I hate to be the one to break it to you, if indeed I am, but most humans are most significantly limited by one person and one person alone. Ourselves.
We hold ourselves in places, patterns and relationships that don’t serve us. Most of the time we aren’t doing it consciously, we are doing it because we are afraid. There’s usually some good to be found in most scenarios, even if the entirety of the situation doesn’t work for us. We latch onto those things.
I’ve often talked about it in terms of the brain trying to keep us safe, that’s literally what it is doing. In high stress situations, adrenaline floods our system and disables our prefrontal cortex. Our prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that facilitates problem-solving and creative thinking.
What the brain actually does in reality is come at us with thoughts and ideas that move us away from the, probably slightly bolder, initial drive that was within us. We then start to listen to our brain and begin to decide that the bold idea is a bad idea, and everything that was moving us towards it starts to look a little better again.
I have lived this cycle over and over again, so trust me, I know.
The brilliant news is that there is another way.
You can instead do what I have done, and learn to see your brain for what it is, understand what it is trying to do, but then make decisions that feel more expansive for you. To do that though, you have to realise that fear is never going to go away, it’s always gonna be there, in the form of your brain, trying to keep you safe from harm. The real shift therefore is learning to hold that energy of fear in your body, being able to rationalise why it is showing up, and move forward in the way that truly serves us regardless.
By acknowledging, understanding and processing that the fear exists, we re-engage our prefrontal cortex, and supercharge our ability to do our best thinking.
Here’s how I do that.
#1: Figuring out how I feel about it.
Firstly by acknowledging and saying out loud how you feel about the situation. Even if only to yourself. You might not feel fear directly, but you might feel a sense of frustration, or a little more stressed – those are often signs from our nervous system that something isn’t right.
When we give ourselves permission to say how we feel out loud, we allow the emotion to dissipate. It loosens the hold it has. Like when you admit you need help with something. You feel your shoulders relax. It doesn’t change anything for others, but it changes everything for you. Now your mind is freed up, and fear is no longer in the driving seat, your problem solving brain can start mentally processing and creating a plan for how to deal with this.
#2: Perform an allergy test.
Once you have acknowledged how you feel, Identify the reasons for how you feel. The sources of your fears. Write out all the things you are worried about. All of them. It might be things like:
- What if I look silly?
- What if XYZ doesn’t like me?
- What if I never meet someone else?
- What if I never find a better job?
- What if I fail?
Then run through all the things you have just written out in your mind one by one and allergy test them. Which one makes you feel the most awkward, stressed or wonky? Once you think you have the thing that is causing you the most concern, now to overcome it.
#3: Overcome your own objections
This is where I recommend having a conversation with yourself on a pad of paper between You (the most calm, brilliant, rational you) and Brain. If you are wondering how to access your rational side that isn’t afraid, start by thinking how you might answer if it was your friend who was telling you their feelings about something, and you were helping them to rationalise them.
- Divide a piece of paper into two columns
- Let your Brain state its concern at the top on one side
- From the You side, ask your Brain why you feel that way
- Respond as honestly as your Brain can
- Ask your Brain why it feels that way
- Respond as honestly as you can
- Ask your Brain again and what it thinks the feeling is underneath
- Keep going until you get to the honest bedrock of what lies beneath this fear – we keep asking why because it means that we get past all of our justifications and excuses, also known as ‘the Brain’s tricks’
- Next help yourself to understand a more realistic outcome
Let’s see that in action.
I’m worried about the client presentation I need to give next week. Why? Because it is a really big deal and a lot of the senior team will be there. Why is it a big deal? Because it is an important account so I am worried about getting something wrong. What would happen if you got something wrong? It could feel embarrassing and I might lose the respect of my peers. And what would that mean to you if that happened? I would feel bad and separate from the rest of the team.
The underlying theme here is a fear of what other people think.
Given it is normal for people to make little mistakes in every day life, if you were to get something slightly wrong, what is a more realistic outcome? In the example above, simply that I would apologise for the misstep, and complete the rest of the presentation.
Getting comfortable with fear
As I continue to learn to hold the energy of fear in my body, and be okay with it, I wanted to share with some of my best moments of getting comfortable with fear, in the hope that it might serve for a little inspo within yours:
2010: Setting myself free to leave a relationship that didn’t serve me. My brain held me in that one for 12 years, latching on to glimmers of goodness, rather than seeing it as the world of pain it really was. It took a lot to leave it, but when I did I never looked back – well, only to look at why I chose it in the first place!
2012: Setting myself free to be me and to make decisions that served me. That was supported by being at Shazam, but also was the time where I learnt to say no and to have boundaries, I’ve got better at those too over time. I am now a people pleaser in recovery, but I have to work hard to stay that way.
2020: Setting myself free to be loved by another human. Having learnt to love myself throughout the past decade, I finally became able to let love in. It was a love that asked me to step into fear and hold it in my body, not just because love is scary at first, but also because my love is based in America and I am in London.
2021: Setting myself all the way free. This year I left my job without having a job to go to. I literally had no plan, I just knew that change was needed. I decided to have faith in the Universe, given that we have a good relationship by now haha, and trust that good things would come my way. I am pleased to say they have.
Side note: the new and emerging Pancakes and Peacocks community is one of those things. There are many of us who have felt trapped in the working world we have created, and I am thrilled that many of us want to come together to think about how we might do that better. If that’s a mission that sounds interesting to you, let me know.
I’m going to leave you with two questions that I am asking myself all the time now, perhaps to reflect on over the holidays:
- What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
- What would you do if you were able to hold the energy of fear and do it anyway…?