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Knowing What Not to Fear

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“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” — Bertrand Russell

One of my My current favorite research subject is the human brain. Research specifically about change. As a person who has, from as early as I can remember my life, changes receptive (if not pro-active!) I’ve made a study of what stands in the way of people choosing the change they want. As the quote from Bertrand Russell, a British mathematician and philosopher from the last century, shares, fear is held by many as superstition and a source of cruelty. Today’s neuroscience research reveals that the brain prefers predictable negative consequences over uncertain outcomes, no matter how favorable the stated outcome may appear. That the outcome from a change does not yet exist evokes fear that stops the action for many people.

Even when a new choice appears that is addressing suffering, your body responds with doubt, cynicism, and then rejection of the idea. Those qualities are motivated by perception of your current reality, and sometimes your history. The feelings and associated thoughts form a bias, preference, and set of assumptions that blockade objective consideration of the positive possibility also present in change. To make matters worse, modern life, filled with advertising and social messaging, reinforces that initial rejecting response so that you purchase and pursue choices that protect you from change and the associated fear. You can get further stuck in a personal prison, labeling change as the enemy, caused by your failure to believe you have the power of choice and sufficient resource and capability to create an outcome you experience as useful and enlivening.

Your socialization reinforces a story that your fear is the most important thing to manage. That point of view creates a premise that if you do not change, you won’t have to experience fear. The flaw in the story is that the limbic brain, the source of your reactive instinct to flee, freeze or fight, is not all of who you are as a human being. A brilliant salesperson and teacher, Zig Ziglar, declared the word fear as an acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. When you look objectively at your recent life history, say the last thirty days, notice how many times the fear you associated with something didn’t turn out to be true. For most, the palpable experience of fear in the body feels real until the illusion comes into focus. This change happens through a shift in mindset. The knowledge that most fear is supported by false evidence stimulates choosing to pause, breathe and be curious about what is occurring. More often than not, what is occurring does not match your memory of a past difficulty or your imagination of future difficulty. A brief pause calms the parasympathetic system long enough that you can ask a few questions, sustain attention at the moment, and tap into critical thinking and analytic strengths that life experience provides.

Change your mindset and you have more ease to shift your relationship with any situation or relationship. Mental blinders to taking a risk, especially interpersonal risk, are the habits you develop to keep you from pursuing what you most want. Emotional barriers prevent being and feeling vulnerable and as a result, seeing the world as it is. These blinders and barriers stop you from ever perceiving an opportunity for change, allowing your life to continue to unfold, secure, and eventually less meaningful than is possible and available. Becoming self-aware of those blinders and barriers outside of the moments of fear offers relief from the personal prison and reduces the incidence of paralyzing fear that is not based on a threat to physical and emotional well-being. Anything that prevents you from seeing the world as it is, is worthy of your attention.

Remind yourself in the moment of pause that you are so much more than your perception of external circumstances. First is your capability and creativity developed as a human being to be resourceful when faced with challenges. Competency provides extrinsic motivation toward confidence with change. Authenticity provides intrinsic motivation. Self-knowledge of your unique traits (innate nature) and your character and values (nurtured self) defines your authentic self. When you respond to life from the inside-out, feelings of vitality replace the fatigue caused by managing a threat that is false.

To invite change we have to lean into an opportunity that many deem an obstacle and a reason to turn back away from greatness—fear. Be intentional to pause and choose from your being-ness rather than your busy-ness that distracts you from listening within to discern what’s real and true. If you are longing to lead with authenticity and sovereignty, if you’re looking to get unstuck from the ‘same old’ while pushing past fear and the antiquated status quo, then pick up a copy of my book, Invite Change… today!

Janet M. Harvey, MCC

Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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