04 • 02 • 2017
I started writing this piece several weeks back. And I’ve really struggled with it, as I’ve seen a subtle shift in my own understanding of fear as a motivator. And also maybe more importantly, my understanding of emotion is also being challenged in ways that have extremely powerful implications on our capacity to shape the quality and direction of our lives.
I had a moment in late May of 2017 that I’ve been describing as the point in time where the scales tipped for me—where the fear of not living into my highest, better and better self outweighed the fear of risking or losing the security of the life I had built to that point. I saw a glimpse of the future I was headed toward. I saw that, for me, the trajectory of playing it safe was the same trajectory that was leading to a life not fully lived with the kind of vibrancy and continued growth I believe we are all made for. At the time, I was confused about what that really meant regarding what actually needed to change externally vs internally—but that’s a topic for a different post (HINT: our focus should start with the internal and sometimes that might mean very little, if anything needs to change externally—understand the internal and all of a sudden everything in life has the possibility of coming alive, even the things like a job, some challenge you face, a relationship, and so forth can become something entirely new all as a result of how you begin to more positively and proactively react—more on this in some future post).
So in the first few blog posts here (and over the last ten months), I’ve tried to lay the ground work—a foundation upon which we can build our house. I’ve identified what I strongly believe is a ginormous disengagement problem—people that self report in study after study disengagement with how they spend most of their time. I’ve made an argument that people really can change (from the inside out)—based on several arguments backed by science and psychology. I’ll assume that we can all buy into these first couple of ideas—likely because we live it and have experienced or witnessed both to some degree. So then the question becomes, now what?
And this leads me to fear—we all have experienced fear. Some fears actually do make good sense and are the appropriate manifestation of that part of our brain that is programmed to keep us from harm. But many of our fears don’t make any sense at all when we stop to examine them. When we take the time to challege the initial trigger to turn and run— and instead, stand our ground, dig our heels in, and fight—we begin to see that a fear meant to keep us safe is actually snuffing us out and stealing real living from us. And this is where my understanding about fear begins to change.
We all have a lizard brain—they say. The idea is that our brain is designed to keep us safe from harm—you know, from the predators that wanted to eat us in the early days of our evolution. And the traditional solution was about being aware of this, recognizing how this part of our brain can shut us down before we begin. By doing so our cognitive abilities are able to override the ancient triggers of our primitive brain. And this does work. We can rationalize and talk ourselves out of the fear that we feel, the fear that is the automatic response in many situations can be suppressed before it causes too much damage. This is great news—BUT what if we had even more control to construct the emotions we feel? What if we could head fear off at the pass before it had the chance to rear its ugly head? Well, there is research emerging that is revolutionizing what has been widely held about emotions. And this could be the REALLY GOOD news.
The new theory emerging is that emotions are NOT automatic, hard-wired reactions that we have little to no control over (except maybe through managing by cognition). But rather, emotions are controlled by areas of the brain that are literally constructing our responses in the moment and on the fly. And the REALLY GOOD news we can have a say in how these emotions get constructed. No longer do we have to settle for the feelings like fear that well up at times that are least helpful for fear to well up (for more on this, check out the book I posted in week  of Happy Friday].
And this is where I’ll take a right turn and talk about fear vs excitement. Fear and excitement fire the same regions of the brain. The best athletes in the world talk about the excitement they feel (not fear) before a big competition—and the same holds true for other high performers. This concept or retraining of the brain that many successful people have used plays right into the hands of this new theory on emotions. And deep down, I think (at least for me) there is a great truth here.
Fear can motivate us only so far. Fear (in any form) binds us to some degree, even in its most productive form (ie, the fear of not living into my higher, better and better self), but optimism and excitement frees us and motivates us to limitless possibilities. And it is in this pushing aside of fear and construction of an emotion of excitement that allows us to make the bold moves, the authentic moves congruent with who we really are that will put us on the path of pursuing happiness and our BETTER and BETTER selves.