Acting from fear, or acting from wisdom?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020


There is a strong push in some media and social media for ACTION in response to COVID-19 Coronavirus. I’ve seen a picture of people burying their head in the sand, coupled with first hand accounts of the exhaustion and overwhelm in medical facilities in northern Italy. I’ve heard anxious impatience, a worry that we aren’t acting fast enough.

And I am curious about this impatience and urgency.


The right action, at the right time

In my work as a coach, I’ve learned that urgency is often fuelled by fear, rather than by wisdom.

Calm, timely action has a very different feel from an urgent, even desperate need to DO SOMETHING.

Earlier today, I watched Boris Johnson’s interview with Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jenny Harries. In it, he says that politicians and leaders around the world are under pressure to act, and so they may do things that are not dictated by the science. Dr Harries is clear that the UK’s response is ‘to follow the science and the evidence’. To pay attention to modelling data, so we take the right actions, at the right time.


Sometimes, waiting is wise

I don’t always trust the political or medical system. But I trust it more than my instincts when I am in the grip of fear.

When we are afraid, we want to act. We want to ‘take charge’ of the situation, get ahead of it. We want to take back control.

But are we acting from wisdom? From data? From an informed position? Or are we acting to make ourselves feel better? To give ourselves the illusion of control?


Drop behind your fear

When fear has taken a grip, it is time to pause. Stop. Sit down. Take a moment.

Do whatever it takes to come back to a quiet, wise space within. Watch your breath. Go for a walk. Do yoga. Meditate. Listen to music. Go for a run, and sweat out your fear. Dance, paint, write, talk to a friend.

When you feel calm, ask yourself: What do I know to be true?

Do you know, for sure, that we should be acting faster? What’s the basis for that belief? Is someone else’s experience always a good indicator of what’s true for you / us?

Instead of ‘knowing’, can you be with this moment in all its uncertainty? Can you put your arm around your fear? Can you look, face on, at what you are afraid of? What you fear to lose? What experiences you worry will overwhelm you or others?

From the wisest part of you, ask yourself: Can I stay open, and be with whatever comes? 

When the answer is yes, you are bigger than your fear.


Living with uncertainty

We may want a plan. Certainty. To know what’s happening. But that plan does not exist. It cannot exist. There is no map for this new and uncertain territory.

This is a new virus, and we are gathering data by the day. We have some information about it, and there is a lot we still don’t know. So, like it or not, we are living in an uncertain world.

In uncertainty, we can only see the next step. Listen to what we know. Act. Listen. And act again.

We are walking on stepping stones, across a fast-moving river. We cannot see where we’re headed. All we can do is take the next step. And then the next. Step by step, we WILL move through uncertainty. And we will find our way through this pandemic.

Keep calm, and carry on (with some changes). We have it on mugs and t-shirts in our shops, homes and workplaces. Now can we live it?


Elle Harrison (MA Cantab, PCC) is a Coach and Consultant for Wild Courage Limited. Elle works with people and organisations in transition, helping them stay conscious through change and find the opportunities within it.

We coach leaders to navigate change with confidence and calm.

© 2021 Wild Courage