What are you afraid of?

The days get shorter. The nights get chillier. Pumpkins appear on porches. All across America, spider webs are strung and ghoulish figures flutter in the breeze. It can mean only one thing.

Halloween is upon us.

’Tis the season to revel in all that is spooky and dreadful — culminating in one great national night of fright. Estimates suggest 172 million people will collectively celebrate the holiday on October 31st with candy, creepy costumes, haunted houses, and jump scares. Halloween is an American institution.

And it’s not just for kids. Halloween has become an increasingly popular holiday among adults. As sociologist Linus Owens has noted, “Halloween, with its emphasis on identity, horror, and transgression, can tell us about who we want to be and what we fear becoming.”

Festival of Fear
While the scary spirit of Halloween is generally good fun, the observance is based on something most people are pretty uncomfortable confronting.

Fear.

Psychology Today explains that “fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger” with strong roots in human evolution. Our innate fight-or-flight responses aided us in mastering dangerous environments, avoiding harm, and ensuring the survival of our species.

A healthy amount of fear still helps us stay safe and motivates us to manage life’s difficulties.

But there are many manifestations of fear — and not all of them are beneficial.

Since 2013, Chapman University in Southern California has annually conducted a national Survey of American Fears, reporting last year that the extent to which Americans are afraid, in general, “appears to be on the rise.”

Clinical fear disorders can cause serious health damage in numerous ways, but even less-lethal fears can take a pernicious toll on personal development and quality of life.

Fear Factors
According to sociologist Margee Kerr, “The biggest source of fear is often related to the workplace.” This type of fear can manifest in excessive focus on avoiding failure or making mistakes; aversion to public speaking, networking, or contributing during meetings; reluctance to ask for help; or even relinquishing vacation or sick time.

What we fear is being vulnerable to judgment, ridicule, rejection. The result is unnecessarily self-limiting behavior that can prevent you from acquiring new skills, experiencing greater fulfillment, and reaching your full potential.

Facing Fear
It should come as no surprise that fear is the subject of numerous TED Talks, the global clearinghouse of inspirational speakers presenting their powerful ideas. One of my favorites on dealing with insidious work-related fear is author Tim Ferris discussing why you should define your fears instead of your goals.

define your fear

Ferris advocates for Fear Setting exercises aimed at recalibrating your perception.

The exercise is pretty simple: For whatever it is that you’re putting off or are afraid of doing, he proposes creating a “What if I….” list. Define what you fear will happen, determine how you might prevent the likelihood of each negative outcome, and imagine how you could repair damage if it did occur.

Next, make a list of the benefits of even partial success at doing what you fear. For example, could it build your confidence or help you develop a new skill?

Finally, sketch out an answer to the question: “If I avoid this action or decision, what might my life look like in 6 months, 12 months, or 3 years?”

Fear Setting is designed to strip inhibiting fears of their power. And perhaps most importantly, it encourages shifting focus to the cost of inaction.

As Ferris says, “Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new…what we don’t often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo — of not changing anything.”

With Halloween approaching, it’s the perfect time to question what scares you and whether it is holding you back. It just may give you the courage to speak up about your ideas, ask for that promotion, or finally try something you’ve always wanted to do.