Fear – A Coach’s Guide
Guest Blog by Trey Ramsey
Trey is a hands-on, innovative leader who brings a combined twenty-plus years of leadership, management, and development experience to his role as the CEO of Evolve Coaching Group. Driven by a desire to help people and businesses evolve, connect, and grow, Trey (alongside his wife and fellow coach, Amy) co-founded Evolve in early 2020.
Passionate about leadership and management development, culture change, and personal growth, Trey’s work with individuals and organizations focuses heavily on mindset, resilience, effective communication, increasing influence, overcoming limiting beliefs, and taking grounded action to reach goals.
A 2020 graduate of the JRNI coach training program, Trey prefers effective tools and approaches that help clients succeed, as opposed to insights that simply make them feel good. Connect with Trey personally on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and most recently on Twitter. To learn more about Evolve Coaching Group, visit evolvecoachinggroup.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
It’s a saying that has been plastered all over the internet in the positivity and self-help communities for a few years now. It’s also a lie.
There is no “other side” of fear. This is because, in a very real sense, fear is hardwired into our bodies. You can no more get to the other side of it than you can get to the other side of your own torso.
Stimulus / Response
The human brain is an amazing thing. The product of millions of years of evolution, it has allowed us to survive for millennia as a species in the face of countless threats to our existence.
There is a part of our brain known as the limbic system that houses our emotional life and plays a critical role in the formation of our memories. There are structures in the limbic system, such as the amygdala, that serve as the core fear system in our bodies.
How does this “fear system” work?
When a threat is perceived, the limbic system jumps into action and the fight, flight, flee, fawn (and now fold) stress response kicks in. This happens automatically, and sometimes before we have even visually processed and interpreted the threat. This is how people are able to reflexively jump out of the way of a moving car before even realizing they are about to be run over, for example.
Heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, blood vessels dilate and blood flow to our muscles increases, and a ton of epinephrine (Adrenaline), cortisol, and norepinephrine is released into our bloodstream.
This is our body’s stress response, and the vast majority of human beings have no control over these processes. It’s simply how we are wired to deal with perceived threats to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
But we can control our perceptions, right? Well… yes and no.
Learning & Association
As humans, our capacity for learning is incredible, and that process begins at birth. (Snow, Ph.D., Kyle. “Learning Begins at Birth.” Children's Reading Foundation, 29 Apr. 2021) A key method of learning is association - a stimulus is introduced into our environment, and we associate positive or negative emotions with that stimulus. When this happens, new neural connections are made, new pathways form in our brains, and that association is retained in our memories. (Ackerman, M.A., Courtney. “What is Neuroplasticity? A Psychologist Explains.” Positive Psychology, 5 Feb. 2021)
It’s how we learn and remember that fire is hot and will burn us, or that we will drown in water if we can’t swim or float. If strong negative emotions are associated with a given stimulus, when that stimulus is introduced in the future, a stress response is often the result. If you nearly drowned in a swimming pool as a child, the thought of swimming might induce a stress response in your teens or young adult years, or even throughout your life.
Obviously, we are able to mitigate or even eliminate stress responses to certain stimuli. People who nearly drowned as a child are able to learn to swim and even develop a passion for it. New neural connections can be made, and new pathways formed that allow us to move forward, in spite of the original programming. But many memories and associations remain with us for a lifetime in some form. They are a physical part of us. (Orlando, Alex. “What Happens in Your Brain When You Make Memories?” Discover Magazine, 14 Jun. 2020)
Wired for Fear
The point to all of this is that fear becomes part of us. We don’t put it down, let it go, or “get to the other side of it”. As coaches, the problem with those approaches is that we can often do more harm to a client than good when it comes to helping them to reach their goals.
Let’s say you have a client who has a great business idea, but fear is holding them back. So you work with them to identify those fears and see things more clearly. Maybe they’re afraid of failing or of what other people will think, or they are afraid they are not good enough to pull it off. They just can’t seem to let it go or get to the other side. So they start beating themselves up, because everyone else seems to be able to “let go of their fear”, but they cannot.
They can’t because it’s part of them; they’re wired for it.
A Better Approach
In working with both group and individual clients, I have had a lot of success in helping them mitigate their fears by helping them focus on identifying and exploring the limiting beliefs that drive those fears. Limiting beliefs are ideas that we hold about ourselves, our world, and life in general, which prevent us from moving forward.
Let’s take a look at a client example to see how this plays out in real life.
I had a client who was needing to close down a manufacturing facility here in the United States, and he was afraid of the repercussions of doing so.
The facility in question was a legacy plant that served for years as the original location of ABC Manufacturing, before ABC was bought out by XYZ Manufacturing, a large corporation with a global footprint. My client was relatively new to XYZ Manufacturing and this legacy facility and its operations were part of the division he had been hired to lead.
The legacy facility was outdated, inefficient, and had been losing money for years. Most of the work done there had been moved to a much newer facility after XYZ took over. It should have been closed a long time ago, but my client’s predecessor refused to address the issue.
My client was afraid.
New in his role, he feared that closing the legacy facility might hurt him politically with the senior executives as well as his peers. He was afraid of what his team members might think of him, and how he would be viewed. He feared not being able to offer transfers or other opportunities within the company to people whose jobs would be lost.
So instead of trying to move my client past these fears or have him “get over them”, we simply explored the limiting beliefs he held that were preventing him from taking action.
That’s the first step, and it starts by better understanding what limiting beliefs really are and where they originate.
Where Limiting Beliefs Come From
Limiting beliefs are thoughts that hold us back or limit our behavior in some way. There are some limiting beliefs that serve us well. The belief that sticking our hand in a bed of hot coals will be painful, for example, prevents us from getting burned.
However, many limiting beliefs do not serve us at all. Instead, they keep us from ever reaching our potential, pursuing goals, or fully living our lives. They inhibit us, hold us back, keep us from trying, pushing, or reaching. These limiting beliefs are mostly false beliefs that keep us stuck, many times without our even being aware of them.
Limiting beliefs begin with:
- our acceptance of things we are told, and
- our experiences as we grow and develop.
At a very young age, we are unable to distinguish between truth and lies, and often accept most anything we are told as truth. These “truths” form the foundation of our beliefs about ourselves, our world, and our lives.
As we grow and develop and have more and different experiences, we interpret these experiences through the lenses of our truths. By default we seek to validate our truths, and have a tendency of the mind to ignore or disregard evidence to the contrary. These “validated truths” reinforce our limiting beliefs.
One of the things my client in the story above feared was that closing the facility might hurt him politically with the senior executives as well as with his peers. He had heard that two of his peers had family members who still worked at the legacy plant, and that the CFO worked there years ago when he was in high school.
His predecessor didn’t close the plant even when it was obvious that needed to happen, and my client assumed it was because his predecessor was afraid of the fallout. My client had seen other, similar situations in the past when what needed to happen didn’t happen because of the politics involved.
The fear of political reprisal was based on my client’s beliefs that were founded on things he had heard and experienced.
But what if he was wrong? What if none of this was true?
What if none of his peers had any family members that worked there? What if the CFO had never even heard of the place, much less worked there? What if his predecessor didn’t close down the facility because he was just lazy or inept?
This is where the rubber meets the road for both coach and client.
Once we’ve helped a client identify the limiting beliefs that underlie their fears, it is incumbent upon us to ask them the right questions, ones that will allow them to challenge these beliefs. This can be difficult in some cases because those limiting beliefs may be integral parts of the client’s view of the world and their place within it.
Drilling Down – Coaching Questions
The questions we ask our clients to consider are our most powerful tools to help them challenge their limiting beliefs. Below are some of the ones I used in this scenario, along with some points I made to help my client see that his fears were based on false, limiting beliefs.
1) What if you’re wrong?
Ask about specific things or attributes of the belief.
Example: “What if you’re wrong? What if your predecessor didn’t close the plant because he was lazy or inept? Maybe that’s what actually led to his dismissal.”
2) How is this belief serving you?
If a belief isn’t helping your client, have them examine it closely.
Example: “How is recalling what you have seen in the past at your previous job helping you in this situation? How certain were you in your last role that politics was the reason behind some of the decisions you witnessed? Was it possible other things influenced those decisions? Isn’t that possible here?”
3) Has anyone else ever been in this type of situation before or are you the first one to EVER experience anything like this?
Obviously, the answer is no.
Example: Many people in leadership roles have had to make tough decisions. Many people in new leadership positions have had to step in and make unpopular choices. If someone else on the planet has done something like this, you can too. “So since we agree that it can be done, what steps do you need to take first in order to move forward with this?”
Remember, we manage fear.
We’d don’t “overcome” it.
Keep in mind there are no magic questions that are going to help your client get to the other side of fear. There is no other side of fear. Our fears are part of us and as a result, they are always with us.
Here’s what we can do.
We help our clients identify their limiting beliefs and understand where they come from. We ask them questions like the ones above that can help them drill down and understand their fears, learn from them, and move forward with them.
On a side note, my client shut down the legacy manufacturing facility and received high praise from peers and senior execs for taking swift action on something that should have been done a long time ago. He was able to offer other positions and transfers to employees affected by the closure. And his team was finally glad to have leadership that was not afraid to do what needed to be done.
Thinking About Becoming A Coach?
One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches like Trey ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur.