Issue 198 - September 2019
Years ago, I was captivated by Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi. When I finished reading it, I immediately went back to page one and read it again. The story centers on "Pi" an Indian Tamil boy who, after a shipwreck, survives 227 days drifting on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean. With him in the lifeboat is a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The novel has sold over 10 million copies, won numerous awards, and was made into a movie winning four Academy Awards. Yann Martel masterfully illustrates the uncertainty and relativity of truth and reality. He cleverly draws the reader into this fictional world with a note from the author that sounds like we're reading a true story.
As Pi is drifting on the ocean, he finds ways to produce fresh water and catch food from the sea while sharing the boat with a tiger intent on eating him. I was especially struck by a passage on fear (condensed for brevity):
This issue focuses on fear. It's a dark force behind stress, worry, prejudice, extremism, bullying, avoidance, and ineffective leadership. Fear's many disguises mean it's often unnamed and allowed to hide in the shadows. Cognition -- thinking about our thinking -- through exposing and expressing fear is a key step in reducing it.
Fear creates doubt. That often leads to cynicism. And then we withdraw from following our heart and pursuing our dreams. As Martel puts it, "to choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."
Last month's issue 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 shallower.
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.
What would you do if you weren't afraid?
Overcoming fear has been a major theme in our work. Fear is appealing food for moose in the workplace. It attracts and nourishes them. Moose-on-the-Table is where everyone in a meeting knows there is an issue or problem, but no one is talking about it. It's like there is a large moose standing on the meeting-room table and no one is saying a word about it as if it's not there. The longer the moose is ignored, the bigger it grows. Then other moose attracted to the conspiracy of silence -- the perfect habitat for these moose to thrive, join it. And they start to have babies. Pretty soon moose are everywhere as everyone does their best to ignore them.
In my only book of fiction, Moose on the Table, I centered the story on Pete Leonard, a manager "going along to get along." Many of the book's examples and scenarios come from our coaching, consulting, and workshop experiences. Here's a scene from a workshop Pete attended:
Is your workplace infused with fear or courage? Are you helping to reduce or increase the moose? What would you do if you weren't afraid?
"Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."
"We usually learn faster from pain than from pleasure. Strong dislikes are acquired faster than strong likes. In relationships, trust is easy to lose and hard to regain. Something bad about a person is better remembered than something good, which is why negative ads dominate political campaigns."
"It is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of hardship and death."
"The ego is an important psychological structure that plays an important role in a human being's dealing with the world, but it is not ultimately who we are. In fact, the ego can create powerful blockades of pride, shame, and fear that prevent too many people from opening themselves up to love and healing."
"Terror closes the ears of the mind."
"Fear is always an anticipation of the future, an imagination. Notice what happens to your sense of trust and well-being, your belief about the world."
"Worry is a by-product of fear. And to live life with a constant, underlying fear of future pain is not to live at all. Fear and worry, more than anything else, are keeping people imprisoned and caged within the walls of their own imagination."
"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
"Apocaholics (the word is Gary Alexander's -- he calls himself a recovering apocaholic) exploit and profit from the natural pessimism of human nature, the innate reactionary in every person. For 200 years pessimists have had all the headlines, even though optimists have far more often been right. Arch-pessimists are feted, showered with honors and rarely challenged, let alone confronted with their past mistakes."
"Our doubts are traitors; and make us lose the good we oft might win; by fearing to attempt."
"New York University's Dr. Marc Siegel explains in his book False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear, because nothing could be further from the truth: Statistically, the industrialized world has never been safer. Many of us are living longer and more uneventfully. Nevertheless, we live in worst-case fear scenarios."
This section summarizes last month's LinkedIn Updates and Twitter Tweets about online articles or blog posts that I've flagged as worth reading. These are usually posted on weekends when I am doing much of my reading for research, learning, or leisure. You can follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JimClemmer and connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimclemmer
My original tweet commenting on the article follows each title and descriptor from the original source:
The items in each month's issue of The Leader Letter are first published in my weekly blog during the previous month.
If you read each blog post (or issue of The Leader Letter) as it's published over twelve months, you'll have read the equivalent of a leadership book. And you'll pick up a few practical leadership tips that help you use time more strategically and tame your E-Beast!
I am always delighted to hear from readers of The Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in The Leader Letter without their permission. I am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my material for your team or organization. Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or my blog!
Live, learn, laugh, and lead -- just for the L of it!
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©2019 Jim Clemmer and The CLEMMER Group