Our reptilian brains are pretty good at triggering that fight-or-flight response to keep us safe and alive when faced with potentially dangerous situations.
And this is a useful thing for when we go hunting in the jungle and want to avoid being eaten by large, carnivorous animals.
But in the twenty-first century when it’s triggered by thoughts of rejection, failure, and shame, this very basic evolutionary characteristic is a huge pain in the ass.
From what I understand, our intense desires for fitting in with society and fear of being rejected is something that can be explained by the fact that back before the internet existed (like thousands of years ago), humans could not survive solitarily and depended on the cooperative efforts of members of their tribes to stay alive.
In other words, you can thank natural selection for your crippling fear of public speaking, your gut-wrenching suspicion that your spouse is sleeping around, or the night sweats and half-unconscious shrieking you break out into in your sleep because 7 hours and 34 minutes ago you sent an email with a business-related proposal to the CEO of Super-Duper-Innovative-Awesome-Startup-Dot-Com and haven’t heard back yet.
It’s so dumb, because this is not the type of stuff that puts us in physical danger.
If anything, it teaches us valuable lessons and puts our resilience skills to the test.
It’s like that annoying Kelly Clarkson song says: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
And yet, TOO MANY people don’t even realize what’s really going on inside their heads.
For a lot of people, being afraid of really stupid crap that won’t even kill them is a daily, ongoing battle that never gets much better.
Even when a fearful person does face one of their fears, they often find themselves right back at square one again the next time they have to face it, and the cycle just continues over and over again.
Story of my life.
If you can relate, then you know that simply facing your fears doesn’t always work.
You might breathe a sigh of relief and tell yourself “that wasn’t that bad” after you make that public presentation or impress someone important, but next time you have to do it, you’re a nervous, anxiety-ridden wreck all over again.
It took me a long time to fully realize that I needed to take more control of what was going on inside my head and find a way to change what I thought and believed was actually true.
Facing the fear itself is only half the solution.
Digging through your subconscious and dissecting some of your deepest and most basic beliefs about yourself and about the world is the other half that’s missing.
I wish someone had told me this years ago.
I’ve been telling myself the same tired, old excuses in an effort to justify my own fears, and over time, it becomes a really bad habit.
But the older I get and the more I educate myself on the topics of fear, motivation, and other psychology topics, the more I realize how wrong I’ve been all along and how much I’ve truly been holding myself back by continuously trying to convince myself and accept that I’m a very fearful person.
Your mind creates your reality, so change it if you don’t like it.
I’m going to share five major excuses I’ve literally been telling myself for pretty much my entire life.
They’re pretty general, so I’m sure anyone who has ever worried about being able to perform well in an area or failing to live up to someone else’s expectations will be able to get something from this.
False belief #1: “I’m just a really sensitive, fearful person by nature. It’s in my DNA, God/the universe made me this way, and I can’t change that about myself.”
Man, you gotta love these types of people.
They’ve found an excuse to use before they even have to try.
A lot of fearful people can remember being fearful since a time when they were quite young, perhaps their whole lives, and so it’s so deeply ingrained in their thinking and their behaviour that sometimes just seems logical to chalk it up to genetics when it comes to explaining why they’re afraid.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that you end up becoming your own bully.
You’re mentally conditioning yourself into becoming someone you don’t have to be — someone who’s afraid of everything, all the time.
Check out my article on Ultimate Discipline, about changing that negative voice inside your head.
With enough hard work and a commitment to consciously directing your thoughts to the complete opposite, you can eventually break the vicious cycle of fear that you’re unknowingly thrusting upon yourself via your bad habit of negative thinking.
But wait, isn’t fear kind of a good thing sometimes?
False belief #2: “A little fear is healthy, because it means I’m being cautious and safe.”
This works if you’re living in caveman times, but in today’s day and age, you’re just flat out lying to yourself if you’re telling yourself that fear can be a good thing.
Fear does not equal caution and safety — not anymore.
You can approach any daunting task or goal with caution and safety in mind while still being bold, confident, and self-assured as hell.
Yeah it’s hard, because your mind is built to totally not want to do stuff that it interprets as dangerous, but millions of people have done it.
Anyone who thinks they’re looking out for their own safety by staying afraid is really just trying to protect their own ego.
See one of my past posts, 5 truths about the art of being confident, for a detailed look at some of the reasons why confidence is such an issue for so many people these days.
If you really are worried about losing money, being laughed at, working hard for nothing, or disappointing your wife/husband, you need to work on your confidence — not hide behind a subconscious safety precaution sign.
Either that, or maybe you’ve got a problem with perfectionism.
False belief #3: “Well, I’m a perfectionist, so of course I have a fear of failure or rejection.”
Ah, the classic perfectionism excuse.
SHAME ON YOUR FOR NOT LIVING UP TO YOUR OWN PERFECT EXPECTATIONS AND BEING BETTER THAN EVERYONE.
Really, who says that?
Surprisingly, a lot of people — to themselves, without realizing it.
This is not all of your fault.
Our capitalistic society starts planting ideas of impossible perfectionism into our minds when we’re extremely young.
It sucks, but this is how the world works today.
People who are more sensitive to shame and more prone to developing a perfectionist mindset are the people who dream of a life without hardship and either freeze at the first sign of it, or they beat themselves up for not being able to live up to their ridiculously high standards.
I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life.
And for a long time, I never moved an inch toward my goals because I was paralyzed by my fear of being unable to reach them, or of having to endure a sloppy, mistake-ridden mess of a journey as I tried.
But let me ask you this: what’s so bad about making mistakes, getting rejected, or even completely failing at something?
Besides being mentally uncomfortable and bad for the ego, nothing.
Other people make mistakes and get rejected and fail all the time, and yet they still make more progress than the people paralyzed by their own fears because they keep going, and they keep getting better anyway.
Realizing that you have to face mistakes, rejection, or failure sparks fear in you because it’s a huge blow to your ego.
That’s all there is to it, really.
See my post on how to break free from perfectionism if you’re ready and willing to start watering down your ego.
But what if that’s not quite it?
What if it stems more of from inner feeling of knowing your limits?
False belief #4: “The fact that I have fears mean I’m being practical and realistic, which is way better than having my head in the clouds all the time.”
Of all the beliefs I’m laying out here in this article, this is the one I struggle with the most.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am an extremely practical person who relies a lot on rational thinking to determine what I am and am not capable of doing.
It sounds good when I say it like that, but in truth, it’s usually just pessimism disguised as practical reasoning.
What I’ve found is that there’s really a fine line between practicality and pessimism, determined by the context of your own personal situation or problem.
Being “practical” can seem like a valid explanation for surrendering to fear.
After all, it’s a harsh world, and nobody wants to be the overly optimistic person who spends years chasing after an unattainable goal, then ending up with nothing to show for it except shame and embarrassment later on in life.
Remember that your mind creates your reality, though.
If you believe life is cruel, responsibility is hard, you’re likely to fail at certain things, and it’s better to just not even try, then you’re right.
If you believe the opposite, though, you’re also right.
Have a look at a previous post of mine on what disappointment is really all about.
What practical people don’t realize is that hardship is a necessary part of any journey toward a goal, and that usually starts with a wild, almost insane type of dream.
Even if you don’t end up achieving the goal you originally set out for, you’ll still gain knowledge and experience from something — and then you’ll be able to make whatever adjustments are needed to shift your path in the appropriate direction toward what becomes more clear to you.
Okay, so what if none of these excuses really hit the nail on the head for you? What if you just you’re just afraid, just because you are?
False belief #5: “Nobody else can understand my life or what I’m going through. I’m a victim, and I have a right to be fearful.”
I’m happy to report that I have mostly killed this belief off in my own mind.
My ego has been screwed over enough times that I no longer believe I have unique problems and the goddamn right to feel bad about it.
It’s like levelling up pretty huge on the scale of consciousness when you get to this place.
I can say from experience that those who choose to be fearful just for sake of feeling important and worthy of it are the ones who are often the most trapped inside their own heads.
I’ve looked around at my life and picked out every little horrible thing about it just so I could say, “hey man, I totally deserve to be terrified out of my freaking mind about this!” as if fear were something fashionable or trendy or glamorous.
If that’s you, the real advice I have to tell you is to first stop telling yourself that you’re afraid, and start doing things that challenge your ego.
Ego is something I plan to write much more about, because as I’ve come to realize, it’s the source of all human suffering.
That may not make sense to you right now if you haven’t done much personal development work, and that’s okay.
Just start getting familiar with the fact that your ego is an illusory sense of self-importance.
Harsh and kinda freaky, but true.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
I know you’ve heard that quote spoken several times before.
I thought it would be appropriate to end this article with, considering how true it really is.
Photo via Unsplash.com
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- The divided self: Why we care way too much about what other people think - August 14, 2016
- What everyone gets wrong about “being authentic” - July 3, 2016
- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015