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Stoicism at Work #2: How to Overcome Fear and Lead Strong

Updated: May 17, 2019

Stoicism at Work: How to Overcome Fear and Lead Strong - article by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

Welcome to the ranks of the Stoics. Last week, you took the first step in dabbling with stoicism. You identified which events in your life were controllable and which were not and you chose to focus on the controllable ones. How did it go? Did you smoothly recover from that angry driver cutting you off? Did you fret for hours after you accidentally set your alarm to PM instead of AM, missing that important meeting?

This article will focus on negative visualization. It’s a powerful technique that Ancient Stoic philosophers used to ward off shame. Here’s how it works.

1. Get inside your fears

Find a time in your day to devote at least 20 minutes to negative visualization. You’ll want a quiet place, free of chatting coworkers and honking horns. Silence or turn off all electronics.

2. Identify one of your greatest fears

You’ve lost your job. Your company files for bankruptcy. You find yourself stark naked when presenting to an executive audience at a high-profile conference. Choose one fear to focus on.

Stoicism at Work: How to Overcome Fear and Lead Strong - article by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

3. Visualize your fear

This is the heart of negative visualization. Close your eyes and imagine your fear actually happening. Does your heart sink when your boss calls you into his office to tell you that your department will be laid off? How does that feel? Most important, how do you recover? Do you respond by spewing negative remarks (you always wanted to tell your boss he reeks of rotten eggs and needs to invest in some heavy-duty deodorant)? Or, will you ramp up your LinkedIn profile and apply for another job? Perhaps this leads to landing your dream job.

Negative visualization, also known as defensive pessimism, is powerful. It forces us to appreciate what we do have today. It also prepares us for potential obstacles that we might face. Most important, it forces us to think how we might prevent obstacles from happening.

In the end, negative visualization lowers our shame. It’s much less risky and equally powerful that parading in your birthday suit around the office. It also increases our self-esteem and gives us more confidence that we can cope with our fears. Indeed, a study published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass found that individuals who practiced defensive pessimism have significantly higher levels of self-esteem compared to others. It’s an effective first step to gaining a new more confident skin (even if, thank goodness, you never need to reveal yourself in the buff).


Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.

As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’.

Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at or by phone at (415) 861-8383.


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