A Coaching Power Tool By Luis Chang, Executive Coach, UNITED STATES
Fear vs. Self-Confidence: What Is Fear?
Fear is our emotional response to a physical, emotional, or social threat. It is an everyday phenomenon that helps us protect ourselves from legitimate threats and has been critical for our evolution as it helped men and women in ancient times to successfully face life-or-death situations.
Our perception and response to threats and dangers occur in our brain. According to the distinguished Argentinian stress specialist Daniel López Rosetti, fear occurs in the amygdala, located in the temporal lobe of the brain’s right hemisphere, which is connected to our senses and the whole body through the neurocircuits. But the amygdala not only is the place where fear occurs in reaction to real threats. Fear in response to non-existent real threats can also happen through the connection with the front lobe of the brain where thought and imagination happen. According to Dr. López Rosetti, anxiety appears when there is a small fear that has no object and stays in time. Thus, anxiety is a mental health disorder and, unlike fear whose symptoms tend to disappear when the threat vanishes, anxiety’s symptoms tend to persist and must be treated by a therapist.
A phobia, on the other hand, is a different category of fear. “It is an intense fear towards a situation and goes beyond the sensible precaution that a danger poses; it is an irrational and disproportionate fear that cannot be explained and reasoned, it is out of voluntary control and yields to avoid the feared situation, which highly contributes to maintaining it. In this case, we can regard it as a psychological disorder”.
It is difficult to generalize and ascertain where our fears come from. According to Psychology Today, “one theory is that humans have a genetic predisposition to fear things that were a threat to our ancestors, such as snakes, spiders, heights, or water, but this is difficult to verify, although people who have a first-degree relative with a specific phobia appear more likely to have the same one. Others point to evidence that individuals fear certain things because of a previous traumatic experience with them, but that fails to explain the many fears without such origins. (…) Most likely is that people follow multiple pathways to fears, not least among them the emotional response of disgust. Rosa María Cifuentes explains that many fears have their origin in individuals’ childhood.
There are multiple types of fear. Rosa María Cifuentes, a famous Peruvian coach, and communicator, provides use cases of different types of fear and in her book “Libre del Miedo” (“Fear Free” in Spanish)proposes guidance to address them:
- Fear to be criticized
- Fear not to be loved
- Fear to make mistakes
- Fear to commit
- Fear to not express what is correct
- Fear to others’ opinions
- Fear of not being good looking
- Fear to be independent
- Fear to be forgotten and replaced
- Fear to express feelings
- Fear to get older
- Fear to die
- Fear to be poor
- Fear to apologize
- Fear to fall in love again
- Fear to fly
- Fear to have sexual intercourse
- Fear to fear
- Fear to pain
- Fear to not hold control
Not properly addressing our fears can lead us to what Rosa María Cifuentes calls “the dark refuges for fear”, undesirable conditions that do not allow fearful individuals to advance in life:
- Following the crowd and living on appearances
- Living a double life with double standards
- Living in fantasy, evading reality
- Conformism, embraced unhappiness, comfortable apathy
- Burning anger, extreme intolerance
- Being a coward
- Seeking to make others feel pity for oneself
- Manipulating till the end
- Self-sabotage and self-destroy
- Waiting for the eternal approval and a tree to lean on
Addressing Fear: Building Self-Confidence
Coaching can help address our fears and help us reduce or eliminate them or their effects on us. Not properly addressing our different fears can lead us to frustration, conduce us to the “dark refuges of fear” and its undesired effects, and act against our success at work or prevent us to advance towards a more satisfactory life.
Flipping from a perspective of fear to a perspective of self-confidence can be achieved by following some steps based on how fearless people “conquer” fear.
Fear is constantly present in our lives. To be fearless is not about eliminating fear but knowing how to leverage it, and to that end, the first step is to identify what are our fears. “Courageous people are as afraid as anyone else. It is their fear that makes them courageous, not the lack of it. But they manage their fear differently. Being “fearless” means knowing how to leverage fear”. And that also means that fearless people own their fears. They are aware that it is better to deal with their fears, ask for help, and stop wasting emotional energy trying or pretending to be OK. And they feel comfortable acknowledging their fears. They are not afraid of being afraid.
Analyze and Understand Your Fears
Explore the origins of your fear. You can be biologically predisposed to be afraid of certain creatures, or you can be conditioned by past experiences -often traumas in childhood-, or you are too worried about the future: “… fear emerges when you expect that your predicament or your actions could have serious and harmful consequences for your life, your health, your freedom, your relationships, or your self-esteem”. Understand that thoughts and actions influence the extent of the impact that fear has on our lives.
Flipping from fear to an empowering and refreshing perspective of self-confidence requires more knowledge -to make fear preventable and less scary-, building a skill -to actively cope with fears like public speaking-, or gaining experience to face fear. Being proactive will also help be in control and build self-confidence.
Fear vs. Self-Confidence: Be Prepared and Take Action
Prepare thoroughly for the effects of an adverse scenario that arises from fear. That can greatly reduce the worries attached to fear. And make an action plan and have a strategy to tackle your fear when it appears and interferes with your activities and goals.
Sometimes coaching students are afraid of not being effective in helping their client solve their problems. It often happens when the student has been a consultant or had been used to acting as a mentor or counselor and, therefore, is used to providing solutions or recommendations. As in coaching the coach does not provide solutions or recommendations, but rather helps the client define their issue, explore paths of solution or development, and set up an action plan, the coaching student can experience the fear of failing as a coach (with still the mindset of a consultant or counselor). In some cases, students address this fear as an impostor syndrome (doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud).
This fear does not come from a physical threat but rather comes from the underlying belief or the assumption that we have to provide a tangible solution to our clients. It can also be attributed to the lack of experience in coaching and the lack of understanding of how different coaching is from other disciplines and how powerful and transformational it can be.
As an economist myself, I was trained in the world of social sciences to proceed rigorously to analyze reality from real evidence (hard data) to make policy recommendations to solve specific problems. Learning to be a coach was quite a journey that required from me a big change of mindset. And in that process, I was not free from the fear of not providing value to my clients as a coach.
The first step to address this fear is certainly being aware of it and trying to understand where it originated. Deepening the learning of the different and valuable tools of coaching and working hard to master the skills of a coach following the old mantra of the master: “practice, practice, practice” and repeatedly, provided me with the basis to build self-confidence and help eliminate fear.
We cannot eliminate fears from our lives, but we can learn to deal with them and leverage them. To be courageous is not to ignore fear but not to be afraid of being afraid. It is about acknowledging our fears, understanding them, exploring their origin, and flipping the perspective of fear to an empowering perspective of self-confidence by increasing our knowledge about the fear or mastering a skill we lack to confront it or gaining experience to eliminate the impact it has on us. Finally, preparing ourselves for possible negative scenarios and having a good strategy and action plan can definitively help us reduce the chances of fear affecting our success at work and our life satisfaction.
 López Rosseti, Daniel, “Qué es el miedo”, El Noticiero de la Gente, Telefé Noticias
Cifuentes, Rosa María, Libre del Miedo, Lima, Editorial Planeta
 Psychology Today, “Fear”
 Cifuentes, op. cit., p. 29.
Cifuentes, op. cit., pp. 93-217.
 Cifuentes, op. cit., p. 39.
Tsaousides, Theo, “7 Ways 'Fearless' People Conquer Fear”, in Psychology Today