This is the fourth of a series of 7 articles on ‘Productive Thinking’. The series aims to address the challenges that Muslims face on many different levels when it comes to productivity. These levels include: the mental, emotional and physical levels. This series will tackle thinking and mindset on the mental level; negative emotions like anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, fear, etc., on the emotional level; and habits on the physical level. (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8)
This article covers the underlying fears that we have when it comes to taking action and being productive. I will also share practical strategies to deal with and overcome any fears.
A few of the main challenges when it comes to productivity are procrastination, being overwhelmed and self-sabotage. Most people try to learn new systems, tools and techniques to overcome these challenges without fully understanding the challenges. In the first article, we talked about the four dimensions that we live in, namely spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. Tools and techniques are important but if we don’t understand the unconscious fears that are triggering these fear responses, then we will not be as effective as we could be in doing our best to be productive.
So why are we talking about fear? It is because fear is the reason behind why we procrastinate and the underlying factor behind many things that we do to procrastinate. By understanding and having some awareness around what fear is and how fear gets to us, we’ll be more aware and better equipped to deal with any challenges. Awareness is the key. With awareness, change is possible.
The Nature of Fear
Most common fears that cause us to procrastinate are:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of loneliness
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of making a mistake
- Fear of making the wrong decision
- Fear of unworthiness
- Fear of success
- Fear of disappointment
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being uncomfortable
Three Universal Fears
All the above fears are rooted in the following three fears and they are the fear of:
- Not being enough
- Not being loved
- Not belonging
As human beings, we all have these universal unconscious fears (we’re not talking about irrational fears, i.e. phobias, here).
For instance, if we take the most notorious fear — fear of public speaking — and analyse it, it is a combination of the following: the fear of appearing foolish in front of other people, the fear of not wanting to make a fool out of oneself and not wanting to make mistake. If I make a mistake, then I am stupid, not good enough, people are going to criticise me, they will know that I am a failure or a fraud, that I am not good enough and I will get rejected and will not be liked or loved! Of course, I am hugely generalising here but you get the point.
The fear of not being enough is also the fear behind thinking that we will not be able to handle anything that comes. So, we do not take enough risks and say yes to opportunities. Think back to your past about the many opportunities that knocked on your door. Think of the times that you said yes, opened the door and took them on. And then think of the times you did not answer the door and let the opportunities pass. It is all based on the fear of ‘What if I cannot handle it?’.
The truth is that we have been promised that we will not be tested with anything that we will not be able to handle. Anything that comes our way, we have the ability to handle, overcome and excel at.
“On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear.” [Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 286]
The challenge, then, lies in our thinking. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” This sounds cliche but this concept has been spiritually, scientifically and experimentally proven. Allah says that, “I am as My servant thinks I am” [Hurairah]. You notice more of what you focus on.
Fear Is Healthy. And Unhealthy.
Fear prevents us from potentially life-threatening situations and doing things that will cause us physical harm. That is what the part of the brain called amygdala is responsible for. It is our body’s natural response to anything that could be potentially dangerous for us. It is a part of our Creator’s wisdom for protection from life.
When fear becomes unhealthy and dysfunctional, it keeps us in our comfort zone and prevents us from taking necessary actions to help us learn and grow to become better and bigger versions of ourselves.
“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you” said Mike Tyson.
Fear is an Impostor and a Liar
Fear promises that if we listen to fear and not do the things that we are fearful of, then we will not have to live in fear.
The fears that you do not face become your limitations. And soon, those limitations become your reality. And that is how the masses lead small lives. But you are different, aren’t you?
“Satan threatens you with poverty and enjoins you to be niggardly, and God promises you forgiveness from Himself and abundance; and God is Ample-giving, Knowing.” [Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 268]
Satan threatens you with poverty and the fear of inadequacy and doubts. Whenever you want to do something to become successful – physically healthy, emotionally more loving, open and generous, financially wealthy and abundant, spiritually aware, connected and closer to Allah – the whisper will come, “Don’t!. “You’re going to injure or hurt yourself!”, “What will people think of you?”, “What if they don’t love you back?”, “What if you fail?”, “What if blah blah blah blah blah!’. These whispers create doubt and fear, preventing you from taking action.
Satan wants you to play small, think small, be afraid of everything, lead small lives and be small people!
But if you believe in the promise of our Creator, then what do you have to fear? He promises you forgiveness and abundance. All you have to do is to consistently keep showing up and stepping up. It is uncomfortable, for sure. But that is the path to take if you want an awesome life here and Jannah in the next world. Your level of success, in this world and the next, is going to be directly proportional to the level of uncertainty and discomfort that you can ‘comfortably’ handle.
Think about the system that our Creator regimented and ritualised for us to make sure we get back to Him in peace, in one piece. Among other good stuffs, salah, zakat, fasting and Qiyam-ul-layl (not fard, but if you want to play a bigger game, this is not an option), none of them are comfortable to perform or do but isn’t that the whole point of it all?
Or are you going to listen to the empty promises of the fear monger? The one who is going to deceive you, double-cross you, dupe you, and cheat you out of your potential, your possibilities and the garden that Allah has promised you.
“And Satan will say when the matter has been concluded, “Indeed, God had promised you the promise of truth. And I promised you, but I betrayed you. But I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me. So do not blame me; but blame yourselves.” [Qur’an, Chapter 14, Verse 22]
The Truth About Fear
Fear will never go away.
Many of us think that when we have the fear of doing something or taking certain risks, the natural thing to do is to wait for the fear to go away or avoid the things that we are fearful of, right?
The natural thing to do is to do the thing that we fear. Because, fear is saying “Do not go beyond this… it’ll be painful, it’ll feel uncomfortable, stay here and be safe, you will not be have to live in fear”. The truth is that fear will never go away.
Many people wait for confidence to show up before they take action. That is the flaw in reasoning. Confidence is not needed when you are waiting. Someone or something has to move first before confidence comes. That someone is you. Take the first step and then the second step and the fear will disappear.
Mike Tyson says, “I’m scared every time I go into the ring, but it’s how you handle it. What you have to do is plant your feet, bite down on your mouthpiece and say, ‘Let’s go.’”
The Consequences Of Fear
The more you wait and delay taking action because of the excuses of fear, the more difficult it becomes to do anything. You will eventually stop believing that you can and ever do anything. If you perpetually put things off and procrastinate, you will start feeling bad about yourself. Your self-image suffers and your self-esteem takes a hit.
A part of you dies just a little bit each and every time you put things off or break a promise to yourself. You will not necessarily feel it at the moment because you will be distracting yourself doing other things to make yourself feel good. That is the start of an addiction – addiction to food, comfort eating, gossip, TV, smoking, pornography, Youtube, Facebook and countless many other things to distract yourself from feeling the fear of not being enough, not being loved and not belonging.
With low self-esteem, it becomes even harder to get moving. Your life begins to shrink and you will feel stuck. That is the start of what many people call “depression”. From a behavioural standpoint, “depression” is just the illusion of lack of choice. It is because you have stopped making decisions and chosen to stay stagnant that you feel stuck. Please note that here we are not talking about clinical depression, for which professional help from licensed medical professionals are needed and must be sought.
The way you choose to feel stuck can come in many forms. Some people gather lots of information, buy books and do seminars gathering more info and then not implement what they learn. They get overwhelmed and stuck. Others run perfectionist strategies where the standard they set is so high that success is impossible.
So how can you overcome these challenges?
Practical Strategies to Overcoming Fear
1. Guidance prayer
Pray the divine guidance prayer (Istikhara) before you take any important action. That prayer is a great gift for us. Then, there is no regret because you know that if what you decided to work towards is good for you, despite the fears you might have, Allah made it happen for you. If not, move on to something else. Sometimes, what we think is “good” for us might not be so because we only see what is apparent while Allah knows what’s hidden.
Like He says, “… But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 216].
Trust in the wisdom of the Most Wise, the Best Disposer of all affairs. And be patient.
2. Check your intention
Whose pleasure are you trying to gain? Who are you trying to please?
Your concern should only be to please Allah . If the action that you are taking aligns with your highest purpose and your values and what you believe is ethical and ecological, and is good for you, good for others and good for the greater good, then there is no fear of what people are going to say.
People will say what they want to say based on their own limited experiences, limited view of the world, their own fears and insecurities. Stop caring about what people are going to say about you or what you do. What they think of you is none of your business. The truth of the matter is that there will always be a small group of people who will never like you or like what you do anyway. It’s not you. It is them. And you need to be okay with that.
3. Switch your focus
Are you focusing on yourself and making sure you look good? Then you will be fearful. If you focus on serving and make it about others, and appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to serve and give, on whatever level that you are at, then you will have the courage to act. Stop making it about you. Make it about the people who can benefit from your action.
As narrated Abu Musa: The Prophet said, “A believer to another believer is like a building whose different parts enforce each other.” The Prophet then clasped his hands with the fingers interlaced. (At that time) the Prophet was sitting and a man came and begged or asked for something. The Prophet faced us and said, “Help and recommend him and you will receive the reward for it, and Allah will bring about what He will through His Prophet’s tongue.” [Bukhari]
Here is my very personal example to make it really clear. I have this fear every time I write a new article, there is always this little voice in the back of my mind saying, “What if people find your articles useless?”, “What if they already know this?”, “What if it is not good enough?” and all these what if’s and the fears of not being enough. I have to switch my focus from making it about ‘me’, “What will they think of me?”, to make it about ‘you’, the reader, and revise and renew my intention that I am doing my best for my Creator to serve His creation. I tell myself every time that if this article serves one person, that is good enough for me. I will get it out and put it out there. And I know for a fact that every one has this fear in some capacity. Authors call it ‘writer’s block’, some people call it ‘resistance’. (Please see below for some brilliant resources from one of my favourite authors, Steven Pressfield, on overcoming ‘resistance’. It will give you another dimension of the so-called ‘procrastination’.)
4. Play above the line
Play above the line and come from a place of love and trust. Doubt and fear is below-the-line thinking. Allah ’s promise is clear. Will you decide to trust? Be positive and optimistic. Hope for the best.
5. Focus on expanding your comfort zone
Know that everything that you want that you currently do not have is on the other side of fear, outside your comfort zone. You have to decide if you want to face your fear, grow and get what you want? Or you can choose to stay on this side of the fear and stay small.
Your challenges and your goals are by nature outside your current comfort zone. So by striving to overcome the challenges that you face or achieving the goals that you set, your comfort zone automatically expands – by that process, you become a ‘bigger’ person, you gain more confidence and you gain the ability to take on more responsibility. That is why the purpose of setting goals is not to achieve the goal but it is about who we become in the process of striving for the goal. That is the reward in itself.
Know that we get rewarded for our good intentions, the effort that we make and for striving to do what is best – the end result is a bonus. But the result in this world will not always be what we expect. That is why detachment from the result or the goal is important.
6. Be you
Envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide – Emerson
When you compare yourself to others and feel that you are not good enough and want to give up, you are just being ignorant of the fact that you have a unique journey that has led you to where you are today. And you will have a unique journey that will lead you, through your own set of challenges and tests, to make the contribution that only you can make to the people that you are meant to serve.
The person that you are comparing yourself to got there from his or her life experiences, their unique set of challenges that shaped them into the people who can serve the people that they were meant to serve. They can never be you and you can never be them. Be grateful for who you are.
And do not ever want to be someone else. Be the best version of you you can be. Be loyal to who you were meant to be.
7. Have the growth mindset
Separate your identity from your work. Your work can ‘fail’ but you are not a ‘failure’. Remember the difference between the fixed mindset and growth mindset (see Part 3).
There is no failure. There is only feedback. It is just what you make out of the events.
Did you get the outcome that you want? If the answer is no, then what do you need to change? Who can you talk to or ask for help? It is just feedback to you that you need to change your approach.
Do The Thing You Fear!
Bismillah! Make a decision and take the first step.
Will you Forget Everything And Run?
Will you Face Everything And Rise?
And are you Feeling Excited And Ready?
Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain – Ralph Waldo Emerson
So we have covered the nature of fear, the consequences of fear and some practical strategies you can use to deal with and overcome fear. You can become productive by constantly making decisions and striving to take the next step, despite the fear. In the next article, we will learn about a model called ‘Four Levels of Behaviour’ that can be used to measure the effectiveness and productivity of the believers in their quest to becoming effective Productive Muslims, In sha Allah.
Please comment and share what has benefited you and what you now commit to doing as your first step towards overcoming fear and getting productive!
- Sheikh Tawfique Chowdhury – World in the Hands, Allah in the heart
- Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability
- Mel Robbins – Stop Saying You’re Fine
- MuscleProdigy – Be Fearless
- AbdulBary Yahya – Divine GPS – The Inner Dimensions of Salatul Istikhara
- Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda – Istikharah: How To & Why?
- Steve Pressfield – Do the Work
- Steve Pressfield – The War of Art
- Steve Pressfield – Turning Pro
- Steve Pressfield – Genius Network Interviews
- Chris Bogan – NEARLY Exclusive Interview with Steven Pressfield