Personal Musings

Overcome Fear and Unleash Your Potential: A Guide to Using Fear as Motivation

FEAR IS often perceived as a negative emotion, causing anxiety and immobilization. However, when harnessed correctly, fear can be a powerful tool for motivation. By understanding the underlying causes of fear and learning to channel it into productive energy, individuals can overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

So how do you harness fear to use as a motivating force?

Well, it’s easier said than done of course. After all, fear has been all the rage this past year — and all of human history if we’re being honest — and certainly not for motivational purposes. It’s the rage every day for that matter, even before a global pandemic dug its claws into our every day lives. Frightful images and depictions of a world on fire is what the media does best to top it off, so not much help from the Fourth Estate there.

In terms of biological hardwiring, it may even be what humans do best: fear. It keeps us alive (sometimes) and stresses our bodies closer to the grave most other times, through stress-induced cancer, high blood pressure, and knee-jerk, panicky decision making that frequently returns dire or unintended consequences.

We grasp hold of fear and let it stop us day in and day out, because we think of fear, almost always, in the negative sense. The purpose of this post, however, is to think of fear differently: to not be afraid of fear. At least not always. (It has its place when we need to be scared shitless.) And, to use it as motivation instead. To let it push you. Let it guide you.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”

John Lennon

I sort of agree with John Lennon’s assessment of fear, but not entirely. Too black and white. Not enough gray. Isn’t that the case with most things found in an Internet famous quotations database?

using fear as motivation
There’s two of us and three shadows. // ENTERS FEAR //

How to use fear as motivation by thinking of fear in a more out-of-the box way

  1. Fear is a double-edged sword. Try not to cut off your fingertips

Like anxiety, fear isn’t all bad. For example, anxiety can have you dream up all sorts of terrible scenarios in your mind. That’s at the heart of anxiety’s biological purpose: to ensure your survival, despite the fact we don’t live amongst saber-toothed tigers anymore and now have things like central heating and air and grocery stores stocked with food.

But anxiety can also fuel creativity if tapped into in a more purposeful way. Fear, like anxiety, carries with it a double-edged sword. You can cut up your steak dinner with it or you can cut off your fingers.

  1. Fear can be, and is, natural and healthy

Fear often keeps us from moving forward. Fear can be a stagnant force. At its worst, we shrink in fear, our large shadows surrendering mass as the sun retreats. Fear can also be healthy. Fear is natural. It’s only when our fear keeps us from proceeding does it enter unhealthy territory.

  1. Fear forces us to make tough decisions

What’s worse: failing at starting a small business or living out your life having never gotten up the courage to start one in the first place? Being scared to ask out the girl of your dreams and being rejected, or never mustering up the gumption in the first place and watching her walk off into the sunset with someone else?

  1. Fear and love aren’t mutually exclusive. They often go hand-in-hand

When I was in high school, I had a thing for a girl in my science class. We talked. I could make her laugh. And, I liked her — a lot. But I was too scared to confess my affection for her. What if she rejected me? How could I ever talk to her again, even as a friend, after that? It would be so awkward.

Fear, in this instance, overpowered love.

So, I said nothing. I just admired her from a distance with dreamy eyes. Life moved on as it does. Ten years later, we met up again at a mutual friend’s engagement party. All those feelings from ninth grade science class reappeared.

Only this time, fear didn’t stand in my way. Love overpowered fear. I pushed fear aside and made it my motivation, not my enemy. In a nutshell, I said to myself: “Self. Don’t let her get away again. Sure, you probably would have screwed it up back then. But now, now you’re ready.”

In 2009, I married that girl from my ninth grade science class in 1995 and now we have two kids, a dog, and a mortgage.

  1. Give yourself permission to be afraid. Give yourself permission to fail. Even the greats understand this

There’s a famous quote from the GOAT Michael Jordan. You’ve probably seen it a dozen times in your life. You may have even walked past a poster version of it in the hallway of your child’s elementary school. If you haven’t, it goes like this:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Jordan went further in talking about fear and failure, saying, “I know fear is an obstacle for some people, but it is an illusion to me. Failure always made me try harder next time.” Michael Jordan is a bit of an anomaly, of course. But fear still stood in his way. He just chose to walk right through it. He probably even took it personally.

How can you now think of fear differently and begin using fear as motivation instead of letting it control your every move with its default programming?

If you enjoyed this, you may also like Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, by Thich Nhat Hanh. P.S. If you purchase a copy, I may earn an affiliate commission (at no cost to you), which helps pay for the operating costs of this blog. Thank you in advance if you do buy a copy.