Visualization's Dark SideThe last series of blog posts discussed visualization as “The Force” that can pull us forward. But it also has a dark side that can energize our fears. Fear and pessimism can be even more powerful. This Dark Force too often overshadows positive possibilities.

Neuroscience shows we’re wired to focus on what’s wrong and picture bleak outcomes. When dangers lurked in the shadows, humans survived by picturing all the horrible possibilities and staying on high alert.

Fear is the dark side of imagination and visioning. It’s a mind game we play on ourselves. A well-produced and realistic horror movie can make our skin crawl and pulse race. It can strike terror deep in our hearts. These extreme stresses and physical changes can be measured in our bodies. Yet the movie is just bits of sound and pixels on a screen. It’s not really happening.

When our daughter, Vanessa, was a teenager, she was drawn like a moth to the flame to watch horror movies. They scared her so much she’d sleep on the carpet beside our bed. We’d keep telling her there’s nothing to worry about — that it was all in her head. But her imagination ran wild when she lay in her own bed, turning routine nighttime household sounds into a soundtrack for murderous spirits or evil beings coming to get her.

It’s been noted that fear can be an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real. Fear is a powerful form of imagery — our own terrifying optical illusion.

Fear is a major cause of stress and anxiety. And it’s an inside job. No one else can make us stressed or worried without our agreement. When we allow fear and worry to dominate our thoughts, they cast huge shadows over our lives and block out so much of the light and daily enjoyment that we could be basking in. These creeping shadows can darken or destroy our lives.

Stress and worry let the air out of the tires that roll us along through life. If enough air is released, the tires will be damaged, and we’ll be forced to slow down or stop to address the problem.

Fear is a cunning and stealthy force in our personal and organizational lives. Fear kills team, and organizational effectiveness as communications close down, and conversations become ever more guarded and shallow.

Fear has a place in our lives. The motivational power of fear can even be crucial to our survival. If we’re physically attacked, fear can jolt us with the adrenalin and motivation we need for fight or flight. Fear should warn us of danger, not makes us afraid to face it.

Fear is like fire. It can be a life-giving energy source, or it can badly burn or destroy life.

Next Week: The Fear Factor: Do You Speak Up or Shut Up?