Have you ever wanted something from someone, but the fear of upsetting them kept you from asking for it?

Maybe you want to tell your boss that you prefer not to receive unprompted work calls because it makes you feel anxious. But the fear of upsetting your boss keeps you from setting a boundary, leaving you stuck in a vicious cycle of feeling anxious, wanting to do something about it, then feeling too afraid to communicate.

But imagine breaking this cycle. Imagine a life in which you don’t have to worry about missing an important call or being interrupted while getting some much-needed fresh air. Imagine being able to establish healthy boundaries with your boss. Imagine being motivated by something other than fear.

By turning your fears into wants, you can begin to nurture a professional environment in which you feel safe, supported, and motivated for the right reasons.

Motivation by Fear vs. Desire

Although many psychologists would agree that fear is the most powerful motivator, they also agree that being motivated by fear harms our psychological well-being and performance in the process.

Meanwhile, when we are motivated by things like our deeply held values and interests or the enjoyment and satisfaction of an activity itself (also known as intrinsic motivation), we get more satisfaction from the task and feel more authentically motivated from a place within. Therefore, when shaping our ideal work environment, we ought to prioritize things that intrinsically motivate us. In other words, we cannot let fear be our driving motivator.

How to Turn Your Fears into “Wants”

Let’s look at the example from above. If receiving impromptu phone calls from your boss gives you anxiety, you might refrain from bringing it up with them because you’re afraid that they will be upset. But, by reframing this fear into a want, you can motivate yourself from within to make your preference known to your boss.

To start, clearly state the fear:

Fear: I’m afraid to tell my boss that I don’t like impromptu phone calls, because I don’t want to upset them.

Now, here is an example of how we might reframe this fear as a “want”:

Want: I want to be able to communicate openly with my boss so that I can do my job without the anxiety of unexpected phone calls.

When we allow ourselves to want things, we remember that we have autonomy over our environment and, in turn, feel intrinsically motivated to give ourselves the best opportunity to thrive in our work environment. And more often than not, our fear-driven expectations of how the other person might react are never as bad as we anticipate. In fact, open communication is likely to bring two colleagues closer, increasing the amount of empathy and respect in the relationship.

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