February 5, 2021

This is Your Brain on Fear

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Fear

An unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger; an instance of this emotion; a state marked by this emotion.

Merriam-Webster

Fear drives a lot of our lives as humans. We fear the unknown – we fear change. Perhaps you have a phobia, a fear of something specific, irrational. Sixty percent of adults admit to having some unreasonable fears.

Many of our fears are common:

  • Death
  • Public Speaking
  • Spiders
  • Heights

Other fears aren’t as common. Some people are afraid of peanut butter sticking to the roof of their mouths. What is common is that fear always interrupts how we might otherwise behave. In your business and personal life, this can lead to outcomes we wouldn’t have chosen if we were thinking clearly.

Fear can drive us to make bad choices, but it can also protect us. If you are like me, you fear rejection – even when it isn’t personal. When you avoid taking qualified risks because of fear, you are selling yourself short. It doesn’t make it any easier to take a chance, though, just because you know this. 

It’s often your head vs. the heart.

Fear isn’t a function of your analytical brain as much as it is emotional and sometimes physical. Look at the Capitol riot; fear drove an irrational response. The recent meme stock trend put fear and greed on full display from multiple angles. Once your meme stock starts tanking, you make poor choices because of the fear of loss. 

The tendency in business is to take our fears and let them drive our choices. “I’m not going to follow up with that lead because they will probably say no.” We stop ourselves before we start. “I am not a great writer, so I won’t share my ideas.” We have all done some version of this. We miss opportunities because of an underlying fear. Often, at its most basic level, it comes back to not being good enough. In one way or another we live out the imposter syndrome – worrying that we will be discovered as a fraud around every bend.

There is a remedy. 

Most treatments for fear involve taking the fear head-on gradually and intentionally. You re-write the story of your fears, line by line and page by page.

“Repeated exposure to similar situations leads to familiarity, which can dramatically reduce both the fear response. This approach forms the basis of some phobia treatments, which depend on slowly minimizing the fear response by making it feel familiar. “(verywellmind.com)

You can expose yourself to your fears in a healthy way. If you are afraid of public speaking, start small with an informal toast at a dinner with friends. If you are scared of rejection, ask for something super little first, like a phone call instead of an official pitch meeting. If you worry about peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth, well, don’t eat peanut butter probably!

Take short, incremental steps and slowly ease the fear you struggle with. It isn’t easy, but it is healthy – and it leads to becoming the person you hope to be!

What is a fear that has held you back or changed the outcome of a situation in your life?

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