Everything we do is controlled by our brain : our thoughts & our actions.
Human beings are well-equipped to avoid danger; it’s part of our survival instinct.
We see something frightening & our reflexes kick-in: our body releases chemicals into our bloodstream that fire us into action, taking us away from the initial stimulus. It’s how we work.
But our built-in survival mechanism is also our greatest enemy when it comes to achieving.
Achievement is so much more than simply ‘doing’. Achievement almost always involves overcoming challenges, taking on things that seem scary, threatening or overpowering & beating them … & one of the biggest things to overcome is our own fear & the risk of failure
A quick word on failure: failure is like climbing a ladder: each time we ‘fail’ we learn & as we learn we are able to take the next step. Ask any successful person about failure & they will say something like, “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough!” Failure is all part of the recipe for eventual success …
But we need a way to take on challenges & win because when faced with something new or challenging our body (& brain) tells us to ‘move away’, ‘leave it alone’, don’t go there.’
It may be the first time we’ve tried something or it may be a learnt response because we have tried something similar in the past & failed or been hurt.
We draw on memories that our brain has stored-up over the years through things we’ve done, things we’ve seen or read, things we’ve heard, things that were done to us. Some of those things are memories that we can remember because they are stored in the thinking part of our brain (the cortex). Some of them produce an ‘instinctive’ response that we have no idea where it comes form; we have no conscious memory. These are stored in the ‘safety’ part of our brain (the amygdala) which communicates directly with the areas of our brain that keep us safe. Memories in the amygdala don’t pass through thoughts.
So, How Do We Face Fears & Grow in Confidence?
Here are 3-Steps That Will Take Us Past Those Fears That Trap Us In Inactivity & Move Us Into Action:
- Firstly, We Must WANT to Move On. I know this sounds silly, but if we have been held captive by our fears for a long time we have a well established pathway of neurones (the nerve fibres that carry these thoughts) that fires each time we face a particular fear. It’s a bit like a deep rut in a field: if the wheels of our tractor get stuck in that rut it could just steer itself if we let go of the steering wheel. We can grow so used to being afraid that we convince ourselves we can’t do it & more importantly, we don’t try: it is like a comfort blanket under which we hide. If we want to get out of the rut, we will have to put in effort & fight it using the steering wheel. So it is with moving forward; it takes effort & often some consistent hard work. BUT WE CAN ACHIEVE IT, sometimes alone & sometimes with help … but only AFTER we have made a decision that we want to move forward.
- Secondly, We Must FACE Those Fears. This is probably the most scary part. The very thing that frightens us needs taking down in size. Research shows that the only really effective way to do that with fears is to face them, challenge them & knock them down one brick at a time. This rarely happens immediately. In my own work I have seen a very rapid response when overcoming a fear of reptiles & creepy crawlies, but more often than not, it is a slower process over time, involving commitment & hard work, with support. Remember that the average time to change a behaviour is around 67 days, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen immediately.
- Thirdly, Develop & Increase Our New-Found Confidence. We are unlikely to be super confident straight away, but equally, we have to carve out (create) new thinking pathways in our brain, so that our immediate response changes. The great news is that our brain is highly flexible & new pathways can be created: we can change the way it thinks & responds. As we repeatedly challenge our old thoughts & see that things are not as bad as we thought, the new pathway becomes stronger & used more readily by our brain. Over time, it becomes the new first-choice pathway at which point we have overcome our fear, at least to the point where we control it rather than it controls us.
If you’re not sure you can do this, start small & see how you go on. As you overcome one fear, it will increase your confidence to tackle others that may be more frightening.
I can say from personal experience that it is rarely easy. But I can share from my work with people who have serious phobias of snakes or spiders or other creepy crawlies, that it is possible, it is achievable & the change that takes place when we are successful is huge. (our brain is also good at rewarding us chemically (5-hydroytryptamine or serotonin) & we feel a sense of exhilaration & achievement with each success).
It’s always great to move from, “I could never do that!” to “I never thought I could do that!”
Sometimes we will have to go deeper & find out what it is in ourselves that causes us to doubt our ability. It may be an underlying belief that we picked up through being told something by a friend or relative, something we read in a book or saw on television or a video, something we were told at school. If we can tackle that effectively, many of our fears will also be tackled … but that is beyond the scope of this post.
I would love to hear of your own experiences so please get in touch or share below. Many thanks.
Take care until next time …