The best advice I’ve ever been given in my career, let alone throughout life, is how to avoid F.E.A.R., or False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s simple and clear in concept but very difficult to apply in the moment and is comprised of two parts: Fact v. Fiction and Channeling Your Inner Two-Year-Old.
Fact v. Fiction
Regardless of where you are in your life’s gem, fear can appear very real. The best way to combat this is by applying Fact v. Fiction. I go into depth about this method in the video, so I won’t waste your time by repeating myself here, but the main point is to be careful to make sure that your emotions are stemming from a place of fact and not fiction. Take time and assess the situation and yourself to make sure that what you are reacting to is not just a conjecture, but very real and fact-based.
Channel Your Inner Two-Year-Old
By this, I mean, ask why to the point of obnoxiousness. If acting like a child is not something you gravitate towards, then let me give you a more adult term: root cause analysis. Why a two-year-old? Most of us adults stop asking questions before the situation becomes uncomfortable, a two-year-old doesn’t stop until all their questions are answered. And we can learn from this. When trying to understand the root cause of an issue or trying to assess whether we are acting out of fact or fiction, we need to go 1 to 3 steps deeper after it gets uncomfortable for both parties. Then, and only then, are you getting close to the root. Digging all the way down to the root of the problem is the only way to avoid F.E.A.R. and live in fact. When you live in fact, and your energy comes from fact, that shows up as evangelical, joy, purpose, mission. It’s the good stuff. Living in fiction will merely prolong the energy, time-suck, and mental waste that goes into living in a F.E.A.R.-based world. Not to mention that it is an absolute efficiency and productivity killer as you focus your mental and physical energy into things that don’t exist.
Let’s take this in a work context. At work, when you are trying to problem-solve, especially if you are in a leadership or senior role, take 30 seconds to think about how often you are asking probing, deep, why-based questions versus immediately coming in with solutions to fix what you think is the problem. Most of us tend to go into problem-solving mode before we understand the real root of the situation. In addition to not actually solving the problem, it is very frustrating to others involved in this process. Why? Because they don’t feel heard. And when they don’t feel heard, they don’t feel understood. And when they don’t feel understood, they don’t feel close to you. And when they don’t feel close to you, they don’t trust you. I could go on. This is why root cause analysis is so vital. Not only will you solve the actual problem, your team will feel heard and appreciate you as a leader.
Now, let’s try this with teenagers (I know, I know. But it works, trust me). This happened to me recently. My eldest did not want to go to school. She had a very bad case of senioritis. When she told me she wanted to stay home from school, instead of going into “pissed-off-mom mode”, I decided to try being a two-year-old. Here is how the conversation went:
“Why do you want to skip school today?”
“Because I don’t feel well.”
“Why don’t you feel well?”
“Because my stomach hurts.”
“Why does your stomach hurt?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, if you were sure, what might it be?”
“Well, there are a lot of possibilities.”
“Tell me about them.”
It went on like this for some time, but I’ll spare you the agony of reading through that and skip right to the good part, the result. After about 15 minutes and a lot of why questions later, it finally turned out that she was nervous about a test and she needed to go to her counselor to get help. When this finally came to light, I asked her,
“Why wouldn’t you do that?”
And with that, she went to school, got help, and was fine for the test.
Now, think about this example. If I had just forced her to go to school, assuming she just wanted to stay home because of senioritis, we would have had a big explosive fight, she may not have gotten the help she needed, and the outcome would have been bad for both of us. Instead, we had an uncomfortable, and a little tedious, but invaluable conversation that confronted the root of the problem so that it could be solved well. This is true in any aspect of your life where you may operate in a fiction and F.E.A.R.-based world instead of a fact-based one. Make sure the evidence is real before you react. If you find yourself stuck, you can always start again with the why process.