Leaders: 3 Ways To Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown

November 14th, 2011 by LaRae Quy

Article first published on www.linked2leadership.com

Fear of the Unknown

Why do we fear the unknown? Success is achieved when we move into action, and often this requires us to move into the unknown. And yet, we all encounter those moments when moving forward seems scary and fills us with fear.

The unknown can represent many things. To some, it’s not being sure of what we will encounter. To some, the unknown triggers our fear of not being in control. For others, lack of confidence in our abilities and resources can surface when confronted with the unknown.

Life Can Be Tough

I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. Rattlesnakes were the biggest threat to my life, not drugs. I spent my summers greasing balers and digging fence post holes. Fast food for us was hitting a deer at 60 miles an hour.

I entered the FBI Academy and trained for sixteen weeks before I was issued a badge and gun and sent to Phoenix, Arizona. I pulled a gun and made my first arrest at a busy intersection on Scottsdale Road. Years later, I became the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California and did my first live television interview. It was at that point that I truly understood the meaning of the word fear. Everything else up to this point had been child’s play.

Fear can take many shapes, and it is defined differently for each of us. But no one can move ahead unless they are also bold enough to move into the unknown.

Do you calculate your moves so you can reduce risk—or avoid it? The answer can have an important impact on the way you live your life.

There Is Magic In Boldness

We work hard to find wise ways to reduce risk, but there is magic in a bold approach to life. Bold is not being foolhardy. Bold is a sincere braveness to discover the possibilities in life. Whether we lead hundreds or an army of one, we cannot take that first step until we learn how to stop our fear of the unknown.

Stepping in front of live television cameras means there is no editing or rehearsals. As the FBI spokesperson, it was rare when this type of interview went according to anything that resembled a script, so I found myself stepping into unknown territory—mouth dry, voice cracking, and knowing that everything I said (wrong) would stay on in the form of playbacks. If I made a mistake, not only would I look incompetent, it would also reflect poorly upon the FBI.

Dealing with the media was an unknown. I had a choice: either learn to reduce risk or avoid it. There are many spokespeople who avoid risk with the media by avoiding live television interviews. They stick to a script. The media hate them and never give them a break if/when something negative breaks regarding their company or situation.

Embrace the Unknown

I chose the other alternative—I embraced the unknown. I did my best to reduce risk but there is no way to eliminate it. Here are three ways to confront the unknown I will share with you:

1. Think small

Rather than looking at the giant task ahead of you, break it down into small pieces that can be accomplished in an hour, or a day, and focus your attention on that. Small steps help us to prioritize, and they help us feel we’ve accomplished something. Feelings of accomplishment help us build confidence in our abilities.

Here are strategies behind small steps:

  • Asking small questions does not create fear
  • Expecting small answers breaks down resistance
  • Taking small actions guarantees progress
  • Solving small problems provides confidence
  • Recognizing small moments is the key to moving forward

If we take small steps we can . . .

2. Prepare

I didn’t wait until the day of the live TV interview to start preparing for it. I practiced how to respond to contentious questions in front of a video camera so I’d know which facial expressions to use that would evoke the response I wanted in viewers. I experimented with different stances and voice ranges until I was comfortable with the result. Soldiers do not wait until they are in battle to learn to shoot a gun; the same applies to us. Look ahead and start preparing for your next challenge before it hits you in the face.

Once we prepare, we can take the time to . . .

3. Understand your behavioral patterns

Anytime you try something new, you learn different things about yourself. This means you need to pay attention to your gut response when confronted with the unexpected. If you keep pulling the thread, you can see patterns in the way you respond to your gut reactions. Do you rationalize them away? Do you trust your instinct? Recall when you’ve been at your best and identify the factors that helped you make the right choices . . . the list goes on.

  • If new experiences bring out a new understanding of yourself, the key is to identify what that new “thing” is so you can learn from it.
  • New experiences are great learning opportunities if you frame them in a positive way.
  • The more you understand your patterns of behavior, the better you can exploit your strengths and stop repeating your mistakes.

Fear of the unknown has its roots in lack of confidence in how you’ll perform when you venture into unknown territory. 1) Take small steps, so you can 2) prepare yourself, and 3) seek self-knowledge—these are effective ways to overcome your fear of the unknown.

How have small steps helped you in facing a big issue? How do you prepare for unknown challenges? What patterns of behavior have emerged for you in the way you overcome your fear of the unknown?

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LaRaeQuy


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7 Responses to “Leaders: 3 Ways To Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown”

  1. Diane says:

    Great article LaRae. I agree that the roots are usually the need to control (out of the false sense that it will protect us from getting hurt) or our doubt as to whether we will be “good enough” in this unknown venture. Love the word you chose: “EMBRACE the unknown”. It is about finding a way to embrace so we can move forward, isn’t it? For myself, I know the more grounded I am in the present, the more solid I feel and the more able I am to trust that I can take one small step after another until I get to the other side.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Hi Diane

      I agree with you: the more grounded we are in the present, the more solid we feel about our next step.

      Glad you liked the term “embrace the unknown.”


  2. Bush Sr says:

    I am having a strange problem. I can’t seem to link to your rss feed. I am using Very Good Feed reader Fyi.

  3. James S.Thomas says:

    Thanks for sharing larae Quy. I really love this post. In decision making, fear is a natural thing. But we have to get over it. And you have to explain to us how to overcome the fear that actually comes from yourself. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for this nice 123 guide of overcoming fear of unknown (public speaking). I strongly agree with the first and the last point (Break in small portions and identify reaction patterns), and I very firmly believe in practice…Practice is something that prepare us in advance..nice read..keep posting Iarae

  5. Hi LaRae,
    Your first tip works so well for me. Whenever I’m confronted with an unknown mountain, I divide it into several molehills starting with the most urgent and important. It helps me build momentum and gives me confidence to finish the task.
    Most of the time, the source of my fear is lack of knowledge and preparation and I’ll just fake it ’till I make it. During these times, I try to do my best to provide good results and I’ve been lucky so far. But I admit I need more practice on preparation and seeking self-knowledge.
    I like that message in your image: Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. If we look at the unknown differently, then it may not be so fearful anymore.
    Thanks for sharing your insight.

  6. LaRae, aloha. Since I know you are visiting in Paradise, I was surprised to see this blog post. What a terrific one this is and on such an important topic. LaRae, since we are going to experience “fear” anyway about the topic, it is ever so much better to take the steps you suggest to minimize rather than be paralyzed by “what ifs.”

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your story and love, love, love the definition of fast food.

    As you know, most people are terrified of public speaking. My first public speaking occurred because of a problem I had to address with a large group of angry people. Because I so focused on what I was going to say and how I was going to calm the people, I never even thought of the fact that I was speaking before a crowd. After that “baptism” any other speaking was easy.

    Best wishes for a wonderful week ahead. Until next time, aloha. Janet

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