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December 24, 2020

When Fear Shows Up: Our Expert Interview With Pippa Grange

Rachel Salaman


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In the 2018 men's soccer World Cup, the England team finished in fourth place. That's not too shabby, but what really surprised and delighted fans was the players' gentlemanly behavior and exemplary teamwork throughout the tournament.

Their smartly dressed, mild-mannered manager, Gareth Southgate, presented a public-facing embodiment of this change. But behind the scenes was another key player, Dr Pippa Grange, who helped the players understand and deal with their fear.

The Culture Coach

Grange is a performance psychologist by profession, but prefers the term "culture coach," because she helps people perform better in their particular cultural context. That might be an executive in a multinational firm, a team of volunteers in a community organization, or a tennis star on tour.

She laid out her approach in her 2020 book, "Fear Less, How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself."

In our Expert Interview podcast, Pippa Grange explains her motivation for the book, which can be traced back to a move "Down Under" decades ago.

The Two Types of Fear

Grange identifies two types of fear that we all experience. The first is "in the moment" fear, like when you have to perform in front of an audience. The second is "not good enough" fear, which is bigger and broader, and takes much longer to control.

The second type of fear often manifests itself as perfectionism, jealousy or self-criticism, which can cripple our ability to achieve our goals and live fulfilling lives. Grange's remedy for "not good enough" fear is in three steps: see, face, replace.

Here's how it works, using a hypothetical example.

Seeing Your Fear

Let's say I've volunteered to research and write a report exploring a potential new market for my company. The task seemed totally doable at the start, but now I'm paralyzed. The scope of the report is overwhelming, and so much rides on getting it right.

Now the critical internal voices set in. "You're an idiot to take this on," they say. "You don't have the skills or smarts to get a handle on a completely new market. Who do you think you are, thinking you could do this? Charlatan!"

To get unstuck, my first step is to recognize that what I'm experiencing is "fear showing up," Grange says. I'm scared of failing professionally and of what that might mean for my career.

But how scared am I? And why? Grange offers an unusual and vivid tip here. I need to describe what my fear actually looks like – not the sweaty, grimacing reflection in the mirror, but something out of my imagination. I think carefully and my fear forms into the image of a big black bull, shaking its head, pawing the ground.

"An image has texture and tone that maybe language doesn't always," says Grange. "It's really a way of allowing more descriptive material, more of the unconscious and the tone of things, to come through in what somebody is sharing."

Facing Your Fear

The more detail I put on my image, the more I understand my fear. I see that the bull is tied up in a large empty paddock. It's covered in mud and flies are circling, driving it crazy. Dark storm clouds are gathering overhead. I deduce that my fear is heavy and unpredictable, and exacerbated by forces beyond my control.

Once I have "seen" my fear, I need to face it. This is the second step in the process – when we take the insight we've learned from the image exercise and apply it to our real-life situation.

I realize that I can harness the power of the bull. I can calm it down, clean it up, and put it to work in my favor. And that will require the third step in the process: replace.

Replacing Your Fear

In her book, Grange says we can replace our fear with a number of things, including laughter, passion and purpose. One of the most effective replacements is "a different story."

"Narratives inform us in extraordinarily dramatic ways, and I feel that perhaps we don't realize how often we have the pen in our own hand around those narratives," she says. "We can't always change our own circumstances, but we certainly can change the way that we tell the story of those circumstances. And that is profoundly powerful because it's stories that run our lives."

A New Story

So I'm going to change the narrative that's hindering my progress. It told a story of someone unqualified and out of her depth, foolishly taking on a project she couldn't deliver.

My new story is full of hope and possibility. Driving it forward is a capable, organized professional, seizing the opportunity to bring her unique skills and focus to a project that can help both her and her company grow and flourish. That certainly feels a lot better!

Whatever your "not good enough" fear, Grange says, working through it takes time – potentially years.

"Be kind to yourself," she counsels. "Be prepared to go on a journey. It's worth it."

Listen to Our Interview With Pippa Grange

Discover fascinating insights from some of the world's leading business figures with our monthly Expert Interviews.

Mind Tools Premium and Corporate members can listen to the full 30-minute interview with Pippa Grange by clicking the link below.

If you're not a Mind Tools member, you can join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources, including 200+ Expert Interviews. For corporate licensing, ask for a demo with one of our team.

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