Is Fear Holding You Back From Your Greatest Potential?

"Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain"
- Mark Twain
 The popular clothing brand No Fear use slogans on their T-shirts that suggest life is not worth living unless you are pushing the limits...
... If you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much room!
Are you someone who subscribes to that philosophy and feels 'no fear' or are you someone who feels it's better to be safe than sorry?
In fact, feeling fear is just an instinctive part of being human. If you never feel any fear, then you're just plain reckless and you're probably not going to live long enough to worry about taking up too much room! Fear is simply an emotional response generated by a part of your brain known as the lizard brain. It's the ancient part of your brain, concerned only with basic survival and keeping you alive - it really doesn't want you to push the limits or get too close to the edge.
If you feel you're someone who likes to play it safe, the voice you hear in the back of your mind when you're faced with making a decision in life is the voice of your lizard brain. It's the voice that says "don't take any chances" or "don't do anything risky." We all have a lizard brain so we all have a little voice in our head telling us to be careful and to stay alive but we don't all respond to that voice in the same way.
Scientists believe our brains evolved in three stages:
  1. The lizard brain - the ancient part of your brain, concerned only with keeping you alive and with basic survival. In this first stage, responses to events or happenings in life were purely instinctive.
  2. The mammalian brain - this stage gave us an ability to file away our experiences of life as memories so responses to events were no longer purely instinctive. Our ever-expanding store of memory-based experiences meant that memories could now evoke non-instinctive emotional responses, including fear, and memories of past events could influence our response to current and future events.
  3. The neocortex; the brain as we understand it today - in this third stage, we're now able to draw on the memory-based experiences of past events, sift through all of the stored information, consider the events or happenings rationally, and then make conscious decisions on how to respond to current or future situations using our best judgement.
The No Fear T-shirt wearers in life respond to the lizard brain voice by questioning what it says, rationalising whether there is any real danger, then overruling it by using their 'third stage brain' to make a judgement. They're not so much fearless as they are calculated risk takers. On the other hand, the 'better safe than sorry' guys in life respond to the cautioning voice of the lizard brain by allowing it to influence their thoughts and actions without any further questions being asked. For example, let's say you're thinking of quitting your job and starting your own business. Your lizard brain voice says, "You'll fail. Hundreds of new businesses fail every day so you will too."
No Fear guy response -
"Hundreds of new businesses succeed every day. There are reasons why businesses fail and reasons why businesses succeed. I will succeed because I have prepared for success." 'Better safe than sorry' guy response -
"I'll fail. Best stay in my job and keep my guaranteed income."
Your lizard brain is concerned only with your survival so negative thoughts of what might happen are based on negative past experiences. If you have previously cut yourself with a carving knife, the next time you are holding a carving knife, your lizard brain voice will quite rightly begin to yell "danger!" Of course, you have already learned from your past experience and while you are able to acknowledge that there is a real danger, you're also able to rationalise the situation and reason that cutting yourself last time does not mean you will cut yourself again this time.
Fear is a natural, built-in survival mechanism but it needn't hold you back in life. Getting ahead in life is not about becoming fearless, it's about identifying what your fears are and then using your best judgement to calculate how real and 'life threatening' they actually are.
Want to learn More About Donald MacNaughton?
His work spans leadership and performance development in both the corporate and sporting arenas. Zoned in Performance is a business consultancy specialising in High Performance Coaching and Performance Psychology.
Using proven, effective and inspirational coaching techniques, Don MacNaughton helps clients unlock potential, achieve lasting breakthroughs and increase individual and team performance. Find out more at High Performance Coaching Guide
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