August  2020     Edition 152
Fear and Anxiety - A Critical Thinking Perspective

Fear and anxiety are caused by any number of things, both real and imagined.

  It creates a biological response, a release of chemicals that affect the entire body, both emotionally and physically.  Fear is real.

But what causes fear and anxiety?

   We see this as an application of four factors. 

Anticipatory Thinking


Severity of the downside


Ability to ignore the statistical downside

, and



Anticipatory thinking
, i.e. thinking about the future.  In the case of fear and anxiety, thinking about the negative possibilities that could imminently occur, or occur down the road.  In many situations, some people might be fearful, others less so, and still others not at all.   One reason for this is that some do or donít anticipate what the downside might be.  Ignorance is bliss?  Perhaps.  If you donít anticipate a bad outcome, then thereís nothing to fear.   It doesnít mean it wonít happen though.

Severity of the downside
.  How bad are the negative possibilities that you come up with during anticipatory thinking?  Is it inconvenient, dangerous to oneís safety, economic, career or family impact?

Ability to ignore the statistical downside
.  This third factor is related to risk. Can you emotionally ignore the possibility of the downside occurring? For example: Some people are fearful of flying in an airplane.  While you can present them with all the statistical data about how safe planes are, and how much safer they are than getting in a car, those who are fearful of flying, just canít ignore the statistical downside, no matter how small it may be.   Some can ignore a small chance of the downside, and others cannot Ö they feel lucky or unlucky, it wonít happen to me or it always seems to happen to me.   Itís hard to change someoneís view of ignoring the statistical downside Ö  because they canít ignore it. Telling them to ignore it doesnít help.  This is where some of the conditioning methods help; i.e. when exposing someone to the fear for long enough, or frequent enough, they can become desensitized and can begin to emotionally ignore the statistical downside.

.  This fourth factor is also related to risk.  Do you have, or think you have, control over the outcome?  Knowing you can control a situation, either to prevent a downside from occurring, or manage it if it does, gives you confidence that you can handle the situation.

How can you diminish anxiety and fear?

  Use more anticipatory thinking and controllability. 

With anticipatory thinking

, you can ask what can go wrong, what might go bad, and if so, what could you do about it.  Anticipatory thinking is all about planning.  Have a plan if the downside occurs.   Most people donít like to make mistakes, some fear it.  Using anticipatory thinking Ö if itís a mistake, what might happen?  If things go bad, can you reverse course?  Is there a back-up plan?   Are there metrics you can put into place that will provide you information early enough to allow you to deviate from the plan and prevent the downside from occurring? (we call those Preeminent Metrics)

Work on Controllability

:  It's the ďwhat you can do about itĒ, that allows you to have confidence in controllability.    Do you have control over the outcome, and if the downside occurs, can you control the damage and/or harm?  Are there indicators, metrics or flags you can monitor that allow you to control a situation?  Being in control will influence your ability to ignore the statistical downside.   When youíre driving in your car, you are in control of many factors.  When youíre in an airplane you have very little control.   Feeling that you can control the outcome provides you with the confidence that you can prevent the downside from occurring, or if the downside was to occur, you can manage, control and minimize it.  Iím not fearful of driving in the snow because I manage my driving to prevent a skid and have some control if a skid happens (or so I think).   Control helps you have confidence that you can avoid or manage the downside.

The Takeaway:
The next time you are fearful Ö fearful of making a decision, fearful of your environment or circumstance, fearful of an error, do a little anticipatory thinking combined with thinking about what you can control and what you might do if the downside occurs.   

To read more about Anticipatory Thinking take a look at

Anticipatory Thinking

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