I don’t know about you, but I’m burned out from all the clichéd quotes about fear that fill up my newsfeed. While fear is a factor in one’s lack of success, few people understand the fears that actually drive their behavior.

The obvious fears, such as the fear of public speaking, the fear of rejection, or the fear of dying, are rarely the fears that affect us most. In fact, the fears you talk about are probably just symptoms of other fears deep in your subconscious mind.

If you remain unaware of your unconscious fears, you won’t know why you avoid opportunities that would most benefit your health, happiness, career, business, or relationships.

I’ve observed five unconscious fears in co-workers, clients, network marketing business owners, friends, family, and of course, myself.

If you only scan the list, you will probably tell yourself you don’t have any of these fears. But, if you read through the full article, I have a feeling you’ll discover that at least one of the fears affects you more than you initially think.

Note: Throughout this article, I intentionally never use the phrase “face your fear.” To face your fear means you can look at it, stare it down, or become fully aware of it. It doesn’t do you much good to just know that it’s there. You have to change your mindset about the fear, or take action. If you don’t, nothing will change.  

Fear of Failure

Why do you fear failure?

You assume the emotional pain from failing will hurt more than the pain of life remaining the same. Or, you fear that by failing, others might see you as “less than” — less capable, skilled, credible, knowledgeable, successful, etc.

You’re not really afraid of the outcome. You’re afraid of how the outcome might make you feel.

And that is the core of the problem.

You believe the outcome of failure is a feeling.

What if, instead of believing that failure’s outcome was a feeling, you believed its outcome was a lesson?

Think of the first time you tried completing a maze. You put the tip of your pen down on the paper and moved it from the start, into the maze. Eventually, you found yourself at a dead end.

Did you pick up your pen, throw the maze away, and feel like a failure? Did others judge you for making the wrong choice?

Of course not!

You kept your pen on the paper, backed away from the dead end, and found a new path. Perhaps you took another route that didn’t work, or maybe you found your way through the maze. The point is, you didn’t give up just because you took a wrong turn. You turned around and tried a new way forward.

Failure is just a temporary dead end.

Failure is merely a sign that you need to adjust your strategy, get stronger, try harder, ask for help, or improve your skills.

It was a beautiful, sunny, 80-degree morning in Longboat Key, Florida. I was at the driving range with a friend.

If you would have driven up to the range about 9:00 am that morning, you would have seen me crush a drive over 300 yards on the fly, straight as an arrow, down the middle of the range.

You might have thought, “Jeez, that guy must be a pro.”

But you would have made that judgment based only on a single shot, not knowing what success and failures led up to that drive that morning.

Before that nearly perfect drive, I shanked, hooked, chunked, sliced, and topped dozens of range balls.

After each shot, I paused and briefly reviewed my swing in my head to figure out what went wrong. With the next shot, I’d make a slight adjustment in my grip, swing speed, stance, or something else.

Little by little, my swing same together.

The last shot was the final result of learning from a lot of crappy shots, or a lot of failures.

Often, we see only the final shot from other people, after they post their status updates. We assume they have a special gift, or that they’re blessed or lucky. We don’t realize their success was the result taking a lot of shots that sucked, learning from them, and then adapting and trying again.

If you want to be great in anything, you have to be committed enough to suck for a while, and determined enough to learn from each crappy experience.

If you expect to make mistakes before you achieve success, you won’t feel so sorry for yourself when you fail. If you try to avoid failure because you’ll feel bad, you’ll tell yourself you need to learn more, or you’ll wait for the perfect time to start, or you’ll come up with all sorts of other excuses to keep you from taking action.

Stop telling yourself that you have to learn more, or that you’re waiting for the right time, or that nobody is there to support you. Just get going, and learn as you go.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
-Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Failure is a teacher if you’re willing to be the student.

Don’t fear the teacher. Fear missing the lesson.

Read Also: Got Goals? Embrace the Challenge and Excitement of the Emotional Cycle of Change

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

According to Wikipedia,

Fear of Missing Out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” This social anxiety is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”

You cannot stay connected to what others are doing and stay in the moment of what you are doing. Your mind can only focus on one thing at a time.

Let’s say you have 500 Facebook friends, and you focus for just five seconds on a post from each one of them. How long would it take you to get through them all?

Almost 42 minutes!

After seeing all the exciting things many of those 500 people are doing, which you’re not, how will you feel?

A little depressed? I think I would.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do more and experience more. And sometimes we get great ideas and insights from our friends.

But FOMO becomes an addiction that robs you of experiencing your own highlights in life.

You’re supposed to be working, but you pick up your phone to see what others are doing, and you fail to accomplish what you should have.

You’re supposed to be connecting with your significant other, but you see your friend is doing a Facebook Live, and you don’t want to be the last to know what it is she’s sharing.

You should be working out, but you’re so into Instagram that you run out of time to get your workout done.

FOMO causes you to give more attention to the lives of others on social media, than the lives of those around you in real life.

That’s bad enough.

But, the more significant problem is this: Once you start watching what everyone else is doing, you compare the glimpses into their lives, to the everyday grit of your life. You can’t help but feel depressed.

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.
—Steven Furtick, Elevation Church

Social Media is the perfect platform to fill you with the fear of missing out. And the more you play into the fear, the stronger it gets.

Do you have an account on every social media channel, and check into each one every day? Do you sign up for every new network that comes online, so that you won’t miss out?

Are you in dozens of different Facebook groups (or even hundreds?!) just so you can make sure you don’t “miss out” on something important?

Do you have every notification on your computer, tablet, and cell phone turned on so you won’t miss a new message, tweet, status update, email, text, pin, snap, story, live video, or YouTube?

If this even “sort of” sounds like you (and if it doesn’t, ask your significant other or your best friend to be sure), let me ask you just one question:

How has your FOMO enriched your life, business, relationships, fitness, or income?

I bet it hasn’t. In fact, I would bet that it’s cost you a lot of enjoyment, productivity, and quality time with friends and family.

While you’re tuning into everyone else’s life, checking out what they’re doing, and feeling bad that you’re not doing it, you’re not doing anything productive yourself.

In fact, as you continue to compare your life to others’, the depression you inflict upon yourself crushes any creativity you might have had to help you take your life, business, or relationships to a higher level.

Your fear of missing out on others’ lives causes you to miss out on the epic life you could be living.

It’s okay to schedule some time to scroll through social media for entertainment. But you can’t let the concern of what others are doing, keep you from what you ought to be doing.

FOMO will make you feel like you’re never good enough and that you never have enough. It can also leave a trail of collateral damage as you neglect the things and people that surround you, and miss out on experiences to enrich your life your relationships, and the lives of others.

You’ll NEVER be able to do everything you’d like to in your life, and you’ll never be able to do everything you see your friends doing on social media.

Whenever your final day comes, you won’t measure your life by how much you know about what other people did. You’ll measure it based on what you actually did, and who you did it with.

Fear of Looking Foolish

When they took place, high school dances were the main thing to do in a small town Friday night in the early 90s. At least in my hometown of Ely, Minnesota.

Vanilla Ice, Poison, Guns n’ Roses, and MC Hammer played through the speakers. Most of my friends danced and had fun on the gym floor.

I sat in the bleachers, tapping my foot. Though part of me wanted to join them, I allowed my fear of looking foolish to keep my butt on the bench.

How much more fun would those dances have been, if I hadn’t let my pride prevent me from joining the dance?

How many opportunities do we pass on as adults, because we are afraid of looking foolish?

Opportunities like this happen all the time.

Sometimes we give up having fun so we won’t feel foolish. Other times we give up much more.

In our network marketing business, I see people hold themselves back just because they won’t ask someone to look at the products they believe in. They’re afraid of looking foolish, either because they won’t have all the right words, or because the other person might think differently about them.

People refuse to join a gym because they feel they’re too out of shape. They are scared to be around other people who are already fit, believing they’ll feel foolish not knowing what to do, or feeling like they’re out of place around people who are already fit.

In church, people avoid going because they feel like they’re too far gone. They believe they’ll show up and everyone will sense that their life is filled with sin or that they haven’t been to church in decades. They don’t realize the church isn’t there for the saved, but for the lost, and that everyone who shows up is a sinner who also struggles.

In each of these examples, people miss out on a better life, out of fear someone might see them as a fool. The reality is that their decision not to act is foolish.

The crazy thing is, you almost never end up looking foolish, even when things don’t go as planned.

You worry about what won’t happen, and afterwards, wish you wouldn’t have wavered on what you wanted to do.

When I was a personal trainer, I met new prospective clients three different ways. I sampled supplements in the cafe, I taught seminars, and I “walked the floor.”

Walking the floor was the most intimidating because it meant I had to strike up a conversation with someone who had no idea I was going to talk to them. It was also the most effective.

Most of the other trainers sat behind the trainer desk between clients and complained about not being booked. I grabbed a stack of towels and walked up and down the cardio equipment, asking members if they wanted an extra towel, and starting conversations with anyone who was willing to chat.

Many of the members loved the distraction from their boring, mindless session of cardio. Once in a while, someone would react with irritation because I interrupted his flow.

Starting with those introductions, I gained a lot of additional clients. The bigger benefit, though, was that I got over my fear of looking foolish. It’s something I’ve carried with me ever since.

How many opportunities do you miss out on because you’re afraid of looking foolish?

Personally, I don’t care anymore about looking like a fool, if a choice has the potential to improve my future.

The pages of history are filled with examples of people who did something that could have left them looking foolish, and ended up earning them a fortune.

Don’t give up on what you could be, because you’re scared of looking silly.

Read Also: 5 Ways Your Feelings Fail You

Fear of Facing Criticism

The end of the year was a time for two big tasks in my previous corporate life: The development of the budget for the next year, and annual reviews for team members.

I loved the annual review because I felt like it was the one time of the year where I could get the most accurate assessment of my leadership and management skills.

My direct reports, colleagues, and those I reported to all contributed. The feedback from colleagues and direct reports was anonymous, which made it more honest. After all, we live in Minnesota, where people are “Minnesota nice.” Sometimes it’s hard to get a good critique from a Minnesotan.

While I liked hearing the positive comments, I was always interested in reading the criticism.

Each individual possesses strengths, and we all have shortcomings.

I do believe we ought to play to our strengths, but if we completely ignore our weaknesses, we hurt ourselves put a cap on our personal and professional development.

Listening to criticism isn’t enjoyable. Neither is ten sets of squats. But sometimes you just have to Man Up or suck it up to get stronger and develop your skills.

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Proverbs 19:20

I will always invest my time in, and put my money on, those who are the most coachable. To be coachable, you cannot be afraid of criticism.

It’s rare for someone to ask for criticism, and embrace it rather than get defensive. But when someone like that comes along, I know they’ll go a very long way.

I saw that in our friend and fitness professional Kristin Hogan Matthees. I first interviewed Kristin for a Department Head role about ten years ago.

She didn’t get the position she’d hoped for, but from that first day we met, she was constantly asking about how she could improve herself, and then she’d take action on it.

Kristin is talented because she works hard, and works on her weak areas just as she plays to her strengths. She knows what her weak areas are because she embraces, rather than runs from criticism. It’s no surprise that she’s become extremely successful running her own fitness business, as well a large and consistently growing Young Living Essential Oils business.

You are likely the last person to see your flaws, just as I’m the last to see mine. That’s why we need people we trust around us, who can share with us our shortcomings with sincerity.

As a husband, my wife is fully aware of the areas I fall short. When I listen to her, I learn a lot. However, getting my feedback from her alone would still stifle my growth because she can only see things from her point of view. I need others with unique experience to guide my growth.

I also wouldn’t recommend husbands be the ones to critique their wives. We can do a better job of adding value to our wives in other ways. I don’t know that we’d ever be able to share our point of view on her shortcomings in a way that would come across the right way.

Just be sure to discern where criticism some from.

Some people are just self-centered, arrogant or cynical. You know…those “my shit don’t stink” types of people.

Their opinion doesn’t matter. To me, their constant criticism is more a reflection of them than it is of me.

I consider the source, and then consider the criticism.

For example, one of my Facebook Messenger Subscribers sent me this response to my Intermittent Fasting and Breakfast article:

Critics Cynics Tom Nikkola

If that response came from one of the handful of health and fitness experts I respect, I might have taken pause and considered the criticism. However, someone that’s invested time and energy into understanding nutrition, metabolism, and health, wouldn’t have such a curt and worthless response.

If you believe your criticisms come from a credible source with a good intention, then take some quiet time to consider them.

If all your friends tell you that you’re awesome and everything you do turns to gold, it’s not because you’re really that awesome. Nobody is.

It’s because your friends either don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they’d rather talk about your flaws behind your back than talk about them to your face.

In either case, you absolutely have to have someone, and ideally a few people, who will set you straight once in a while.

Quoting once again from Proverbs,

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

Fear of Insignificance

I questioned whether to include The Fear of Insignificance in this article because it could be a topic, or even a book onto itself.

However, I didn’t want to wait, as I believe this is especially important for parents, personal trainers, and leaders.

I did my best to summarize it briefly here. Perhaps, I’ll go deeper on this one at another time.

We all have a need to feel significant. We also have a need for autonomy.

So what happens when one person’s need for significance restricts another person’s need for autonomy?

When your sole source of significance comes from those you lead, follow, or teach, you can end up crushing their need for autonomy in order to meet your need for significance.

You don’t let them “grow up” because if you let them go, you fear that you won’t be needed.

Leaders, parents, or personal trainer may fear the idea of their followers, kids, or clients becoming competent enough that they no longer need them.

If you give them autonomy, you might lose your significance.

Perhaps you know a mom who sounds a lot like this. Her entire identity is as a mother. She wants the best for her kids as long as they won’t move away, and she can continue to influence their lives.

It creates some pretty tough family dynamics.

The kids never really develop minds of their own because they either let mom do everything for them, or they constantly feel a tension between doing what they’d like to do and doing what would make their mom happy.

Mom is always frustrated and discouraged because her kids either depend on her (and dad) for everything, including money, or they don’t make the choices she expects them to.

Until she lets her kids go, they’ll never become fully independent and mature, and she’ll never feel free to become more than just a “mom.”

The relationship between leaders and potential leaders is a lot like this.

Some leaders feel significant because their followers depend on them.

If the followers don’t depend on the leader, the leader loses a sense of significance.

To feed the need for significance (or avoid the fear of insignificance), a leader can unconsciously sabotage their followers’ autonomy. Instead of developing more leaders, the leader just tries to hang onto his or her followers.

If you were to ask the leader, just like the mother, they’d explain that they’re just trying to protect their followers from making poor decisions, wasting their time, or getting hurt.

But just as any good parent knows, a leader has to let people go out and make mistakes, get hurt, and lose their way so they can learn from their failures.

Ironically, a leader with a fear of insignificance can develop followers with a fear of failure.

The leader either makes others feel like they’re not competent enough to do stuff on their own, so the leader does way more work than is necessary, or the followers abandon him or her because they want so bad to make their own decisions.

I came across a fantastic article on the Forbes website about this very topic. The article is Five Leadership Mistakes You’re Making That Sabotage Employee Autonomy.

The five ways you sabotage autonomy are:

  1. You undermine employee’ (co-workers’, kids’, clients’, downline members’, etc.) decisions
  2. You take over when the job’s not getting done fast enough.
  3. You perpetuate a risk-averse environment (you make people afraid to fail).
  4. You fail to delegate effectively.
  5. You become a bottleneck.

Each of these tactics is a way to keep the leader in control, and the followers dependent on the leader.

Ironically, the more autonomy you allow, the more respect you get. The more your kids, followers and clients respect you, the more significance you gain.

The more you empower others to “leave the nest” and allow them the room to make their own mistakes, the more likely it is that they’ll come back to you for advice.

Young adults don’t truly care what their parents think until they face their own decisions and the effects of poor choices.

Potential leaders won’t value the insights of their mentor or boss, until they go out and test their skills, make their own decisions about their business or career, and screw up enough that they want to come back and ask for advice.

Even personal trainers who continue to resign their clients year after year can sometimes do a disservice to them. The clients create such a strong dependence on their personal trainer that if the trainer wants to go on vacation, the client doesn’t know what to do with himself or herself. They wouldn’t be confident enough to take a written or online workout and do it on their own.

Read also: 5 Success Traits You Develop Through Weight Training.

Fight, Freeze, or Flee? What are you going to do?

The body’s automatic response to fear is to fight, freeze or flee. In modern times, most people revert to freezing or fleeing.

Most people freeze and don’t do anything, or flee and run away from their fears.

A small percentage of people fight their fears and do whatever is necessary to keep them from sidetracking their success.

Be a fighter.

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