The Fog of Fear

Are we running scared? 

  • As a business leader, I’m afraid that I don’t know what’s happening even one quarter out.
  • As a parent, I’m afraid I’m not doing what’s best for my kids – especially when so much is coming unglued all around.
  • As a person, I’m afraid we’re lost.

Newtown.  Recession.  Floods.  The endless news cycles churning out grim truths.  Political “leaders” who can’t even talk to one another.

In this context of spiraling fear and reactivity – as we whirl around the reaction cycle, our brains are wired to become more protective.  The stress response pushes us to react in simplistic ways: fight, flee, freeze.  In turn, this exacerbates the tension as we become more impatient and hostile with one another, more disconnected, and more focused on seeing threats.

It’s easy to see fear as the “bad guy” – it’s damn uncomfortable, so it must be “bad,” right?  Aren’t we all “supposed to be” happy all the time?  With that logic, pretty soon we’re afraid (and angry) about how much fear we’re experiencing!  Instead, a more useful antidote is seeing that fear, like all emotions, is a message.  Reading the message takes emotional intelligence – or “EQ” – which is thoughtfully using the data from our feelings to make better decisions.

When life is easy, when all is good, we don’t need strength.  Sipping margaritas on the beach doesn’t require a lot of insight.  It’s when life gets tough that we have to reach deeper and summon our resources.  When it’s emotionally messy, when fear is escalating, the resource we need is EQ.

Fortunately, the skills of emotional intelligence are measurable and learnable.  They’re real.  We can stand on them.  Next week, at the Virtual Festival of Emotions, we’ll hear from serious scientists and expert practitioners to see that substance and applicability.  At Harvard in June, we’ll go even deeper with the NexusEQ Conference: How do we use this incredible science to spark positive change?  It’s the right time for this work. 

Here’s a start to cut through the FOG:

  1. Feelings.  Get real.  Take a breath, give yourself a gift of a six second pause, and listen to yourself.  Slow down the cycle and acknowledge what is.  Pushing away or covering over feelings doesn’t help; facing reality does.
  2. Options.  Recognize the choices you’re making.  There’s a LOT you can’t control, what can you control?  What are three new alternatives you could try tomorrow?
  3. Goals.  Consider a big question: What do you want?  What’s your ideal outcome… for now… for next week… for next year?  Where do you want to go?


These three steps follow the Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence, a simple way to peer through the FOG (Feelings, Options, Goals) and take action to move the situation forward.

The bad news is that in times like these, we need a lot of emotional intelligence.  The good news is that in times like these, more and more people start looking around and saying, “I wish we had more emotional intelligence.”  Awareness is growing.  Next step: Action.

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