Evelina Bereni18 July 2022

How fear can make us more productive

I want to talk about an emotion that has gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so. FEAR. Fear goes hand-in-hand with stress and no-one wants to experience significant amounts of fear for long periods of time BUT – did you know that microdoses are actually super effective for productivity? To explain why, I need to get my nerd on.

When we experience fear, our brain releases a chemical called norepinephrine. It’s the brain equivalent of adrenaline in the body. What happens to your attention when you get a fright? It switches on like a lightbulb and we’re suddenly VERY alert (thank you norepinephrine). That’s because our brain assumes we might need to react quickly to a potential threat. That feeling you get before public speaking? That’s norepinephrine at work again, the cheeky bugger.

We can use this to our advantage by playing a trick on ourselves that generates the release of this chemical on demand. To do this we use visualisation (a fancy way of saying ‘use your imagination’). If your level of alertness or focus is too low for the task you’re trying to complete, you can imagine something going wrong in the future to get our friend norepinephrine moving. We know from science that visualising an activity generates a similar metabolic response to actually doing it. One study found that picturing yourself doing a finger exercise increased muscle mass by 35% which was close to the 53% achieved by actually doing the exercise!

So the next time you’re:

  • Experiencing the 3pm slump…
  • Disengaging from someone speaking in a meeting…
  • Desperately trying to get through writing a single paragraph of your client report for the 7th time…

…..visualise something frightening. The key is to not let the imagery take on a life of its own so that you start obsessing over the fear, completely derailing your productivity. Remember – microdose. If you’re a snooze-button pressing repeat offender this strategy also works to get you out from under that warm doona in the morning. I started doing this years ago after reading about it in David Rock’s Your Brain at Work (before kids obviously….).

So, go forth and repurpose your fear for good!

Yours in productivity,