Yesterday, the great weather prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted six more weeks of winter in the United States. We know because Phil crawled out of his hole on a gloomy 30 degree-day, saw his shadow, and then ducked back into a hole in fear.
There are lots of problems with this explanation for a delayed spring. I’ll focus on one. Phil, like some of us, passes up great opportunities because we choose to miss the spring of opportunities to live in a winter of fear.
A little fear is a good thing. Social scientists show it with the performance anxiety curve, which shows that performance improves with fear up to a point. There are diminishing returns beyond that point, where increasing levels of fear result in declining performance. In real lives, it explains the adrenaline that kicks in before a deadline. And, it explains the mind-numbing mistake we make because we missed sleep due to worry over outcomes we can’t control.
So, when faced with a positive opportunity, do we to forge ahead or run back? Great thinkers have produced useful ideas: four of them are summarized below.
Consider Before You React: Is it a Real Threat?
As Michael Shermer describes in The Believing Brain, we look for patterns in new data based on old experiences, then infuse meaning into it. We use this pattern to explain why things are and what we should do when it happens. The problem is that we react to the new data in the same old ways, even when it’s now no threat at all. Consider: What else is possible?
Never Worry Alone
This advice comes from Dr. Ned Hallowell, author of Shine and faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hallowell suggests that a trusted confidant may see the same data in different ways, thus offer explanations to calm our fears. His research indicates that sharing our anxiety with trusted others could offer reassurance and coaching that may reverse the downward slop on the performance anxiety curve. Consider: Who can I trust to talk this over?
A reframe is an emotional flip of our current perception. It doesn’t deny reality or facts, but considers alternatives. Instead of thinking: If the client says no, I’ll lose the deal a reframe is: If the client says no, I’ll understand more for the next proposal. Consider: How can I reframe this situation?
Adopt at Growth Mind Set
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes choices between a “growth mind set” and a “fixed mind set.” A growth mind set is a belief that we can learn what we need to learn to achieve our goals. A fixed mindset is that our talent is capped at our current knowledge. Her research shows that the most successful people are not those with the most innate talent, but those who develop a growth mind set. Consider: What do I need to learn to overcome this fear?
You are not a ground hog that cowers in fear in a cold hole in the ground. Right there, you have an advantage! But, things could also be better. There is a potential for the next spring in your life. Don’t miss it for a shadow that isn’t there.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.
Hallowell, E.M. (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business School.
Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Henry Holt and Company.