Turning Fear into Motivation

In a recent Parade article, actor Will Smith said: "I’ve always had a horrible fear of not achieving…All it takes is just one person telling me I can’t do it, and I’ll use the fear of failure as fuel."

Doubt and fear of failure motivate him. The secret, Smith says, is to "flip that negative energy around and make it a challenge. I’ve learned that self-doubt is the key to success."

I don’t know about you, but I have doubts about tackling different challenges in my personal and professional life. I often feel in awe of people who look completely confident about everything they do. As I’ve begun to talk to successful people to find out what motivates them, I’ve found an equal number of Will Smiths and Donald Trumps.

Some people are truly motivated to succeed by focusing on achieving their goals. I call these people "Achievers". Sometimes I truly wish I had their ability to jump into the deep end without any fear or doubt.

But I’m finding an equal number of people like Will Smith who are motivated to avoid not achieving! Sounds like pretzel logic doesn’t it, but it works! I know one very successful real estate agent whose entire motivation is to avoid ending up like his parents who lived on the fringes of poverty their entire life.

Turning Fear into Motivation

When I left the phone company in 1995, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to turn my ideas into income, but my fear of arriving at my 70th birthday filled with regret outweighed my fear of failure.

So one way to overcome doubt is to step out into the future and try on what it will feel like if you don’t attempt to achieve a desired goal. It doesn’t matter if the goal is marriage, starting a business, getting a promotion, or retiring wealthy. What will it cost you if you don’t at least try?


Or, using Will Smith’s advice, how can you turn self-doubt into the fuel to reach for your goals?

Remember we tend to doubt we can do something until we’ve done it. Doubt never means that we can’t do it. The Wright brothers probably doubted that two bicycle mechanics could figure out how to fly, but it didn’t stop them from trying.

Doubt into Knowing

Think about something you know how to do that you once doubted you could do. It could be something as simple as riding a bicycle. When you think about it notice if you’re looking left-right, up-down, or near-far. Is the picture in your mind moving or still?

Now think about something you doubt that you can do. Again, notice if you’re looking left-right, up-down, or near-far. Is the picture in your mind moving or still?

For me, knowing is up-left and close. The images are more "concrete." Doubt is up-right and farther away. The images are swirling and hard to pin down.

Just for fun, push the images of doubt off to the horizon and bring them back into the position of knowing. Make them the same distance, size, and whatever else. You may find that this makes it easier to know that you can do it.

If you’re like me (and about half the people out there are) you get more motivated by avoiding the high cost of not achieving than the thought of achieving. All you have to do is learn to harness that energy and direct it toward your goals. Use it as fuel rather than a barrier. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you put the fear of failure in your tank instead of across the path to your future, you may find it easier to reach for your dreams.

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