to see.

There it is – FEAR. I have been reminded that to be successful personally and professionally, one of the core things we must develop is a healthy relationship with fear. Why? Because fear can be a positive energy, a partner for change.  But before that can happen, we need to engage fear as our ally.

The first step is to recognize that all of us experience fear. Every day. Let’s get some clarity about the many faces and flavors of fear. As I was researching this I found at least 45 synonyms for the word fear from one search.  45! That’s quite a few flavors. And when you move on to all of the additional terms and phrases, the list is literally endless. That tells us something. We get to choose some things about fear in any given situation. We get to put a specific name to our fear. Once we do that, it becomes easier to see it within a context that will allow us to counter and/or leverage it.

The second step is remembering that fear is a basic human response. We are born with fear as a primal response in recognition of danger and for self-preservation. Over time, we allow fear to become the danger itself and to be come self-limiting.  We need to remember that fear is not an absolute predictor, fear is just an alert mechanism that tells us we need to look at something before making our choice. Going back to our first point though, remember that in this context, fear does not have to remain a reflexive response. Fear can create choices in how we respond. As with any choice, once we recognize we are in a decision moment we know by default we have the power to make a different choice.

To help better demonstrate this, let’s look at 10 of the “flavors” of fear and an alternate choice for each of them:

Fear Power Response   Personal Power Response
anxiety   vs. calm 
aversion   vs. kindness
concern   vs. contentment 
doubt   vs. faith 
dread   vs. courage 
foreboding   vs.
suspicion   vs. trust 
timidity   vs. confidence 
unease   vs. ease 
worry   vs. happiness 

Now on to our guide for making fear our ally.  Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion, even in these forms. It can distort our vision, perception and ability to act. In some cases, the fear is clearly invalid and we are able to just choose another response. But in most cases, we will need to engage with our fear and allow it to guide us back to our personal power. That is done using the right questions.

For example, if you are timid in certain situations it won’t be as simple as “I will choose confidence over being timid”.  Most likely, there is an underlying reason you are timid. The key will be to ask yourself what steps you need to take to develop confidence. Instead of focusing on the fear (being timid), focus on the alternative (confidence). First you will have to identify where you lack confidence. You will be able to look at what kinds of situations bring out that timidity and determine why. With that, fear becomes your ally. It allows you to see where you lack confidence, take the necessary steps to restore confidence and then thank your fear for its service and send it on its way!

Each one of the words listed above can leverage this process. Let’s look at unease. What is it about this situation creating unease for me? Are those things true? If so, are there steps I can take to be at ease? If so, what are they.  Take those steps, thank your fear (unease) for its service and send it on its way! If you cannot define steps that will help you feel at ease, recognize your unease as a “do not enter” warning”, thank your fear (unease) for its service and send it on its way! Over time, this becomes a more automatic reflex action for you.  Just remember that skill grows from use over time, not time alone. Put this into practice!

When we embrace fear for what it is meant to be – an alert to potential danger – we can leverage it to change outcomes and set ourselves up more effectively for success.





  1. So glad you addressed fear without making the answer glib. Fear, like so many of the emotions we too often think of as negative, has the power to help us if we are willing to acknowledge and learn from it. Good post.

    • Thank you, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. This perspective on fear started for me with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” As I explored it, I thought about making something we see as our enemy (fear) a friend. What would that look like? And I realized that it is in fact one of the most powerful means to a positive end we have.
      Kathi Laughman recently posted..What flavor is your fear? A guide to how fear can serve usMy Profile

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