Taking Control back from your Fears

Posted on Posted in Training

After the terror attack on London Bridge in 2017, I was scared to go into London. After other terror incidents I’d been upset, but I was able to go about my daily life.

London Bridge felt different. Here was somewhere familiar to me. I walked across London Bridge regularly and could have been walking there on that day in June.

Facing my fears, I journeyed into London anyway the following month to run a programme on leading change and booked into my normal hotel. But I found that when I was there, I couldn’t make myself leave again. I ended up staying in my room for 24 hours before taking a train home again.

Getting past the fear and anxiety

I’m fine now. I commute into London regularly and am in control of my thoughts and emotions. But I wanted to share how I got past the fear and the anxiety. It’s something that I often use in different training courses and coaching sessions and find that it can be useful in so many scenarios.

The technique I used is Stephen R. Covey’s Circle of Control and Circle of Influence. If you haven’t heard of these, then I urge you to read his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ which is one of my all-time favourites and here’s how it can work:

Circle of Concern

If you draw a circle on a piece of paper, you can write down all the things you’re concerned about. The outer circle is your ‘Circle of Concern’ and you can focus on one thing or brainstorm everything you can think of. In my situation I was scared about a terrorist attack so that is what I focused on.

Once you’ve identified all the things that you’re concerned about (and these don’t have to be rational things at all, I’ve used this technique with someone who was dreaming about hailstones that turned into ball-bearings), you can move onto the middle circle, which sits inside your circle of concern.

Circle of Influence

This circle is your ‘Circle of Influence’. The way I use it is to think of all the possible things you could do to influence the scenario you’re concerned about. These don’t necessarily have to be things that you are going to do, just things that you could do.

So, for me, I could have joined the police, or the army. I could have become a politician and start to lobby for change. I wasn’t going to do any of those things. But I could have.

Circle of Control

The third, and final, circle is your ‘Circle of Control’. These are the things that you are going to do to take control. For me, I read an article by an ex SAS officer who talked about what you should do if you ever found yourself in a terror attack. He said that you should find something you can use as a weapon. Anything you could lay your hands on; a chair, a butter knife, something in your handbag.

So that was that. From my circle of control ideas, I decided that I needed to carry a weapon with me…

…ok, ok don’t worry, since we’re in the UK (and most of our laws are quite sensible), mace or pepper spray wasn’t on my list, but I did want something more useful than a hair clip in my purse.

I went searching for inspiration in my local Wilko and, after deciding that hairspray was a bit bulky, I settled with a small can of Lynx deodorant.

Now, if I am ever in a terrorist attack, and let’s hope that none of us ever are, is a can of deodorant really going to help me? Probably not.

But it did help me sleep at night.

Effective and Simple Tool

This is a technique that can be used if you are concerned about something in your personal life or at work. I’ve used it with individuals and with groups and it is one of the most effective and simple tools because it takes back control of your conscious from your unconscious, which is where our fears usually come from.

I used it recently with a couple of groups who I’d worked with for a while. On our last day together, they were all uncharacteristically quiet. When I asked what had changed, I found that there had been announcements about changes in their organisation that they were concerned about. They felt nobody was listening to them, leaving them isolated, uncertain and scared.

In pairs, they were asked to use Covey’s technique and to come away with at least one SMART objective for something that they were going to take control of moving forward.

At the end of the afternoon, they fed back that they felt more in control and each had a plan of what they were going to do next.

New Resilience

Being resilient and having the tools to cope with change; to adapt and overcome, are key markers of successful leaders. Learning how to cope with negative situations, feelings and emotions is an important method to increase resiliency.

I have been commuting to London regularly for twenty years. I think about the possibility of terror attacks and live with the knowledge that another attack is likely at some point. But that knowledge no longer controls me thanks to Covey’s Circle of Influence.

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