Our brains are programmed to fight for survival, similar to other animals.
If a squirrel is on the ground searching for nuts, hears a tree branch break, feels a swoosh of wind and then feels a sharp pain in her side, she is going escape by running into the woods, barely thwarting the hungry hawk. What happens the next time that squirrel hears a branch break and feels a gust of wind? She’s going to run to the nearest tree, and her side is going to ache, even when the hawk isn’t around. Running for cover is now an involuntary response every time she senses that combination of experiences.
Our brains are programmed in the same way. When we experience accidents or other traumatic events in our lives, our brains create responses to protect us from those things happening again in the future.
As an example, imagine you fell out of an oak tree when you were a child. You hit hard and were really injured; you even lost consciousness for a few seconds. Next thing you knew, you were lying on the ground next to a rake, looking up, seeing the sun through the leaves, your mother in a red dress rushing to your aid. You were lucky your mom was home to get you to the doctor. It only took a few weeks to mend your broken arm.
Now, just like the squirrel who runs when she hears the snap of a tree branch, your brain has been programmed to protect you from another scary fall. Different stimuli such as heights, trees, sunlight through leaves, rakes on the ground or even women in red dresses can trigger your brain to associate with that fall, making you feel scared and giving you pain in your now mended arm.
This works in other situations, too. Say you go through all the work necessary to launch a new product. You create the marketing, write a sales letter, hire the web people and do everything necessary to create and market a brand new product. But the launch fails. It could be due to any number of reasons—from not enough marketing, to a bad list, to joint venture partners who didn’t promote it like they said they would, to the wrong product for the market. Whatever the reasons, your brain connects new product initiatives with failure.
What happens the next time you try to launch a new product? Nothing. Your brain finds distractions for you. It makes you feel like that work isn’t important, and it keeps you busy with mundane projects that are comfortable and safe. You experienced pain when your launch failed, and that caused a reaction in your brain. Now the computer in your brain will work to avoid that pain any way it can.
Your brain also protects you from harm to your self-image.
As a new member of a team, you work for weeks on a new presentation, only to be called “stupid” when you deliver it. You feel devastated, and it makes you question your self-confidence. Your brain is now programmed to protect you from that “break” in your self-image the same way it protects you from a broken arm. It will try to prevent you from creating a new presentation. In the same way you are afraid of heights (the brain’s way of preventing you from falling from a tree), the thought of someone criticizing you will prevent you from taking action on a new presentation.
Most of us try to fight this fear. We attempt to power through it. We get ourselves excited about a new project, we set deadlines and we make commitments. But our brains don’t care. Those protective mechanisms kick in, and a few hours later, we find ourselves distracted with email, surfing the Web or some administrative task that “must get done now.”
The secret is to “feel it.” The next time you look at a big new project and you feel a little scared, embrace the fear. Experience it. Fear is an abstract concept, so concentrate on what that fear is doing to your body. Where do you feel the fear? How intense is it, and what shape is it? Then consider where the fear comes from. Is an earlier experience triggering this reaction?
Yes, I know it sounds crazy. I was always taught to overcome fear; to ignore fear; to put fear in a little box, lock the lid and throw away the key. But then when it was time to work on a big, important project, other priorities always seemed to interfere. It wasn’t until I experienced the feelings, analyzed the reactions my body was going through and spent time considering what was causing those feelings that the fear started to dissipate.
When you are confronted by fear (whether as in being scared or getting distracted), rather than fighting your fear, make it a dance partner. Imagine yourself embracing it, taking it to the dance floor and dancing together to a song. While you dance, consider how it makes you feel and what’s causing this reaction to surface in your life. I’ve found when I do this, midway through the first song, the fear dissolves onto the floor, and I’m able to carry on without it.
Embracing works a lot better than confrontation. But you’ll discover that your brain will attempt to protect you from this by rejecting the idea of embracing fear. Your brain will make you feel uncomfortable, trying to keep you from embracing your fear by giving you the thought “this is stupid.” This is an indication it’s working; you are dissipating your fear, and it’s fighting back. So, keep dancing.
I understand all this may sound really crazy, especially coming from me, a practical-minded CPA. You depend on me for info-marketing resources and business-building advice, not this mind games stuff.
Still, I felt I had to share this with you today. Maybe this is for you; perhaps it’s for someone you know.
I’ve found too many people who have the knowledge, the resources and the ability to create a new business, but are paralyzed by their fear. They don’t recognize it as fear; instead they just can’t seem to find the time. Some other priority comes up that keeps them away from their new business launch. If this is happening to you, recognize it for what it is. It is fear working behind the scenes in your brain to trick you into setting safe and comfortable priorities rather than the daring and ambitious ones that will make your dreams come true.
Is this crazy? Do you agree, disagree or have an experience to share? What came to your mind as you read this? Let me know your thoughts below.