Taking the fear factor out of a big decision

-I can bring you to the door, but you have to walk through.-Jean-Paul VadnaisA few years ago, I co-authored a journal article which started with the title ‘Stepping into the Unknown’.  It was a heavy academic piece, which sat well with the career I was pursuing back then.

Fast forward six years and I could never have imagined how different my life would be.  I no longer reside in that professional space, I am no longer bound by the constraints of academic writing, or organisational life.  Instead of writing about stepping into the unknown, I actually took my own giant leap and became self-employed.

Making the leap was actually the easy bit.  It was the turmoil leading up to the decision that was fraught with indecision and the constant chime of ‘what if’ ringing in my head.

If you are grappling with a big life decision, then read on. I can’t, and indeed won’t give you an answer to your dilemma, sorry about that, but that is a decision you have to reach all by yourself.  However, this article might help you think more clearly as you reach your own conclusions.

Why do we agonize so much?

There is often a natural resistance to change, we become comforted by what we know in the here and now.  We might not like every aspect of our lives, but it is familiar to us – a bit like that old comfy pair of shoes you just can’t bear to throw away.  In my case the security that comes with being employed was all I had ever known.  But there was something more than just comfort that kept me in my role. I conducted a short survey of managers asking them to describe how they felt about change.  Unanimously they all used the same word…fear.

The fear of change

Often the fear comes, not from the change itself, but from the imagined future beyond the change.  As one manager put it, it is about a ‘perceived loss of control’.  Even if the current situation is untenable, often people have developed coping strategies to maintain a modicum of control.  I realised that in my case I was doing two things; by sticking with what I knew (comfort zone), and over thinking the imagined future, thereby creating fear. I realised I needed to tackle fear head-on.

Fear isn’t rational, it is an emotion.  We are not over thinking as much as ‘over feeling’.  So, in order to gain greater clarity, it helps to step away from the emotions and explore your thinking from an entirely rational perspective.


Ask yourself the following questions regarding your situation and write your answers down in a journal*:

  • What emotions am I feeling right now? (Acknowledge them, park them and move on to the next questions without them present.)
  • What is the reality of my current situation?
  • What do I want to do to change it?
  • Why do I want to change it?
  • What are the benefits and risks of changing my situation?
  • What are the consequences of doing nothing?
  • When have I made a big decision before, and what happened then?

* Yes, a journal.  A big decision like this deserves a journal doesn’t it?

Depending on the outcome of the last major decision you made will determine how you evaluate risk.  If the outcome was not a good one, you will wear it like and invisible cloak which could be impacting on your ability to move forward now.  If so write down:

  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • What mistakes did you make?
  • Did anything go well that you have overlooked?
  • What will you do differently this time?
  • What evidence is there that you would have a bad outcome this time?

Do you really want it?

In your journal, record why you want to change.  Ask some really probing questions and be honest with your answers.  How committed are you to this idea?  Is it a whim or is it a burning urge?  Spend a few days or weeks coming back to this and recording the inner dialogue in your head.  Look for the following.  If you are going to commit to a change you will need resilience for the tough times, so your message needs to be:

  • Consistent – whenever you hear the message, it is unchanging.
  • Persistent – the message just won’t go away, it preoccupies you.
  • Insistent – the message just seems to get louder, more demanding.

I would urge you to talk to someone.  If you feel that you don’t want to share with friends, family or colleagues just yet, it is worth investing in a professional coach to whom you can talk in confidence.  You need a ‘critical friend’ who will be honest and act as a mirror for your thinking, who will support and challenge you as you work through the decision-making process.  A coach is one step removed from the emotions and can offer a more objective position than friends or family, who are emotionally attached.

Overcoming the fear factor

Start by re-framing the way you approach fear.  Think of the language you use when you talk about the situation.  If you pepper your sentences with negative language, you will feel negative and it will be apparent to others.  I had a habit of saying ‘I’m dreading it’, so I did, and it was plain for everyone to see.  In changing that language to ‘this is an exciting challenge’ completely changes the way you view it, and how others will experience you.

Here are some more ways you can minimize the fear factor:

  • Who can help you?
  • Who has been successful in achieving a similar goal, what did they do?
  • When have you triumphed in the face of fear in the past? What inner resources did you use?
  • What do you need to know before you take the step?
  • What small steps can you take now to test the water?


Stretch your comfort zone

The more you embrace change, the more you minimize the fear factor.  Accept that you are going to feel discomfort, go with it, and in time it becomes second nature.    In my case, being self-employed would take me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis, so I had to be sure I could handle it.  I joined speaking groups and became a trustee of an organisation.  But the most daunting challenge of all was to go to a networking meeting.  The thought of walking into a room of strangers terrified me, and the first time I did it I hated it.  However, I kept going to networking meetings and was surprised at how quickly I started to really enjoy them.  I also remembered to give myself a huge pat on the back every time I did something scary.


To sum up remember:

  • Step out of the emotion and get rational with your thinking
  • Engage as much help and support as you are able to
  • Listen to advice and feedback from others
  • Test yourself by putting yourself in challenging situations and learning from them
  • Keep a journal to record your progress, notice the use of language
  • Remember that fear is irrational and does pass
  • Give yourself credit when you achieve each small goal

If you’re still stuck, get in touch

I’d love to hear how you’re getting on, so why don’t you get in touch?  www.dolphintd.co.uk

You have the answers

It’s my job to help you find them.





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