Fear is the most debilitating of human emotions.
It’s critical for our survival but with that part of your brain on constant surveillance for anything that could be dangerous it can get to a point where the definition of “dangerous” is simply “anything that is different”…
Now this was really useful when our RAS (the bit that filters in what is important to be aware of, and keeps out the rest aka the gatekeeper for your conscious mind) was used to scanning thousands of acres of African Savannah looking for the subtle movement of a sabre tooth tiger, but these days – with less animals waiting to eat you and with more rapid change and new things everywhere it can get a little out of control….
Even that wouldn’t be a problem if the fear part of us was rational and logical because it would make sense that of course things are newer more often because we’re inventing things all the time, but it doesn’t matter that there’s a new technology breakthrough because it’s obviously not life threatening – sabre tooth tigers are extinct now so there’s nothing to worry about….right?
See the modern “advanced” human brain actually has 3 different parts that have evolved over years of mutation under the Darwin principal -survival of the fittest. The newer neocortex areas of our brain allow us to reason and use logic, and are what has given us the ability to create such an range of tools and resources far beyond our needs for pure survival – one of the distinguishing features of human society over most other species.
Unfortunately the newer, analytical parts of our brain operate a little slower than the original “Croc Brain” which is the part responsible for all things survival.
This is the part that is deeply unconscious and controls all the things that if you needed to think about them before you did them would be too late. Like breathing, keeping your heart pumping and – reacting to life threatening danger.
When it comes to reaction speed, emotional instinct trumps logical analysis every time.
See while our brains evolved, our fight or flight response to danger remained the same.
The problem is that sometimes the fear sensor triggers the fight or flight response before we have time to rationalise that the danger isn’t really life threatening. In fact, thanks to our mirror neurones, sometimes we’re in fight or flight before we realise the danger isn’t even real! (Ever had a nightmare?)
When that response goes off, chemicals flood your body, preparing you to run away or punch danger in the face – And When you’re in real mortal danger, this response can save your life (cue Mick Fanning’s shark punch)
Most of the time it’s not a big deal but in times of heightened stress, the RAS kicks into danger hyperdrive and you can find yourself caught in the fight chain of Anger,when the last little thing causes you to lash out at someone either verbally or physically in a way that is a complete overreaction to how logically your response should have been.
Anger is the second core human emotion that we need to survive because it’s the one that defines our boundaries and fuels our strength when those boundaries are crossed. Unfortunately it is stored in a chain, like a string of pearls, and if we don’t deal with them as they come up the chain gets longer until finally the tiniest pearl at the end sends all the anger flying at whoever is closest.
Cue sadness, the third of the fundamentally human emotions that allow our society to function because it is what gives us the compassion to care for others. And with it remorse, regret and asking for forgiveness.
This compassion drives us to want to learn from our mistakes for the good of our loved ones, our community, our world. It drives us to seek the ultimate fulfilment through contribution to the good of others.
But if we’re too afraid to expand what we know to be safe, or say what needs to be said to change what needs to be changed – then we just stay stuck still, a “victim” in tears, waiting for the danger to get us and feeling powerless to stop it.
The more powerless we feel, the more we crave safety, certainty and the less willing we are to leave the familiarity of our comfort zone.
Unfortunately the more you try to keep things the same, the more anything new looks dangerous to your fear sensors.
Your whole body goes on the defensive, high alert, ready to react instantly to the first sign of danger. But when your comfort zone shrinks, that first sign of danger is often nothing more than a look, a tone of voice, an innocent question from a loved one that was never meant with judgement but you feel is an attack on your safety.
So you react with anger, sadness, fear and so the cycle continues.
There is a way to stop unreasonable fear ruling your life though, and the first step is awareness.
Let’s put aside the real dangers In Life for a moment and talk about the threats that trigger the other kind of F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real.
If you know and accept that no matter how much you don’t like it, we’re still – and always will be in our lifetime at least – emotional beings, then you can learn to master your emotions rather than wishing they’d go away.
Fear, Anger and Sadness are not something to ignore, suppress or get rid of because they will always come out at some stage – they have to, it’s evolution baby!
While you can’t always take control of your fear response, you can take control of your RAS, or at least what it is searching for, and you must because If you don’t tell it what to look for then everything new is danger.
So when you feel the Fear, Anger or Sadness about to overwhelm you and explode, just STOP.
S- Stop. Just stop whatever your saying or about to say, doing or about to do because the only possible outcome of a fight or flight response is that someone gets hurt. Either someone/thing hurts you first; or you hurt it first – that’s the point. Whether it is physically or emotionally – fighting always hurts. Even flight hurts – it hurts you. So just stop and take the time to…
T- Think – you need time to force your rational brains to kick in and override the danger signal. You need to notice it’s not really life threatening. Take a moment to suspend your emotional response and think that just maybe there is another perspective. Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and…
O- Open your heart – Love is the only antidote to fear. Love is the opposite side to the coin, they cannot exist at the same time, love will always win out because the core of fear is lack of love. So if you consider that the other person may also be reacting from an emotional space of fear then you can be open enough to hearing both sides of the story. It does not make them right but without being open, the real truth can never be told. And without the real truth, then there can never be a common ground to stand on to start to move forward. For some people, their love for you is not worth moving forward together so you simply need to get to a solid ground for you. But for others, for important relationships this is a must because it is usually these people we take our fear out on the most. They have to safest ground to be tested because you can push further with each other before giving up. Parents, husbands/wives, children, close friends – the stronger the love the stronger the tests it can withstand but there comes a point where the testing must stop. Where you must stop trying to win against them, and truly embrace the common ground to stand together so you both can win against the world. The true danger is out there, not in here, and we’re always stronger together. When you realise that then you can start to look for the…
P- Positives. There is always a silver lining, there is always a positive in every situation because love and light always exists even in the darkness and it is so much more powerful. A single candle can shed more light than a single shadow can shed dark.
If you trust that everything happens for a reason and look for the positives, even in the potential worst case outcome, then it makes starting the thing you’re afraid of easier. If you trust that there is always a way then you will find it together.
But you must consciously look for the positive because your RAS is set to default to negative. Looking for the positive is and always will be a manual override function. Even for the most optimistic person, their default setting is to survive and that means be always on the lookout for danger. Look for love, and practice patience and gratitude as a stepping stone to love.
Remember there is no universal truth and no single common danger. Even the universal truth that the sun will come up tomorrow is not true in many parts of the world.
Our truth is simply that which we believe to be true based on all that we’ve experienced so far, and our RAS will continue to look for evidence to remind us of that truth because that is our safety, our beacon of certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.
All possibilities exist in the world in every moment. Doubt or trust. Lack or abundance. Fear or love.
The more positive universal truths we accept, the more positive our world will be as our RAS uses these as guidance to filter in and out everything else.
So look for love and trust that you are loved. And every time you find someone who loves you, hold onto that truth and never let yourself question it. Look for evidence that makes it true instead.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the decision there is something more important than the fear”
RAS – click here for the science