16-12 Segment 2: Mastering Fear at Work and in Life

 

Synopsis: We all get stressed now and then, but did you ever consider that this “stress” is actually fear? Our guests discuss why that is, how it can sabotage our lives and work, how to handle fear when it comes along, and how to do a better job on the job of recognizing fear and learning to handle it.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Robert Maurer, clinical psychologist, author of the book Mastering Fear: Harnessing emotion to achieve excellence in health, work and relationships; Edward G. Brown, business consultant, co-founder of the Cohen Brown Management Group, author of the book The Time Bandit Solution.

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Mastering Fear at Work and in Life

Marty Peterson: We all know fear. We experienced it as children when we thought the boogieman was under the bed. As adults, it can come in many forms – from the thought that a stalker is following us through the parking lot at night, to the anxiety of not being able to pay the mortgage. These days, fear seems to be an ever-present companion to many Americans on the job, but it’s called “stress” and it’s causing health problems and dissatisfaction with our jobs…

Robert Maurer: There’s something very odd about this notion of stress. It sat around in physics and metallurgy – twisting of metals – for 500 years bothering nobody until in 1936 became a disorder. Since 1936 as you know we’ve cured polio, tuberculosis, malaria, made progress with every cancer, but I’ve never encountered anybody who thinks that stress is getting better.

Peterson: That’s Robert Maurer, clinical psychologist at the UCLA and the University of Washington Medical Schools and author of the book, Mastering Fear: Harnessing emotion to achieve excellence in health, work, and relationships…

Maurer: What we’ve found is that if you look at the symptoms of stress – neck pain, back pain, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, change in appetite – all those things happen in every single mammal in response to any kind of threat or opportunity. In animals we call it the “fight or flight response.” And what we found in our studies looking at interview after interview of successful people is they almost never use the word “stress.” They use a different word, instead, to describe this same physiology we all share, and that word was “fear.”

Peterson: Calling it “fear” instead of “stress” is helpful if you want to learn how to respond to that anxiety and pressure, Maurer says. After all, that’s what it is – FEAR– and we used to understand that until we became adults…

Maurer: If you think about it, children don’t ever use the word stress. They never say they’re anxious or stressed about the boogieman, they say they’re “afraid.” Kids don’t say they’re depressed because they can’t go to the school picnic, they say they’re “sad.” So children have a different relationship to fear that successful adults hold onto.

Peterson: Maurer has a mnemonic he uses to talk about mastering fear: it’s D-A-N-G-E-R…

Maurer: The human brain must have a health response to fear. The mnemonic “danger” is a list of six common things people do when they’re afraid – five of them not very healthy. So the “D” stands for depression. One of the causes of depression is people are literally depressing something they’re afraid of. The “A” stands for “anger.” People sometimes turn their fear into anger. You see this at a party when you’re sweetheart’s having a lot of fun with somebody else – I mean a lot of fun. We go up to our partner and say, “These parties are really boring. The food stinks. All the people talk about is work. Let’s go!” So turning fear into anger is common but very, very destructive to the heart. The “N” stands for “negotiate.” And negotiation sounds like a good response to fear, but from all the literature on negotiation skills, they remind you that the reason that you’re negotiating with a person is because you can’t give them what they want. If you could, we’d call it Christmas. Instead, unless you can identify the other party’s underlying fear or concern, there’s no way to get a sustained agreement.

Peterson: Next is “G” for “griping,” a very negative and unproductive way of discharging some of that fear. Then “E” for “eating.” You can’t be fearful if you’re eating. Maurer says that the brain assumes that the problem has disappeared as soon as you put food into your mouth. That’s why many people eat – and put on weight – during times of stress…

Maurer: The “R” reveals the healthy response to fear. When I’ve asked audiences all over the world, “What do you think the healthy human response is to fear?” Nobody can give me the answer until I ask them, “Those of you (who are) parents, what did your child do when they had their first nightmare thunderstorm?” And all over the planet the answer’s the same: they ran to mother’s bed. Mother held them, said, “It’s only a nightmare,” as if that word meant anything to a child. And what did the child do next? Went right back to sleep in mother’s arms. So there’s over a hundred studies finding that what is healthy human beings do when they’re afraid, is that they reach to another for support.

Peterson: Reaching for support isn’t just finding the closest person in the room and hoping they’ll lend a sympathetic ear. Maurer says you have to be a “gourmet” of sorts, and find the best person to help you, and if you had a life where you were nurtured and listened to, that helps tremendously…

Maurer: If you grew up in a family where there was lots of nurturing from loving parents and from neighbors and from schoolteachers and religious figures and athletic coaches, then when you get upset, that generic term for unhappiness in the body, then you’ve already learned what kind of upset that is and who you’re to get what kind of support you need and where you’re most likely to get it from. If you grew up without that as many of us had by parents that didn’t get it from their parents or because our parents were wounded and couldn’t respond to us in a healthy way, then when you get upset you’re more likely to go to food or tobacco or alcohol or to all the wrong people. So what we mean by “gourmet” is are you able to articulate for yourself what kind of support you need and who in your life is most likely to give it to you.

Peterson: There are various types of support you can find; depending on the fear you’re experiencing. Maurer says that part of the art of mastering fear is to recognize that help comes in many different packages…

Maurer: Sometimes what you need is somebody just to give you information and send you on your way. One of the types of support is criticism or rejection where, basically, you tell the person when they’re off course and where you think they need to be considering making some other changes. So just sharing your information about what you’re upset about over and over and over again isn’t likely to be very healthy. But the question is, for example, if you’re making the same mistake over and over again, do you have a friend that’s going to say, “Look, I love you, I care about you but I need to give some feedback about what I see going on. Is this a good time to tell you?” So it’s a question of what’s the right kind of support to get you moving, because the point of the fear mechanism is to get us into action. Emotion is designed to put us in motion. So the question is, are you getting the kind of support that allows you to make constructive changes and make positive efforts in your life?

Peterson: Once you get the advice you need from a supportive person, you don’t have to make huge changes all at once. Edward G. Brown is co-founder of a culture-change management consulting and training firm for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group, and author of the book, The Time Bandit Solution.  He says that you can minimize the risks of changing – and the fear — by practicing what he calls “the off-Broadway principle”…

Edward Brown: The off-Broadway principle is recognizing that Broadway producers don’t go on Broadway with a show, they take their show off-Broadway where they take small risks and develop small gains and continue off-Broadway to take larger risk and receive larger gains.

Peterson: In a program he developed called “Let Go of Fear and Leap to Success,” Brown teaches sales and other business people just what they need to know and not a bit more, so that they can feel competent to get in front of a prospect or learn how to manage more effectively. He and the student then conduct a “gap analysis” to find out what the student doesn’t know that he or she needs to learn to develop the courage to do better…

Brown: And when that’s done I teach them that there’s something I can’t teach them, which is experience. What I do with them is I spend 10 day in the real world taking what they’ve learned in the classroom in the real world using the off-Broadway principle: Small risks, small gain; larger risk, larger gain. Voila! They’ve developed courage. Courage conquers fear.

Peterson: Brown says that even successful people can be fearful because they think that they might be “imposters” – that is that they enjoy success because of luck rather than talent. That little voice inside of their heads can drown out the common sense they have that tells them that they did work hard at being successful, even if there was a little luck in the mix. In those cases, Brown says that if a person feels inadequate at some aspect of their job or life, it’s time to get to work on it…

Brown: If you feel as though you’re insecure and inadequate, analyze why. Analyze what it is you don’t know that you must learn, and learn what you must learn. As a result of that then you can feel more self-confident, develop more self-esteem and more comfort going into the real world using what you’ve learned in the academic world, in a training program when applying the off-Broadway principle then you’ll never feel as though your luck is not luck and your skill is not skill. You’ll know who you are.

Peterson: Knowing everything you think you need to know doesn’t mean knowing everything. Robert Maurer says that managers shouldn’t be afraid that they’re not the most knowledgeable person on the team. He cites research from Google’s own staff that shows that managers have a unique role to play, and it’s not to be the “oracle”…

Maurer: They looked to see which of the managers had the most retention of their talented staff and whose departments were the most creative and as they studied them in great detail, because Google is very data-oriented, they found that these were manager who did not have the highest technical skill of all their managers but they knew how to manage people. They made those people feel special and important and they knew how to have them work together to create a result. They even have what they call “the Google bump” where they have you seats close enough together in the cafeteria so you will literally bump into each other because the research has been going on since World War II that if you have people have to mix during the course of their day they will sometimes create ideas they would never do as they’re isolated in their cubicles.

Peterson: He adds that in almost every case, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney to Steve Jobs, creativity is a collaborative effort by skilled people who each contribute what they do best to the effort. Even these great innovators are afraid at times, but they can rely on those around them to do a good job if they’ve chosen them well and given them an environment where they can thrive. Finally, Maurer says to master fear, it takes a healthy body – something we don’t normally consider when we’re talking about success…

Maurer: When we talk about staying healthy, we tend to think in terms of exercise, nutrition, enough sleep and of course all those things are important. But one of the best predictors of physical health, not just mental health, but physical health is the quality of your relationships. That people who feel socially isolated have more medical problems, have more cardiac disease, have higher cholesterol, have (an) immune system that’s compromised and has much more trouble healing from colds or other invasions in the body. So your relationships are key to your success in life in terms of physical health. The reason we think is, again, when you reach for support, that “R,” it shuts off, the amygdala shuts off the fight or flight response, shuts off what we’ve been calling the “stress response” giving the body the chance to go back to what it needs to do to heal and grow, and strengthening the immune system. Because when the alarm system is on, the immune system is lowered.

Peterson: Mastering fear and enjoying success is all about reaching out to trusted friends and co-workers for their support and advice, then acting on it in a way that can build courage, self-esteem and knowledge. You can read more about how to do this in Robert Maurer’s book, Mastering Fear, available in stores and online. He invites listeners to visit his website at ScienceofExcellence.com. To find out more about Edward Brown and his book, The Time Bandit Solution, visit his site at TimeBanditSolution.com. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.

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