This article was co-authored with Mathew Lehnig, retired Navy SEAL officer and VP of Programs at Taking Point Leadership, and written from his perspective.
“Overcoming fear reduces anxiety, relieves stress, and better enables you to make sound decisions during the most extreme circumstances.”
— Mathew Lehnig
Fear can be the catalyst for many indecisive moments during times of change. It can get in the way of leading well, making good decisions, and hinder your organization from moving forward. Change intensifies fear regardless of the outcome. When faced with change, look at things differently and ask questions: How will you and your team handle change? Will you and your team embrace change? Is change going to hinder the organization or make it better? As leaders, fear can also dictate how quickly we make decisions – Is it the right decision? Is it the wrong decision? Do I make a decision and hope that it works out? The “what ifs” that present themselves can hinder us from making sound decisions at the appropriate times and the appropriate levels. They can stop us dead in our tracks, which can be detrimental to you, the team, and the organization. In the SEAL teams, we take a “Tactical Pause”, look at things analytically, and assess the situation quickly and with certainty to ensure fear is not at the forefront of our decision-making process. This methodology takes time but is a valuable tool in almost any situation.
On the flip side, Fear is an emotion that can protect us. It reminds us to be cautious, observant, and to analyze all the risks prior to moving forward with a decision. This process must be quick; however, understanding that there may be outside influences this process can take some time. Additionally, if we do not do our due diligence and are unaware of the risks involved, our fear can lead us from rational thought to making decisions from an emotional standpoint. We must understand that our emotions are an important part of our decision-making process and must be considered. However, we must be able to control them and ensure our decisions are based on rational thought.
Large, medium, and small-sized companies all have leadership challenges that affect their decision-making process daily. These decisions can be small or large; they can affect all aspects of your company, and in some cases, your decision can make or break your company or determine its overall success. With these types of decisions, you as a leader have the right to feel stressed out; it’s natural; however, the fear, anxiety, and stress these leadership challenges create can significantly affect how you make decisions within your organization. Fear can enhance the problems and expectations that you, as a leader, face. The stress and anxiety brought on by fear can affect your ability to lead.
In high-stress environments, your emotions can take over and control your rational thinking and cause an instinctive “fight, flight, or freeze” physical response, which can be detrimental to the decision-making process. In the Undersea Realm of Naval Special Warfare, these physical responses can have dire consequences for the individual and the team. We spend an enormous amount of time putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations to ensure we understand how each individual will respond to fear, anxiety, and stress. It is paramount that leaders learn how they react to these emotions in extreme situations to avoid the pitfalls of poor decision-making when these emotions go unchecked.
Here are “8 ways” to help overcome fear, anxiety, and stress and build the skills and abilities required to manage your emotions and make effective decisions.
- Self-Awareness: Self-awareness in these three areas is central to overcoming them. You can enhance self-awareness through self-reflection and understanding the triggers that cause these particular feelings. By identifying these areas of concern, we learn about why we experience them and how we can overcome them. In the SEAL Teams, we are consistently put into situations during training that bolster extreme emotions and test our self-awareness. The more aware and in control you are of these emotions, the easier it is to make rational decisions while ensuring the desired outcome.
- Mindset: Understanding that we have control over our emotions and thoughts is a crucial way to think. Envisioning yourself to be optimistic about a specific outcome can help eliminate a stressful situation. We must remind ourselves that fear, anxiety, an stress come from thinking about the worst-case scenario or outcome; you can embrace the scenario, shift how you look at the outcome, and redefine it as a positive experience. Optimism is a mindset shift that can bring positive outcomes.
- Trust yourself: Trust in yourself is vital to controlling internal and external issues that cause fear, stress, and anxiety. Individuals who trust themselves have a strong sense of self and understand they are in the position they are in for a reason. When you trust your abilities to make the right decisions, internal issues become secondary in the decision-making process. This gives you the ability to focus on the facts presented. In Naval Special Warfare, trust in your abilities is at the forefront of every decision. Because we have such high trust in ourselves and our abilities, we can make decisions quickly and decisively without these emotions becoming intrusive.
- Belief System: Each and every one of us has a set of values or beliefs that affect how we perceive situations. These perceptions influence and affect our decision-making process. They impact how we evaluate information, weigh our options, and ultimately make a choice. Only, by developing a deeper understanding of our values and beliefs can we make more effective decisions that align with our personal and professional goals.
- Collaboration: Open communication and collaboration enhance decision-making by bouncing thoughts and ideas off of colleagues and peers and allowing for the free exchange of diverse perspectives and ideas. It fosters a culture of trust and transparency and gives way to emotional blockages. Furthermore, when coworkers feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints, it promotes a collaborative environment and ensures everyone’s perspective is considered during the decision-making process, leading to more well-rounded and informed decisions.
- Build Resilience: Individuals with high resilience tend to make better decisions during high-stress situations. We find that the more resilient you are, the better you can tolerate and control these feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear and make decisive and effective decisions. By accepting the situation and focusing on the things we can control, we must choose the response that will lead us forward toward the desired result. That decision, the choice made at the moment, is at the heart of resilience and where it resides.
- Take Action: There’s a difference between taking time to weigh your options and being so ridden with fear, anxiety, and stress that you avoid the decision-making process altogether. We can acknowledge that making a decision can cause some type of apprehension. But we must also recognize that to move forward, we must attack our fear by making a choice. We have all made mistakes and are fearful that our decisions may have less than an optimal outcome, but we must take action and consider that the lessons learned will ensure the desired results.
- Reframe your situation: Cognitive reframing is a technique used to look at a situation from a slightly different perspective. For example, turn fear into a challenge, anxiety into excitement, and stress into energy.
- Fear often appears when you are about to challenge yourself. Challenging ourselves is always a good sign because it means you’re utilizing out-of-the-box thinking before making a decision – Face your fears head-on!
- Individuals who feel anxious tend to focus on the potential adverse outcomes, while individuals in an excited state tend to focus on the positive ones. Understanding, we must look at both; making decisions with a positive outlook is easier.
- You can’t pick or choose the stressor in life, but we can function at a higher capacity and reframe stressful situations as positive and energizing.
Remember that you can manage these emotions by becoming aware of the cognitive processes that drive your decision. When we train our minds to accept how we feel, acknowledge that there’s not a clear “right” or “wrong” way to perceive ambiguous situations and that rational reasoning may even rely on some fear, anxiety, and stress for growth, then we can change our perception of the decision-making process into a positive one.
These 8 points will help you lead to effective decision-making. While there are several other strategies, I recommend that you start with these and learn to control and overcome your emotions to make sound and effective decisions.
Mathew Lehnig is the VP of Programs at TakingPoint Leadership, former Navy SEAL Officer & Combat Proven Veteran, Author, Keynote Speaker, and an Expert in leadership development, organizational transformation, and building high-performance teams.
TakingPoint Leadership is a progressive Change Leadership management consulting firm focused on building alignment, accountability, resilience, and adaptability in every organization we partner with.
Learn more at www.takingpointleadership.com
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