Fear As A Compass

Don't get fooled by your brain.

Matt Mochary is arguably one of the best executive coaches in the world. He works with heads of Silicon Valley tech investment firms on how to better lead and manage their organizations. The demand for his work is so big he can handpick his clients - I've heard his capacity is full for at least the next two years.

Mochary says:

"The essence of my coaching is to prove to you that when you feel fear or anger, your brain gives you bad advice. Whenever you notice that you are experiencing fear/anger, therefore, my recommendation is that you do one of the following:

- "Shift" out of fear/anger before deciding what to do. And in the meantime, take no action.

- If there is urgency and you must act immediately (which is almost never the case), do exactly the opposite of what your brain is recommending."

I wish more consulting partners listen to this advice.

Human thought starts with emotion - we react to external stimuli by feeling joy, fear, anger, etc. Then our brain comes up with a story that explains our feelings. And once this story is ready, confirmation bias leads us to only give attention to the facts and data that support that story.

Of course, emotions are important signals for us. Feeling fear means there's something that is unknown, and might be risky. Evolutionary speaking, fear kept us alive in a world where risk (a wild animal or poisoned fruit) often led to death.

But that's not the world we live in anymore.

Today, when we feel fear we create stories that protect our ego and prevent us from acting. And there's a cost in doing nothing. If our business is slowly bleeding, it'll keep bleeding until is too late. If growth requires you to implement new initiatives and perform new experiments, fear will lead you to self-sabotage them.

For those of you interested in using your fear as a compass, here's how Mochary suggests you put it into practice:

If you are convinced that the above is true, you may be thinking: "Yeah, but how do I catch myself? When I'm in fear or anger, I don't realize it at the moment. I act. It's only much later that I realize it."

This awareness is a big challenge. You can spend years meditating, and it will provide marginal benefit in your ability to notice when you are in fear or anger. Or you can outsource this function to those around you.

I far prefer the latter. I have asked everyone I live with and work with to signal me when they perceive me to be in fear or anger. The words that seem to be the most effective with me are "I perceive you to be in anger." When I hear that, I can immediately stop. (...)

If you are unconvinced that the writings above are accurate, there is a way to test them. Make a bet with someone. The next time someone perceives you to be in fear (this particular test works better with fear than anger), make a bet with them. Your brain will be making a prediction: "If I do X, then Y will happen." Their brain will be making a different prediction, Z, which is likely the opposite of Y. Then, do the action and see what happens. I posit that the other person will win the bet.

I have made these bets hundreds of times with people that I perceive to be in fear. I have yet to lose.

I'm adding those suggestions to my advisory and coaching practices. These bets are almost like cheating - predict your client's fears are overestimated, and you are guarantee to win.

Thanks for reading. You can get more specialized and actionable growth insights for micro consultancies in our newsletter. Every Tuesday, you get one idea from Danilo, one quote from other experts, one number you need to hear, and one question for you to level up your consulting practice.

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