How to Diagnose Your Core Fear Through the Unveiling Process

Two weeks ago, we introduced a model to help us overcome our fears. The model operates on two forces: will and available resources. Last week, we touched on how to increase one’s will in order to overcome fear. This week, we’re taking a look at how to get the resources we need to triumph. To know what resources to gather, however, the nature of the fight must be known… just as a medicine is prescribed after a sound diagnosis.

The first step in knowing what resources you need is to know exactly what the fear is that you must overcome. This core fear can be discovered through a process I call “unveiling.” Here’s how it works.  

Step 1: Ask yourself: What am I afraid of?

Typical answer: I am afraid of failure.

This answer is so generic that it welcomes no help, yet it is a surprisingly common response. This is also why many feel stuck. How do you go about getting resources to fight “failure” when the nature of that failure is not known? Other similarly common but unhelpful replies are I am afraid of the future and I am afraid of the unknown.

Note: Even though a generic answer like this is not very helpful in and of itself, it is a necessary starting point. From here, we can dive deeper. We can unveil.

Step 2: Describe, in detail, the answer provided in Step 1.

In the example of failure, you are asking yourself, what does it look like to fail? What will happen, or not happen, for you to determine that the undertaking has failed? One answer might be loss of a retirement account. With that, the answer in Step 1 now looks more like this: I am afraid of losing my entire life savings on this business proposal.

Instead of I am afraid of the future in Step 1, describe your detailed vision of the future that you fear:  I am afraid that automation and outsourcing will kill my idea...

After Step 2, a vague answer such as I am afraid of the unknown becomes clearer; for instance, I am afraid the new tax law will negatively impact my bottom line. A specific answer like this is more useful because it enables us to start thinking of ways we can prevent the fear from materializing. Whereas the response given in the earlier step has us punching the air, this one gives us a real target we can wrestle with.

Step 3: Ask why (this is a fear).

Why are you afraid of losing your life savings? What are the consequences? The answers might be obvious, but you still need to write them down. For instance: 1) Inability to retire on time; 2) Inability to secure credit; 3) Inability to try another business idea; 4) Inability to afford that Jaguar I have always wanted.

Let’s call this your “Consequences of Interest” list, or COIs. This list should have a minimum of one and a maximum of five entries. If your initial list has more than five entries, pick the top five, i.e., the five with the most negative impact. An unwieldy list dilutes your focus. Your war chest is not limitless--the resources you have to avoid these bleak COIs aren’t infinite--so you need to prioritize.

Step 4: Confirm that you have unveiled your core fear.

Remember this equation:  Core fear = Consequences of Interest (COI)

Your COIs are your core fear. They are the things you are really afraid of.

Your COIs are your core fear. They are the things you are really afraid of. What you fear isn’t an undefined failure; it is the inability to buy that Jaguar. Your core fear may or may not be based on one single outcome. The example in Step 3 has four reasons, but all four lie at the base of what keeps you up at night.

How do you confirm you have unveiled your core fear? Answer the two questions below:

1)      Is there something I can do to prevent the outcome described in Step 2? Yes/No

2)     Is there something I can do to prevent or lessen the severity of the COIs identified in Step 3? Yes/No

If the answer to BOTH questions above is No, you are yet to reach your core fear. Go through the whole unveiling process again, keeping in mind that the goal is to have problems defined in a way that permits solution. If the answer to one or both of the questions is yes, you have reached your core fear—they are your COIs.

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“Unwritten fear is magnified fear. By articulating what your COIs are, they start to lose their fearsomeness.”

-Michael Taiwo, author of DREAM


Merits of going through the Unveiling process

Unwritten fear is magnified fear. By articulating what your COIs are, they start to lose their fearsomeness. This process also lets you weed out unfounded fears. I have seen people go through this process only to get stuck in Step 3…they couldn’t come up with any COIs that held weight. I had a friend go through this recently. It went like this: Step 1 – I am afraid of speaking in public; Step 2 – I am afraid I will stutter or not make sense; Step 3 – uh, uh… There was really nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by taking that bold step. He conquered his fear and is now excited about upcoming speaking engagements.

The biggest advantage of the Unveiling process, however, is that it starts you thinking about solutions. This is the second pillar of our model: generating resources to help overcome fear. You stop being afraid when you know that the risks involved in an enterprise have been adequately managed. Risk management is a resource-intensive process, and knowing your core fear helps you efficiently use limited resources.

The Unveiling process I described in this post is in Beta phase, i.e., it is a model I am still testing. I therefore invite you to apply it to your situation and see whether or not it helps in unraveling your core fear. More importantly, see if it sheds light on what you need to do to overcome your fear.


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Overcome your fears today

For inspiration on how to overcome your fears, check out the book Dream: A Little Reminder to Graduates and Anyone Beginning Anew by Michael Taiwo