Recently I completed the book, “The Fearless Mind,” by Dr. Craig Manning. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and thought I would share some of my thoughts and excerpts from the book.
Self Doubt and Worry
Early in my professional career, I was promoted to a position of responsibility for which I was not adequately prepared. I was 28 years old and responsible for two large manufacturing facilities (200,000 sq. feet of manufacturing space), over two hundred employees and nearly a $100 million dollars in inventory. It was an overwhelming challenge. I ended up doing a mediocre job, not necessarily because I was unprepared, but because I was fearful. I didn’t believe I was good enough and up to the challenge and consequently my performance was mediocre. I placed so much worry and attention in keeping my job that I didn’t pay enough attention to doing my job and honing the required skills. All I can remember from my time on that job was the stress and anxiety and the fear that I would be fired. And, looking back, much of what I stressed about or worried over were things I could not control. That is what happens when you focus too much on an outcome or on the future. Fear rules your life and it places boundaries on your personal progress and growth.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and fear. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. Fear that I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. I wouldn’t describe these fears as paralyzing, but in many cases this fear limited my progress and opportunities. Some of this fear was a product of my environment, but mostly I think that fear is a normal part of life and something that we all have to learn to conquer.
Feelings of inadequacy are normal and it takes great effort and discipline to over come them. I have learned that as one thinks, so he is. Our thoughts really do make us who we are.
This book gave me some great food for thought regarding how to think and how to conquer fear. Here are some excerpts that I really liked:
“A fearless mind is achieved when we have cleansed ourselves of the barriers that prevent us from reaching our greatest potential. We do this by learning to accept what we have control over and what we don’t. Once we understand what is our responsibility and what isn’t, then we are able to channel all our energy into mastering those aspects that we have direct responsibly for and not waste energy (emotional, mental, or physical) on those things that are not with our responsibility.”
Think about it. How wasteful is it to dwell on past mistakes or the actions of others? Can we control what happened or what others will do? Yet, we can control who we are and what we do – right now. The author also stated, “The two most prominent areas of wasted energy are guilt and fear.” Too many of us allow too much of our attention to be on our own mistakes (guilt), what someone else has done to us (anger) or what the future holds (fear). Time and energy spent on worrying about things we cannot control is less time on the now, which is really all we can control, anyway.
High performance people focus on those factors which they control directly and learn to master them. They focus much less on an outcome (future) than they do on the present time. In other words, their daily and weekly habits are what lead them to the desired outcome, not stress, worry or fear. When our daily habits and energy are focused on action in the present time it leads to success, which builds confidence. Confidence is a fear killer.
Fear breeds mediocrity. Mediocre means “of only moderate quality; not very good.” Who aspires to that? Mediocrity is a function of negative thoughts, which leads to poor choices, which leads to limiting consequences. The author states that “behavioral researchers tell us that as much as 77 percent of everything we think is negative and counterproductive. Medical researchers have found that as much as 75 percent of all illnesses are self-induced.” I’m not entirely sure of the research behind the claim, but my initial hunch is to think that is probably true.
Fear also leads us to act conservatively. “We settle for what is safe and easy instead of pursuing our dreams.” I happen to really enjoy reading biographies of successful people. One common thread is that many of them experienced self-inflicted, risky challenges and at times their futures looked bleak and sometimes they even failed spectacularly, but in the end, they achieved incredible heights because they did not allow fear to change who they were and to sap their energy.
Not only is a focus on the past a fear inducer, so is an obsession with the future. This is an “outcome-oriented behavior”, which means that one sets objectives that are always in the future. What?, you say, setting goals are a bad thing? Well, yes, the wrong goals can be bad for you and too much time obsessing over those goals (future) can lead to stress, anxiety and fear. Effective goals are those that are just beyond our ability to achieve (to promote a challenge) and more in the present (this week, next month) than way in the future. These goals should build off on another until the desired outcome is achieved.
“Paying excessive attention to what is wrong only magnifies the problems.”
This seems obvious, but we’re all guilty of it. Moaning, complaining, fault-finding are all actives that waste energy. No amount of complaining can change something in the past. Only the actions we take now will determine whether or not we can make any lemonade out of those lemons. So, doesn’t it make more sense to put our energy into our choices now? True it is that poor choices can limit the actions and choices we have available to us. But, there is still a choice! And as long as that is the case, how we choose to act now can make all the difference or it can just compound an already bad situation.
“I have come to realize how important it is to discipline my mind – to pay attention to the moment and not worry about the past or the future, to really focus on what I am doing, not what I and doing wrong. “
This can be a great challenge. We have to train ourselves to spend as much energy as possible on what we are doing rather than our weaknesses. This helps build confidence when we see evidence that we are capable of doing good things. Our society often puts a negative spin on those with confidence, often confusing it with arrogance. It makes sense because miserable people don’t like to be around confident people because it makes them feel even more inferior. Hence the old saying, “misery loves company.” But, there is great power when you can quickly identify your strengths and what you have to offer to others. There is nothing wrong with confidence. “Confidence is an ‘I am good’ approach,” while “arrogance is an ‘I’m good, you stink’ approach.” There is a huge difference between those two mindsets. How do you see your own self? Do you immediately go to your weakness or can you readily see your strengths? We should be able to identify our strengths just as easily as we can our weaknesses.
“Further, we are the only ones who can stop ourselves from achieving our dreams. Self-destructive behavior should not be perpetuated by ourselves or condoned by those responsible for others. The behavior won’t change if it keeps getting sugarcoated.”
Remember the story I told about my job at the beginning of this blog entry? My boss recognized my insecurities and made a point to take me to task for it. I can remember him clearly saying to me, “Paul, you need to take this tendency to doubt yourself and your abilities and crush it and never let it back inside you again – you are limiting your potential. I see greatness in you, but you are holding yourself back.” He was right and his pointed, truthful statement hit me powerfully. And, we are just as guilty when we allow those we care for to perpetuate self-destructive behaviors. This is not a time for sugar coating, but for having very real, pointed and honest conversations like my boss had with me. Sugarcoating merely condones the behavior, validating the poor decision making by creating a false empathy. Shoot straight, don’t sugarcoat when it comes to decision making and self-destructive behaviors – your own and of those you love.
There is so much more I could share. This book is really wonderful and thought provoking. There is much more to it than I have shared. All I can say is that I have seen the difference in my life’s course when I have been confident and focused on the present and my actions now. I know how I get when I dwell too much upon the past or upon my mistakes. I’m miserable and that’s no way to live life. I appreciate this book for the reminder and the knowledge of how to banish fear from my life. I highly recommend it!