Your brain’s threat response is as old as the human race. Because it evolved to deal with a life so different to that which many of us face today, you could almost call it outdated. As your survival tool, it still does a number of things that made a lot of sense in the lives of our ancestors.
But the unfortunate side effect is that many of these default threat responses hinder your efforts to thrive. Now your brain searches not just for direct threats to your physical safety, but it is alerted by many common experiences that have been linked over time to your physical survival. This is where those who experience success intervene and take things back into their own hands. They feel the fear but make the conscious choice not to be paralyzed by the following common threats:
1. Fear of failure.
It’s probably the most common and crippling mindset that can prevent people from achieving success. Fear of failure is seen in artists who never finish their piece of work, because they don’t believe it will ever be perfect.
Business people put off important decisions, waiting for more information and the perfect conditions that never actually come. Partners stay in unsatisfying relationships because they fear they have missed the boat and are too old to start again on the road to love. Young children avoid trying something new, in case they get it wrong and bring disappointment to the eyes of their parents.
But here’s the problem. Learning and growth is at its peak when you are out of your comfort zone. If you don’t learn to fail, you’ll fail to learn. And learning is a precursor to success in any form.
2. Fear of losing control.
We all know one. The friend who organises your social events down to the last detail, but irons out all the opportunities for spontaneous fun. The boss who wants the report to look a certain way, and doesn’t listen to new ideas. The parent who has their children in every sort of after-school activity and operates the household like a military camp.
The brain loves certainty, but those who thrive make an important distinction between what they can and cannot control. They direct their energy towards the things they can control, and respond to resistance by looking for alternatives, not just sticking to the path they prefer. They are able to let go of control, even if it does not feel particularly comfortable. And ultimately, they recognize the only thing they really do control is themselves.
3. Fear of standing out.
The old adage of ‘safety in numbers’ is where this one stems from. If you blend in you won’t get noticed and potentially rejected. If you go with popular opinion, you wont get criticized. If you live a life of mediocrity, you won’t be judged. But at what cost? Standing out offers you the chance to be heard.
Whether it’s a conversation around the dinner table where you do not shy away from stating your beliefs, or an international stage where you put a case for change, embracing opportunities to stand out is worth the risk. It doesn’t always lead to applause and acclaim. In fact, it well might fall flat and people will roll their eyes. But you won’t get eaten by wolves and there will still be people who think ‘Good on you.’
Your willingness to find your voice and be authentic can open new doors, deliver life lessons, and bring the sort of peace of mind and satisfaction that comes from living a full life.
4. Fear of missing out.
Have you had that twisting feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you hear news that someone has been recognised for something that you have been aspiring to yourself? Maybe a manager has praised another team member for a good idea and you’ve said to yourself ‘I was thinking about something like that’ while you stare daggers at the praised staff member.
Or someone launches a product in your industry that your clients are raving about, and you feel the niggling fear that you have missed the boat. Or maybe you have just heard that your friend is getting married or having a baby, and the fact that it hasn’t happened for you taints your happiness for her. It’s as if someone else’s success and happiness reduces your chances — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Start swimming in your own lane and realize that there is enough to go around for everyone.
5. Fear of facing the truth (or the victim mentality).
‘Why do these things always happen to me?’ This question is a sure sign that the victim mentality is at play. In your circle of friends and associates you probably see examples of the victim mentality more than you realize. A friend who continuously goes for ‘bad boys’ then wonders why she keeps getting hurt. A mate who complains he’s badly done by at work, but has said the same thing about his last three jobs. Or the person who whinges about always running late, and blames the government: not enough public transport, poor roads, too much traffic.
When someone believes that external factors are responsible for their dissatisfaction and that someone else is to blame for the position in which they find themselves, they are embracing the role of the victim. Believing themselves to be powerless to change their circumstances, frustration, anger, confusion or distress is directed outward, and onto any target other than themselves. Victims waste time and energy living in the past. Successful people take responsibility for their share and focus on their personal power to change the situation.
Which fear is holding you back? Name it, say good-bye and watch your fulfilment flourish!
This blog is adapted from the author’s book “Wired for Life: retrain your brain and thrive”
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Wired For Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive
by Susan Pearse