Cutting the Fear Factor

June 5, 2007
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Fear is inevitable; the challenge is keeping it at bay.


“Worry gives small things big shadows.”
– Swedish proverb

We’ve all been there. The choking, blinding panic that slams you without warning. You wake up from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. and a little voice deep down inside says, “What if…?” Or gradually coming to consciousness in the morning and the awful awareness of what may face you today filters into your foggy mind…and the debilitating dread hits.

Simply put, worry and the fear that comes with it inevitably is part of any entrepreneur’s life. Remember, too, that worry in business is not all bad. “Good worry” keeps you on your toes, looking down the road, anticipating problems and devising solutions before you get nailed to the wall. In fact, the opposite of “good worry” is complacency, and complacency has destroyed many at one time successful companies.

“Bad worry,” on the other hand, is negative and many times paralyzing. At best, bad worry siphons off your emotional energy resulting in “managerial dilution.” You are so exhausted from constantly fretting over the unknown that your company founders from a lack of positive direction.

There are some great psychological techniques out there on how to deal with worry. (I recommend the book Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition by Edward Hallowell, M.D.) But I’m no psychiatrist. However, as a business consultant I’ve learned that bad worry comes from the unpredictables, the bad stuff we can’t control or even see coming (and what is more unpredictable than the life of an entrepreneur?). So logically, if you can keep to a minimum the opportunities for, umm…“it” to happen in your life, you will worry less or, at the very least, have less to worry about! So how can you limit the bad stuff?

Above all else, you must anticipate! That’s right. Instead of living in dread and denial, embrace the bad stuff! Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen to me or my business?” then work your odds by taking concrete steps to either prevent the problem or, at the very least, control the damage if it does occur. This is so much better than enduring destructive, debilitating dread and worry. Here are a few examples to prime your mental pump:
  1. Work safely. This is especially important if you are an owner-operator. After all, if your body breaks down, the cash flow stops! So focus on your daily activities. Lift from your knees and follow a back-strengthening stretching and exercise routine (many carpet cleaners swear by an inversion table.). Never carry something when you can roll it. Watch your footing and keep work/traffic areas as clear as possible. Don’t “rush”; even if you don’t break a bone you are putting your client’s possessions in danger. If you are having to run through the day to break even, you need to raise your prices.
  2. Drive safely. This isn’t a defensive driving lecture. But focus on your daily driving habits. For example, a 2005 Australian study found that cell phone users are four times more likely to be involved in an accident this held true even with hands-free phones!). And it isn’t just cell phones. Multi-tasking while driving is inherently dangerous. For example, a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that sudden driver distraction (for example, a falling coffee cup) increased crash risk by 900 percent. And yet we’re all guilty of cramming our mouths as we madly dash off to our next job, 2 hours late! And it’s not just how you drive…
  3. Focus on your vehicle. No matter how safely you drive, there is always the other guy. Fasten your seat belt (duh!). But does your work van have air bags? Is your truckmount installed so that it will not become an 800-pound flying object in a high-speed crash? (Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! Hitting the vehicle in front and the truckmount slamming into you from behind. Remember, your seat back doesn’t have an air bag!) What about onboard flammables? Propane, gasoline, solvents? Are they all secured? Turn signals, decent tires, brakes? You don’t need a checklist, just a gentle reminder. Once again, this is just getting the odds on your side!
  4. Live safely physically. Your health is literally one of your most valuable possessions. Yet many carpet cleaners take better care of their work van than they do their own body. Think, really think, about what you ingest on a daily basis. Americans have the very best, healthiest food available on the planet. Yet they are also the most obese and out-of-shape people in the world! So work on healthy eating and drinking water (yes, I know this tough!). Don’t forget the need for exercise. Sure, you work hard. But carpet cleaning isn’t the sort of intense aerobic exercise your body and heart crave. With a healthy body you will have removed a huge source of present worries and future problems. And if you are still addicted to cigarettes, you should have only one consuming worry in your life: how to stop smoking immediately. Smoking truly is “slow suicide.”
  5. Live safely emotionally. I can’t remotely do justice in one paragraph to a subject thousands of self-help books have addressed. However, I’ve never forgotten – and have tried to live my life by – the old saying regarding negative emotional baggage: “Either fix it…or forget it.” All of us struggle emotionally: insecurity, jealousy, rejection, guilt, the list could go on forever…and for too many people it does. One of the best things you can do for your emotional health is to just let all this garbage go. But how to do it? One trick that works for me is to ask myself how much my current hurt, insult and/or resentment will be worth 20 years from now. And if my answer is “Not much,” then my next logical question is, “Then why am I letting it bring me down right now?”
  6. Choose your path. All too often we struggle through life like a blind drunk, lurching from one daily business crisis to the next. Many times this “management by chaos” business model occurs because someone is in over his or her head business-wise. How much better to ask yourself, “What is my ‘comfort level’ in business? Where is what the tennis pros call my ‘Sweet Spot,’ that business intersection where I am making the most amount of money with the fewest problems?”
  7. Get a life. Cutting the fear factor in business may be as simple as recognizing there are many things out there that are a lot more important than financial success. Earning the respect and love of your friends and family along with the time to enjoy these great folks? Priceless! Once you recognize this fact, your business fear will start to recede and even more so if you have worked on the six preceding points! The words of Franklin D. Roosevelt are even more true today than they were 74 years ago: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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