Everyone – without exception – lives with fear. But only a few know that fear and anxiety can be turned to your advantage. Influence guru Julie Masters discusses the keys to dealing with fear with former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb.
Whether we’re in critical negotiations with suppliers, asking for a raise at work or presenting in front of our peers, fear is one of those unwanted emotions that we find ourselves encountering all too often.
Like it or not though, fear is something we have to deal with, and the sooner we can make it work for us, the more effective and influential we can be in our own lives.
Recently I was fortunate enough to interview Brandon Webb on the Inside Influence podcast to talk about doing just that.
Webb is a former US Navy SEAL sniper who worked as an experimental aircraft pilot, helicopter Search & Rescue swimmer and an Aviation Warfare Systems Operator.
After completing four deployments to the Middle East, you would be forgiven for assuming that Webb is as close as they come to being fearless.
It’s surprising to learn then, that Webb had to deal with his own fears and anxieties throughout his entire military career, gradually teaching himself how to identify and change the conversation that took place in his head.
Webb has since left the military and has gone on to become a successful entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author, sharing the journey he has had with fear and the methods he has used to overcome it in his book Mastering Fear.
Webb’s message is applicable to anyone facing fear, no matter the context – whether it’s being involved in a life-or-death situation, or standing up in front of work colleagues to deliver a presentation.
Here are Webb’s five tips on mastering fear to increase your influence.
Redirect the momentum
If you see fear as the enemy, you’ve already lost.
Fear can never be overcome, beaten, or evaded. The feeling of fear is part of our physiology and treating it as an adversary will only set you up for failure.
Rather than treating fear as a wall that you need to break through, Webb suggests using the power of fear as a force to harness and redirect.
Try to observe and acknowledge the feelings that come up – the adrenaline, the nerves, the tension – and use those feelings to propel you to achieve the task that’s in front of you.
It’s the difference between telling yourself “I’m not scared”, versus admitting “I am scared, but I’m going to use these feelings to help me move through this situation.”
Imagine what you could achieve if you stopped fearing fear itself. How many times would you put your hand up to speak? Offer your expertise or ideas? Request that seat at the table – confidently backed up with all the reasons you can add significant value?
Flip the mental switch
We’ve all been told that staying at our peak is more about mindset than it is about our physical state, and mastering fear is no different.
Monitoring, recognising and changing your internal dialogue – the mental chatter in your own head – is a key step in mastering fear.
This often involves taking a step back from the situation that’s brought up those feelings, recognising those feelings for what they are, and making a conscious decision to take a different direction rather than remaining overwhelmed.
Despite what we may think about what it takes to be a Navy SEAL, Webb points out that mastering fear isn’t about being stronger, tougher or more aggressive. It’s simply about being able to change the conversation going on in your head – something anybody can do.
The most influential people I have ever met – in industries, politics and organisations – all have that ability in spades. The ability to identify the internal story that keeps them – or their idea – on the sidelines. Then shift it to one of empowerment.
As a place to start, ask yourself these questions: What currently stops me from making the highest value contribution I could make to this space / industry / conversation? What would be the first step in letting that story go? How would I feel if I did?
Use the charge
A typical adrenaline rush (a hormonal symptom of fear) can briefly turn us into superhumans – our heart rate increases, our blood pressure spikes, we can take in more air, and our blood is quickly redistributed to our muscles for increased strength.
Webb likens these physical changes to a “static charge” that can be harnessed to electrify rather than paralyse us.
Successful procurement professionals proactively seek out this charge as one of nature’s best tools to sharpen their abilities when they’re under pressure, especially in tough negotiation settings.
Harnessing this energy is a great way to take fear and proactively use it to move forward, rather than remaining paralysed when the going gets tough.
So the next time you feel the charge – stop, feel it – and then consciously decide to channel it as the super human burst of energy it was designed to be.
Use fear in rehearsal
When Webb was working as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, he very nearly lost his life when a mission went wrong.
One of the two pilots he was on a flight with suddenly suffered from vertigo, dropping the helicopter from altitude and plunging its bottom half into the ocean.
The pilot was overwhelmed by fear – unable to act or respond to the crew screaming at him to regain altitude.
The co-pilot, however, was able to calmly lift the helicopter out of the water and back into the air, saving the lives of Webb and the other crew members.
Webb’s theory is that the panicked pilot had, until that point, rarely experienced a level of adversity or stress throughout his life – that would have allowed him to work through the situation in his head. He had effectively ‘frozen up’.
His co-pilot however, had come from a lifetime of adversity. He had been bullied at school when he was younger and had grown up having to mentally work through his fears in order to carry on successfully.
Webb recommends that even people who have led a comparably stress-free life can artificially rehearse the feeling of fear – by role-playing frightening situations and having to move through a level of decision-making to get to an effective outcome.
You might be familiar with role-playing at work – usually practicing ideal scenarios – but how many of us role play difficult scenarios? Where we’re really challenged to make tough decisions and actually work through our fears?
So what now?
While we’re all undoubtedly going to experience fear throughout our lives – especially in the quest to become more influential. The tools that we have on hand to deal with that experience can make all the difference when it comes to cracking under pressure or rallying successfully.
So as a first step – start recognising fear as an energy source that can be harnessed, that we can make work for us in incredible and unlimited ways. If you can master that – you will have truly ‘flipped’ the power of fear to your advantage.
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