How do you overcome a fear?

This is a loaded question. It ties together both of my “day jobs” of being a small business owner and a psychotherapist. And I hope the answer will change the way you look at your small business.

In my experience, you don’t overcome a fear by screwing up your courage, facing it head on, and quote-unquote “going for it.” Why? More often than not, you are sensitizing yourself to something I want you to desensitize yourself to. In my book, people who talk about feeling the fear and doing it anyway are practicing good motivation, perhaps, but lousy therapy.

I personally have much more success when people overcome fears in tiny baby steps that barely hurt at all. That way they learn to be fully present in the situation they fear, and experience it differently. More often than not, getting well isn’t hard at all – rather, it is lots and lots of easy.

So now let’s get off the couch and circle back to your small business. Here are some more myths that I would like to replace with lots of “easy”:

Entrepreneurship requires risk-taking and bold thinking. If you feel that way, please go back and read our congenial blog host Carol Roth’s bestselling book The Entrepreneur Equation. She focuses on things like knowing your market, having enough capital, and, to paraphrase, not being stupid.

I am one of the most risk-averse people I know. My own small business (I’ve supported myself as a writer and speaker for over 15 years) feels like the most sober, rational career path I could choose. While most people I know have one job that can get whacked at any time, I have a large and predictable number of clients. And when one or three of them go south because their budget gets cut, or it’s 2008, or whatever, big whoop. So for me, entrepreneurship is about being as safe if not safer than most.

You have to think outside of the box. I live in an Ivy League college town that is home to some of the smartest people – and some of the stupidest business ideas – in the world. So what are some of the biggest and most successful companies here? Not robotic toothbrushes, toys designed by artificial intelligence, or some such, but rather companies that make auto parts, printers, and even industrial pallets. Stuff people need, want, and use. I’d say think inside the box more often that outside.

It takes hard work and perseverance. Well, kinda sorta. What is the common denominator between everything I succeed at? They are fun! And I will put inexhaustible amounts of effort into things that are fun. Things that bore me? I couldn’t ever see succeeding at them. If your business requires constant struggle, ceaseless overtime for your employees, and a carrot that is always several feet in front of you, consider the possibility that this is a formula for high turnover, miserable people, and company-killing morale.

So let’s see. Take small steps, play it safe, don’t get too original, and knock off all the joyless toil. Not exactly fodder for a catchy article in a business magazine. But it’s a lot closer to the way most successful small business people I know actually think. So my advice? Feel the fear and don’t do it anyway.

I would love to hear how you deal with fear in your business. Do you agree with me or disagree? Please share your thoughts in the comments bel