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Using Fear as a Motivator

Using Fear as a Motivator

Alex Collins -

Using Fear as a Motivator

scared dog GIF

Fear is a primal emotion and one of the most basic instincts that has seen the human race through all stages of its civilization. As our society evolved, so did fear, and in addition to the primordial chill that runs down our spine when we hear something go bump in the dark, we now also have to contend with things such as being afraid of losing our jobs, social anxiety, and the fear of change – with the last one being the focus of our text. After we’ve gone over the basics of what is one of the most researched emotions in the human repertoire and tried to explain how it could be just the thing which is holding you back from realizing your true potential, we’ll attempt to give you some advice on how to turn this sensation from a debilitating factor into the driving force behind your actions.

The Physiological Aspect


scared fred armisen GIF by Portlandia

As a species, we have been feeling fear for about as long as our organisms have been evolved enough to allow us to feel anything at all, and we wouldn’t be here without it. It is a chain reaction(1) that starts with the perception of a potentially dangerous stimulus (in the part of the brain known as the amygdala) and leads to the release of substances and changes in the body designed to aid us with our response to said stimulus – either help us confront it with all of our strength or give us the best shot of running away unscathed (the

famous “fight or flight” response).

It is what has allowed our distant ancestors to survive all the dangers of the untamed wilderness that used to be our habitat and it has been hardwired into the very essence of our species ever since. That’s why you don’t need to have been bitten by a snake in order to feel afraid whenever you think something’s slithering in the grass near you. However, the list of things that terrify us has only grown in size as the ages have gone by.

The odds we’ll get randomly attacked and eaten by a giant beast when we leave our house are certainly a fair bit lower than they were back in the days of saber-toothed tigers, but there are things now that seem every bit as petrifying even though they have nothing to do with some immediate physical threat. Things like the fear of being ridiculed or letting ourselves or someone who depends on us down. The worst of the lot, in our opinion, would be the aforementioned fear of change, as it combines several of these elements and can be an insurmountable roadblock in a person’s path to progress.

The Fear of Change

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Picture the following situation. You’re stuck in some dead-end midlevel job, you hate it at work, and you’re not getting paid nearly enough to be truly content with your lot in life, but you’re getting just enough to have something to lose. You’d like nothing better than to pack up and leave, but you feel it would be irresponsible to take such a risk, particularly if you have a family. The World Health Organization reports that over 300 million people worldwide are suffering from depression(2) and we’d be willing to wager anything that this plays a major part in it.

You might try to rationalize the situation by attempting to convince yourself that there are no other jobs for you out there or that you’d just end up doing something even worse, that you have people depending on you, or that things aren’t really that bad. This may all sound valid, but if you end up going to bed every night wishing things were different, you need to come to terms with the fact that those doubts are just your fear talking. Fear of change, to be precise, and you need to overcome if you want a shot at being the best you can be.

Fear as Motivation

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Before we get to how you can turn this sensation into something positive, we need to go over the why. Why would you want to leave your comfort zone and face your fears, when there is a real chance things could go wrong? Well, there are two main reasons:

For one, that’s how you grow as a person. You’ll never know how much you can really do if you only stick to doing the things you’re sure of. The outer limits of your potential lie well outside your comfort zone and getting there is a bit bumpy at first. But it gets better.

Secondly, the fear of change is a telltale sign that something major is afoot. You wouldn’t be feeling all that stress over a trivial matter. The more scared you are, the greater the potential benefits. That should be your mantra whenever doubts start creeping in – you want to feel that initial fear, because it means you’re on the right track to making some profound changes. And if you lose your way, just go for whatever scares you the most.

Practical Tips

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It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about finding another job, moving away, or getting out of an unhealthy relationship, the fear of change is omnipresent. Hopefully, these few tips will help you overcome it and turn it into a positive impulse:

  • Acknowledge your Fear

As we already mentioned, people will often try to rationalize their fears and turn them into something more. The first step in conquering your fear is owning up to it. Analyze what is preventing you from acting and address it. If you think you’ll let someone down, talk to that person. If you think you can’t get a better job, find people with similar skills and education and talk to them. Break all those excuses down to their base components and go from there.

  • Be Prepared

Before you do anything that’ll leave lasting consequences, make all the preparations you can. Mustering the courage to finally make a change and being foolhardy are two very different things. Try and plan out this transitional period as much as you can – it’ll make it easier to finally take the plunge.

  • Analyze the Worst Case Scenario

If you still find yourself lacking the courage to go through with your plan, imagine what it would be like if it all went wrong. Would it really be the end of the world? As it turns out, probably not. If you don’t get a better job, you’ll make do with a worse one for a while. If you move away, you can move back. You’ll be proud of yourself for trying and it’ll make the next attempt all the more easy. Who said you had to get everything right the first time around?

  • Make it Public

Another little tip to help you finally go through with that change is to make your plans known to the people in your life. That way the fear of change will be at least somewhat negated by the fear of people thinking you’re all talk – you’ll be playing one fear against another.

  • Focus on the Good Things

It’s normal to be preoccupied with the change itself, that’s the scary part. We said to go over the worst case scenario, but don’t let that consume you. Instead, zoom in on what your life would be like if it all worked out. That surely has to be worth taking some risks.

Fear is always there, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the deer in the headlights. Acknowledge it, confront it, and use it to guide you forward. Hopefully, this text will give you a place to start.



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