Fear as a Success Tool


Nobody wants to experience fear. We all have a negative association with fear, and, seriously, who wants to live in a life ruled by fear? No one! But fear is a necessary, natural human response to danger. It is an effective warning system of something imminent that may cause us harm. Fear is an emotion that registers when we sense a threat, real or imagined. We experience not only an emotional response to fear but also a physical and psychological response. With the experience of fear comes the potential weakening of the immune system, possible damage to physical health, and a loss of hope. Sounds pretty bad, right? But there is an upside to fear, and we can use that positive aspect to propel us toward success.

Fear as a Motivator

Fear motivates us to act. It is a stimulus to change behavior in response to the threat of harm. It is this response to fear that can create positive steps toward success. In a very obvious example, if you are swimming across a lake and tire halfway across and fear you may drown, changing your behavior from thrashing and panicking in the water to flipping over on your back and allowing yourself to float for a few seconds to rest and catch your breath, could reduce your fear of drowning, and very possibly save your own life.

Fear can be a powerful motivation to reassess our behavior and focus on changing it for the better. Imagine the fear one might experience at the potential loss of a job or the failure of a small business venture in which someone has invested her life savings. Such loss of financial security is powerful! Freezing like a “deer in headlights” would not be a productive response to this type of fear. Instead, conscious reassessment of behavior and the determined thought process needed to create new behavior could result in reversing the fear causing threat.

Think, Reimagine, Innovate

When the fear of loss is powerful enough, the creative human mind can begin to think differently, reimagine the path, and innovate new strategies. It is critical to be able to stop, breathe, and focus, to identify the fear and understand what is causing it. Only then can one move forward to behave in a way to reverse circumstances to eliminate the fear.

During the Great Depression in American history, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Meaning that unthinking, paralyzing reaction to fear, instead of conscious reimagining of behavior to eliminate the source of the fear, is our greatest threat. He was referring to people rushing to banks to withdraw all their money, creating worse financial harm to our society. Instead, a slower, more calculated approach was to temporarily close banks and allow Congress to legislate recovery steps to protect the fragile economy. The great fear of financial loss first caused panic and potential greater damage, but instead, using that fear to pause, and re-legislate banking and financial laws resulted in the beginning of recovery.

Not only is fear a great motivator towards success through the practice of an advanced level of thinking, it is also a powerful learning tool. As we go through life, we will all meet with fear many times, and each time we make the effort to face it head-on and reverse it through innovative thinking and purposeful changes in behavior, we will become mentally stronger and nimbler in our thinking. This is where “learning from our experiences” comes in.

Fear as a Warning System

So, let us redefine fear from being just a negative emotion to be avoided at all cost, into a much-needed warning system that we can use to actually improve our lives, help us recover from harm, avoid potential harm, grow and prosper.


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