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What Holds You Back?


I would love to but... I would get start on that if only... If I do that then...


The anchor is well and truely set. There is no moving forward, for the unknown that lies ahead has too much that could possibly go wrong. Catastrophe and armageddon would ensue, all would be lost, all would be ruined and there would be no coming back. Further to this, the impacts would stretch out through time and space, impacting the formation and growth of the universe to such an extent that that one little decision you finally had the courage to make would cause a small silence (is that the opposite of a big bang?) to take place. Nothing would exist. It would almost be as if nothing ever had.


If this sums up the way you feel about taking that step into the unknown, then you have come to the right place. It's amazing to observe others who have the ability to simply know what they want and leap forward in a positively optimistic fashion, completely oblivious to the risks, I mean, don't they know the danger they are putting us all in through living their lives not grounded by fear?. Yet, there is something alluring about being able to consider the freedom to make these decisions, take those risks, enjoy something that has been a challenge to see what the reward might be. Perhaps it could open more doors, create new opportunities (provided we haven't set in place the actions that provide the impending doom of all that we know (and more of what we don't yet know)).


What is your risk setting?


In our own lives, we will have an element of risk aversion. This simply states our tolerance to how we work with risk and where we are more likely to engage in chance activities versus where we will opt for safer options that may not provide as higher or beneficial outcomes for us. This is not a problem, that is, if we can acknowledge what our setting is and how comfortable we are with this preference. What does become a problem is if we are in ignorance of these factors and instead they determine how our decision making takes place. This might mean we miss out on opportunities that would yield substantially beneficial outcomes in the long term.


Let’s consider a scenario: I need to replace a fence alongside the driveway. I have the required materials and access to the required tools to do this. I also have access to the required expertise, although the majority of the job will fall on myself to complete. 


Let’s define some potential negative outcomes of this:

  • I might get the measurements wrong and end up with a mismatched first part of the fence and second part of the fence

  • I might waste some of the materials in the learning process 

  • I might do it the wrong way or replicate a small mistake many times that means the finished product is substandard.

  • The fence will be uneven or aesthetically displeasing

  • The fence won’t be straight, or posts will sink / move to create uneveness

  • The fence might fall down at the end of the process, unleashing a domino effect of all fences around the neighbourhood falling down that inexplicably causes the earth's rotation to vary by 0.0001 degrees that means that sometime in the next million years I was directly responsible for moving the seasons by 1 day (I've checked the math here, you don't need to go and check it, and if it is wrong it is for illustrative purposes only).


A lot of things that could go wrong, and it’s likely that at some points there will be elements that don’t work out as intended. However, seeing the list I can consider some appropriate ways to prevent or minimise the consequences of things not going as intended. Part of this process also needs to be acknowledged that the biggest downside is likely to be a financial cost of repair as opposed to lifelong harm (provided I use all of the tools correctly). This isn’t exactly a “set your world on fire” type scenario (unless the change to the earth's rotation brings a shift in climate change to which there is the real chance of parts of the world catching on fire), but when we consider for instance a gap between our own skills and the required ones to complete a job, we can start to see how elements of fear can prevent us from taking action. This can be extended in many ways and often when we are approaching something new. 


Can we overcome this?


No, there is no hope. If we suffer more in imagination, then we are more likely to catastrophise outcomes and put off the actions required to begin the process. Personally, this then leads to piles of wood ready to be made into a fence sitting beside the garage (this has now been moved to beside a fence, after being moved from beside the house, after being moved from the front yard) and providing a constant reminder of a job waiting to be done. How long has it been? I would suggest that it has been years in the making. Whilst it isn’t always fear that has held me back in this instance (there have been a lot of jobs to do), it would be hard not to conclude that fear doesn’t play a part in not starting (as well as the block of time required to do it, the space, how to get rid of the old fence, not ending the world as we know it..).


The fear is not substantial, but the fear is enough to prevent the action.


Can we mitigate or minimise fear?


In health and safety practice (that most exciting of topics but wholly important!), we consider how any situation or activity has associated risks, then plan accordingly through the likelihood and severity of these taking place. From this plan, we then consider how we can either eliminate or minimise these risks through the actions we put in place. Tim Ferris uses a similar plan through the fear setting exercise, first through defining the fear and then looking at how to prevent and repair (any steps that can be taken afterwards) should the worst take place. There is a divergence in the ideas here as worst case outcomes can potentially be more catastrophic should we not put the appropriate controls in place. In each of these instances, we need to know what specifically the fear would be for us. Goal setting is great, fear setting is powerful. Combining these two aspects allows you to take greater control of the situation. Even if there isn't an immediate plunge into the deep end of the pool, a recognition of less threatening steps can ease the transition, starting in the shallow end (or the kiddies pool if appropriate) to manage this.


Put simply:

  • What is the activity?

  • What could go wrong?

  • What could be done to prevent this from happening? (and you can't simply say "not doing the activity"

  • What could be done to remedy the situation if this does happen?


It's never going to be easy. But if you realise that the worst outcome is simply a fence that looks a bit out of shape, yet stands up and does the job, then it might be worth booking into the time to get it done.


Michael.







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