Collectively as a society, we spend a lot of time worrying about shark attacks. Whether it’s from watching Jawsor hearing real stories, many people experience a strong fear of sharks; yet the United States averages just 16 shark attacks each year and slightly less than one shark-attack fatality every two years.
What’s more dangerous than a shark? Coconuts. And cows.
Falling coconuts cause about 150 deaths annually. You know, while you were keeping an eye on the sharks.
Cows cause the deaths of about 20 Americans each year, mostly from blunt-force trauma. They may look innocent, but reality proves otherwise.
Why does any of this matter for your business? It’s a powerful metaphor.
Our brains are wired to focus on fear as a method of ensuring our survival. As a caveman, this was a very important life skill. If our ancestors didn’t over-react to every rustle in the trees, they could be attacked and eaten by a lion. We, on the other hand, are not threatened by literal death on a daily basis. Instead, we are threatened by our email inbox, traffic, our boss’ approval, our children’s safety, and many other daily occurrences that create a strong sense of anxiety and fear.
One of the best ways to shift out of this fear and into a place of calm confidence is to practice mindfulness; and to start naming not only your sharks, but also your coconuts and cows.
Take a moment and think of the biggest fear you have for your business right now. How often do you think about this fear?
Next, can you think of an example in your recent past of something that was a problem, and yet you didn’t seem to notice it until it was too late? This is your cow.
Can you think of a situation where you thought something would be beneficial to your business, and it ended up hurting you? This is your coconut.
We are often focused on the wrong things; worrying about extreme situations that are unlikely to occur rather than noticing the problem that is right under our nose.
The solution to this dilemma is two fold.
First, we need to stop worrying so much about the sharks. Sure, take precautions, don’t swim in blood infested waters, but if you are simply sitting on land worrying about sharks, you’re wasting your energy.
Think about one area of your business or life that you worry about the most right now. On a scale of 1-10 how likely is it that this catastrophe really would occur? Write that number down.
If this situation did take place, can you list at least three ways in which it might be a gift or an opportunity in disguise? Write that list now.
Start to balance these extreme “shark” fears with positive intentions and you will notice their strength diminish.
The next step is to uncover your cows and coconuts.
Your cow is a problem that you’re currently ignoring. The key to uncovering it is to approach this question with genuine curiosity rather than judgment, “Hmmm, what issue am I currently ignoring, while hoping it will go away on its own?” Once you’ve identified a potential problem, create an action step that you can take this week to start to shift it. Even if the problem seems daunting, what is one first step you can take to resolve it? Now write down an action step with a, “What” and a, “By When.” For example, “I will email Kevin by 4pm this Thursday.” Click here for some tips on how to create an effective To Do List.
Your coconut is a bit trickier to uncover because this is a situation you think is beneficial, but it really is not. For example, you may think you should aggressively pursue a large new client, but perhaps you are wasting your time or maybe your approach is turning them off. Now ask yourself, “What am I telling myself I should do, but it doesn’t quite feel right?”
Maybe you are telling yourself you “should” focus on a new marketing partner because it makes good strategic sense, but you have a bad gut feeling about it. What if you took a step back and reassessed the situation instead? Can you redirect your energy towards another project that makes strategic sense and feels good to you?
If you take the time to uncover and name your fears and then shift towards positive action instead, these fears will lose their grip on you and your business. Think of it this way, if you were on a gorgeous beach, would you rather sit on the shore biting your nails, worrying about potential shark attacks, or would you rather enjoy reading a good book, listening to the sound of the waves in the background? The choice is yours.
This article first appeared in Forbes.