Fear – what is your relationship with it?
Earlier this month, I was cosily seated on the parapet wall lining the walking path on the beach. The cloudy weather was making the wait for the sunrise even more special.
I was in the middle of a conversation. From my peripheral vision, I noticed a stray dog chasing a biker. Guess, it was this very dog I was hearing incessantly barking in the background for some time. And then suddenly the barking stopped! The split-second void was filled by the screeching of brakes. I couldn’t resist turning towards what was unfolding while involuntarily pausing my conversation. Had the biker braked any harder, the air would have been filled with the smell of rubber.
The biker stood still balancing a huge carton box on the fuel tank with his two hands doubling up as reinforcement. I noticed that he was staring at the dog with intent. I was intrigued. What happened next got my curiosity heightened. The dog’s pattern was interrupted. It ceased on its track, slowly withdrew eye contact, its head down with an unerring movement to left and right. The biker, as if proficient in dog language, gave a firm and final glance indicating that the tussle was decided in his favour, adjusted the carton box for a better grip and slipped into first gear to begin his journey.
As I reflect on this incident, I wonder how many of us respond to a perceived threat that way? Look straight into its eyes. Without blinking.
When I chose to quit my job for beginning my entrepreneurial journey, I experienced fear at various degrees. What I have learned along the way is to embrace fear as one part of me; it is like a protective friend that is continually highlighting risks. I have started listening to my fear, acknowledging its voice and its deeper intentions (which is always good). And I am learning to communicate with it in a way it pacifies that part of me and builds me up, not cripple my natural self. Having some amount of fear is giving me leverage to push myself and staying agile all the time.
Brain science says one part of our brain, which is commonly known as the “lizard brain” (amygdala), is meant to be protecting us. Hence, it keeps sensing threat all the time in order to keep us safe. The good and not so good news is it cannot differentiate between a physical threat and a virtual threat; it reacts the same way for both situations.
Now, imagine a moment in time when you experienced fear. Maybe it was a real physical threat, say from a predator, fire alarm going on in your building or a virtual threat, say when you received a constructive feedback from your boss or spouse unexpectedly. Recall now, how did you react then?
More often than not you would have reacted in the 3 classical ways, namely fight, flight or freeze. You would have either fought the situation physically or verbally. Or, you would have exited that place in a jiffy. Or, you might have given up and surrendered to the situation physically and mentally. These reactions happen when the lizard brain hijacks our “thinking brain” (prefrontal cortex).
What the biker demonstrated was a smart response to threat or fear. He took charge of the situation by pausing and analysing the situation. Pausing and analysing instantly sends a message to your lizard brain that you are in control of the situation and you don’t need its protective services for now. As if a service level agreement is in place, the lizard brain beats retreat, allowing the thinking brain to take control, evaluate the situation with logic.
Remember, all of us experience fear consistently irrespective of our age. For some people, it is a driving force that propels them into the orbit of greatness. While for some, fear constantly puts brakes leaving them stranded and crushing the real self.
Knowing what you know now, you have the possibility of exercising better choices rather than merely react. You may still feel vulnerable. Yet you are able to have a balanced view of the situation at the moment. Neuroscientists further say that our brain is constantly sensing threat or reward from the time we wake up till we go back to sleep. Pat yourself on the back if you are experiencing this too!
Next time when you are experiencing threat/fear, be conscious PAUSE and ASK yourself few QUESTIONS which will activate your thinking brain. For example: Why am I feeling this way now? Is this threat real or perceived? What am I afraid of now? What is the opportunity in this situation?
Allow me to ask you:
What is your relationship with fear?
Are you aware of the impact of fear on you and your life currently?
What has been your default strategy to manage fear?
Is it supporting or not?
And how aware are you in the way you react, when you are experiencing fear?
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would love to hear your responses at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding this blog and your response to the questions.