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Rethink the Shark: Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

Despite their bad rap, sharks aren’t quite the bloodthirsty animals Hollywood has made them out to be. While Jaws may have been a box-office champ, reality paints a different picture of these toothy sea creatures. Thanks to that 1975 film and other pieces of pop culture across contemporary media – including Discovery’s summer annual Shark Week programming – we fear sharks.

Statistically, we have a 1 in 3,748,067 chance of dying in a shark attack, according to the International Shark Attack File of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. We each have a higher risk of dying of heart disease (1 in 5 chance), cancer (1 in 7 chance) or car accident (1 in 84 chance) than death by shark. While shark attacks do occur, they are extremely rare. In fact, according to Oceana, a conservation organization, an average of just 4.2 fatal shark attacks occur per year. Between 2006 and 2010, 179 shark attacks occurred in the U.S., resulting in three fatalities. Compare this to the 176,937 car crash fatalities during the same time period.

While the caveman days are far behind us and we no longer need to worry about rustling bushes for fear of lions, our brains are still wired to think this way: to overanalyze every situation which may cause anxiety over unlikely situations.

Wondering how sharks relate to your business? All too often, we rely on fear to determine our survival, even in the office.

Don’t Fear the ‘Shark’

Becoming completely free of fear and anxiety is not easy, and it does require work. However, when you get to a point of freedom, the possibilities are endless. To get you started, here are three tips for overcoming fear.

1. Think Positively

Take a moment to identify your greatest current fear, whether that’s in life or in business. Next, make a list of ways this potential catastrophe could be seen as an opportunity. Countering your fears with positive thinking can shrink these “sharks,” so they seem a little less intimidating.

2. Break the Cycle

Traffic making you late for an interview; your teenager borrowing your new car; or not being able to find an important document for tomorrow’s meeting: All situations in which a negative outcome is possible, and probably demand a bit of worry and even stress. However, when such worry becomes chronic, it can affect your health and relationships, and that’s definitely a negative outcome you can prevent.

Chronic worriers, thinking about your fears seriously hinders your ability to move on and let go.

If you identify as a worrier, consider keeping a journal of worry topics. As you write down your thoughts, you may start to piece together similarities. Another great way to overcome your worry and stress is to retrain your brain to view “threats” as challenges, and follow through with actionable short-term goals to meet said challenges.

3. Accept That You Can’t Control Everything

Some things in life cannot be controlled. Manage what is reasonable; take precautions and trust that your ability to cope and overcome is far stronger than your fear. As Maya Angelou once said, we may not control all the events that happen to us, be we can decide not to be reduced by them.

 Facing Reality

After you’ve rechanneled your fear away from the “sharks,” now it’s time to face the killer reality: the problems you thought were worth worrying about were actually a distraction from real life. The point is that “sharks” don’t have to be so scary; it’s all a matter of perception. By simply reapproaching the way you react to worry, stress and fear, you and your business can reach full potential.


A version of this article was originally published  August 12, 2014 on the Paycom blog.