Interrupting the flow of fear is important because when fear begins to flow rational thinking gets washed away in the torrent.
Why investigate 'fears'?
Fear - particularly fear of rejection - is a huge squasher! Your gurgling baby self to your self-conscious teen self - it played a starring role. Maybe fear is still in the driving seat more than you.
Let's assume you are not clinging onto a breaking branch above a sniper pit when this fear feeling kicks in. You are not in a life or death situation - but you take a fear driven decision or act based on that fear feeling. What are the consequences?
In his book ‘The Science of Fear’, Dan Gardner introduces the topic of fear with a story about the unexpected consequence of two planes spearing through the World Trade Centre on the 11th of September 2001.
Many people started driving instead of flying for at least a year after the event.
A perfectly understandable reaction - emotional.
However, when rationality is applied it just doesn’t make sense.
Nervy flyers will be familiar with the mantra - ‘You are more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash’.
Yes. Statistics back this up but our emotions are deaf and blind to those boring old stats!
The statisticians who studied the deaths caused by car accidents compared to air accidents in that year after 11/11 concluded that it was the increased fear of air travel that resulted in more road related deaths. Families would struggle to make sense of the reality that it was actually fear that had led to the loss of their loved ones.
Let's get forensic.
As mysterious as feelings can feel - they are a based in firm facts about they way our brain functions. Mind-body connections and synapses and stuff!
Let's start by considering the classic approach - the fight, flight and freeze survival instinct driven by our ancient brain - our reptilian brain.
- Your brain picks up a signal that you are in danger (this might be walking into a room of strangers!)
- The amygdala (emotional processing in brain) sends out distress signal to the brain command centre.
- Message sent to body - 'get ready to run, fight or hide.'
- It is only now that you might become aware of this process - heart rate increase, sweaty palms, stomach churn.
This process is perfect when you are jumping out of the way of an oncoming car. It is a hindrance when you are in a meeting!
You can read up on ‘fear’ and the brain to your heart’s delight - it is a fascinating topic. There are some suggestions in the resources section.
I recently read a book that shakes the old thinking up - and it is based on solid science and research. Dr Lisa Feldman Barrett's book - 'How Emotions are Made' - is a must read. Read it!
In relation to fear - what did I discover from this book?
Fear is a feeling. Feelings come from inside your body - through an ongoing process of 'interoception'.
As Lisa Felman Barrett explains -
The science behind interoception, grounded in the wiring of your brain, will help you see yourself in a new light. It also demonstrates that you're not at the mercy of emotions that arise unbidden to control your behaviour. You are the achitect of these experiences.
and you will love this last line -
Your river of feelings might feel like it's flowing over you, but actually you're the river's source.
Your brain is not on snooze until a stimulus wakes it up. Your 86 billion neurons connected to a giant network are always firing off and stimulating each other - this is called intrinsic brain activity.
Now consider where your brain lives - inside a very dark skull. It is not seeing the whole picture that you see! It is an extraordinary prediction machine! It will combine patterns laid down in memories from your past, associations, likelihood and the messages your whole body is sending.
Research has found that an extreme fear inducer - a traumatic event - if memorised differently than the normal hippocampus way. It brings the amygdala into play - and the memory can be lucid decades later.
To be frank - the brain is blinking gob-smackingly amazing!
Can you believe the Ancient Egyptians thought the brain was a no more than a grey sticky blob that needed pulling out through the dead pharoah's nose!
Back to you - and your fear feelings.
You can read up on the amygdala and stuff if you wish - but I want to get you thinking about this from a 'take back control' perpective.
Picture the scene.
It is your turn to speak - in front of an audience of some sort. Your hands shake, breathing gets more laboured and blood rushes to your cheeks. You feel fear - as if there was a real threat to your life!
Press pause and apply the above knowledge.
Your brain is working on past patterns (you had a bad public speaking experience as a kid maybe) and picking up you body signals which suggest a need to escape or fight. The cycle is kicking off - self-perpetuating.
The missing part is you. You have given over all control to am awesome, but fallible, prediction and connection machine.
Take back control!
When it comes to the inner-critic, squasher, impostor syndrome stuff - fear is centre stage!
Have a look at this list of fears:
- being negatively judged
- being rejected
- disappointing people
I have created a mini-ebook that looks in depth at each of these fears. Includes fascinating further reading and small step actions to take. Pop your name and email in the form below and the book will be delivered (remember to check your junk or spam file - neither of which it is!)
Make it Real (my podcast) - mindset stuff comes up in every episode!
My YouTube channel
The School of Life videos