The Cognitive Rewards of Scaring Yourself at Work


Brave more than the office fridge.

Yellow roller coaster against a blue sky

Unless you work in a progressive tech company with a sweet office set-up, chances are you don’t have a rollercoaster at work. And while finding out that report you’d dutifully pencilled into your diary for next week is actually due, like, now, may make you feel like you’re clicking up a terrifying incline on a rickety old ’coaster, the result is pretty far from the sweet hand-in-the-air drop you pay good holiday money for.

Read More: How Fear Can Be Your Secret To Success

But, as you may have noticed, being a little scared in general does (post-fright, of course) ignite something within us. Whether you ‘wing it’ through a project that’s out of your expertise, or finally take on the dreaded task of public speaking, there is actual, cognitive reward in scaring yourself at work.

Here’s how it can work in your favour:

Razor-sharp focus

Fear sets off the classic ‘fight or flight’ mode in the brain, which has its origins in self-defence tactics. The hormones released during stress boost cognitive performance when it comes to task-based activities and memory. Couple that with the fact that ‘fight or flight’ exists to narrow our perspective in order to combat danger, and we’re all of a sudden more alert and have a faster processing speed when it comes to the task at hand.

Spike in self-esteem

Margee Kerr, a sociologist specialising in fear, says that any time you overcome something – like running a marathon, strapping yourself in for a rollercoaster or finishing a tough task under pressure – it triggers the same cognitive response. So, leading a meeting you’re terrified of leading and pushing past that fear will inspire you to tackle something scarier in future. It’s all about testing your limits.

Pushing past fear can clarify your ‘why?’

“When I’m working with clients, I use their fears as clues and insights,” says life coach Alyce Pilgrim, the founder of Live Life on Your Terms. “Maybe your fears are trying to tell you to leave that nine-to-five you don’t love anymore, or that you need to move your body more. Fear exists for a reason and can be a way of seeing how bad you want something.” Read our full article on fear here.

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