Releasing new school initiatives are like releasing snowballs, which may leave you feeling out of control, but here are three ways to avoid that.

Anxious About a New School Initiative? 3 Ways to Turn Fear into Excitement

The responsibilities of principals, and all school leaders today, are increasingly complex. New challenges call for new initiatives and implementing new initiatives can be scary. However, we’ve chosen this role in life because we’re excited to make a difference for our students and communities. We want to be a positive influence, but there are so many factors that can cause us to hold back, to become discouraged. Therefore, now more than ever, we need to know how to manage our self-limiting fear. And the best way I know how is to turn fear into excitement. 

But first I have to tell you about one of my experiences; perhaps you can relate. One year, I had a new idea that I thought would energize my senior class as they were getting ready to leave school. Watch this video to see how I went from excitement to terror, then to joy.  

You’d think that the best way to deal with fear would be to practice calming methods so you can totally eliminate the feeling of fear. But that’s like standing in front of a rolling snowball and trying to stop it. It’s going to hurt! It works so much better to deflect the high energy of fear into an equally high, but more helpful, energy of excitement. You retain the momentum while staying in control of the situation.

3 Ways to Turn Fear Into Excitement

Your initial sensation of fear is your brain saying, “Hey, here’s a situation you need to give some careful attention to. It’s similar to a situation you were in the past that ended badly. I don’t know if it will be hurtful this time, but be careful!” 

1. You can be thankful that your brain is trying to keep you safe, but now you get to choose how you will respond to the fear. Will you resist it, try to power through it, bully yourself into trying to conquer it? Often this approach ultimately causes fear to grow. 

On the other hand, when you embrace the sensation fully and with curiosity, you fuel your excitement. In fact, it can be helpful to say out loud, “I am excited!” By becoming really excited by the anxiety you feel, instead of resisting it, you diminish its power. You regain your control.

2. We cannot underestimate the power of breathing deeply. My favorite quote is from leadership coach Doug Silsby, who said, “The difference between fear and excitement is breathing.” I resonate with this on so many levels. When I’m really worried and really tense, with that knot in my stomach, it’s because I’m not breathing fully into my diaphragm.

Full deep breaths can release a lot of fear and tension so that you can really enjoy the excitement of the moment. Breathing helps you release the joy and excitement, rather than living in the moment of anxiety and worry. 

Here are a couple of examples. Notice how each sentence about the same situation changes the feeling in your stomach and shoulders especially.

• “Are we really ready to start the school year?” (Fear, anxiety, inadequacy

• “I have this new opportunity coming up for the school campus!” (Excitement, joy)

○ “Is this parent meeting agenda good enough?”(Self-doubt, anxiety)

○ “Oh my gosh, I get to meet with all my parents!”(Excitement, joy). 

3. Improve your team-building skills. This one surprises a lot of people. But feeling alone breeds fear. When you know others have your back, fear is reduced.

As school leaders, we often put things in motion, then sit back and hold our breath, instead of being excited and trying to give guidance. There are opportunities as a team, to figure out in advance, pivotal places and activities where we can guide this snowball. As it bounces along, we want it to hit a safety corner so that it can bounce back in a better direction. When you have team members helping you keep things on track you all experience more excitement and joy. 

With guidance, loving attention, and intention you can release the joy and excitement of being a leader. But it takes teamwork! Does your team have an atmosphere of trust, where you can say, “Let’s hold hands, let’s release this snowball together, and let’s all take up our posts in this big project, so that we can, together, provide the guidance, support, and direction this new initiative needs”?

From administrators on down, your school can become a cohesive team, especially if you use Social Learning Spaces. If you’d like a thought partner to bounce ideas with, I’d love to spend an hour with you to see if adding me to your “team” will turn your fear into excitement!

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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