The Secret Value of Fear

We all know about fear – that inborn survival code that keeps us from hugging grizzly bears and makes us think twice about walking down dark alleys.  Useful?  Even life-saving?  Yes and yes.  But on a day-to-day basis, that gift sometimes feels like a curse; we fear having THAT conversation, we fear letting him or her down, etc.  What’s meant to help us occasionally ends up paralyzing us in the context of day-to-day living.

But lately I’ve been pondering a different aspect of fear.  Something we never talk about.

A positive.  A benefit.

A secret value of fear.

Some examples to illustrate what I’m talking about…

  • A possible promotion opens up at your company and you immediately feel nervous.
  • That guy or that gal smiles at you and a flock* of butterflies is unleashed in your gut.
  • You hear someone complaining about a product or service – a product or service that you have a business plan for improving – and your palms get sweaty.

Certainly, you’ve experienced this before; there’s some kind of information input and you have a gut-level, instinctive reaction way before you’ve had the time to contend with it intellectually.

And so, the secret value of fear is this: it can serve as a radar for opportunity.

“Wait, I thought fear was biological indicator of a threat.”  Exactly.  Everything listed out above IS a threat – a threat to your status quo. If you didn’t really care, if you didn’t believe this stimulus – whatever it is – held some kind of promise, you wouldn’t react.  But you do.  So what does that mean?

Simply this: the opportunity might be worth investigating.

“What if I ask her out and she says ‘yes’?  Things would change.”  Yep, you better believe that’s true.

“What if I get the promotion or I launch my own businesses?  My schedule – my life –  would be totally different.”  Yeah, pretty much guaranteed.

And the above scenarios are the positive what-ifs – the woman or guy could say ‘no’.  You could bomb in your venture.  These things have been known to happen.  But the question is really this:  do things happen to you or do you happen to things?

Sometimes, it’s better to try, to take the chance.  And I’m not talking in a touchy-feely Hallmark-y sense of the phrase ‘take a chance.’  Consider the Monty Hall Problem.

Briefly, the Monty Hall problem describes a scenario where you’re presented with three doors, a single prize waiting behind one of them.  Let’s say you pick Door 1 and then Door 3 is opened… no prize.  Now, you have a choice: you can stick with Door 1 or change your bet to Door 2.  Which should you choose?  It’s a 50/50 proposition, right?  Actually, statistically speaking, if you make the change to Door 2, you double your odds of winning.  Counter-intuitive, but true (and worth exploring further).

Whether or not you can wrap your brain around that statistical phenomenon (it’s a challenge for me), we can all understand these two basics…

One: while no one likes fear, it can be your ally, serving as a gut-level signal that a potentially game-changing opportunity has entered your domain.

Two: make the change or don’t, but know that taking a risk is sometimes the better bet and that sticking with what you know is not always the sanctuary of safety we often imagine it to be.

– Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter writes about decoding success, creative leadership, marketing, and productivity.

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*Technically, it’s called a kaleidoscope of butterflies.

1 Comment

  1. Turn, Turn, Turn -January 20, 2020

    […] And just in case you think your safest bet is standing pat, you might be more wrong than you think (more on that here). […]

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