Photo by Rick L on Unsplash
Here’s a fact as old as time: Our brain is always trying to protect us. Our natural instinct is survival, so we are constantly trying to figure out what nearby dangers loom, in order to take appropriate action and protect ourselves. Even in our modern era, when we are unlikely to encounter a real saber tooth tiger, that’s ultimately what we’re doing: Protecting & Surviving.
But what are we protecting now? In modern times, it’s less often our life, and most often our ego, emotion, status, reputation…the list goes on.
Those are the things frequently at risk when our brain tells us to be afraid. That’s when we get defensive, angry, loud, firm… but if it’s not a tiger, then how do such threats show up?
They show up in the form of the responses and reactions we get from others, negative social media replies, passive-aggressive comments from bosses or coworkers, criticisms from loved ones, people laughing at us when we stumble — literally or metaphorically. More times than not, it seems what we are afraid of most, what holds us back the most, what causes us to fight, flight or freeze the most, are the reactions we get from people. They hurt our feelings, bruise our ego, diminish our status or damage our reputation.
The solution to this is simple: face the tiger. Don’t allow yourself to fall into stressed reactions. Turn and face it, calmly, confidently, and with the knowledge that it’s just a mirage — it’s not really life-threatening, because it’s not really a tiger.
Whenever you feel afraid or threatened, notice the story you are making up in your head and ask yourself how you could flip that story around and convert the feeling of fear into insatiable curiosity. You could sit there afraid of the review your boss will give you — or you could fan your own curiosity, and look forward to that same review, seeing it as an opportunity for growth and expansion. If you step into it resisting, your boss will likely feel that resistance and react to it, perhaps negatively as they interpret you misjudging or misconstruing their words or intentions. If you step into it receptively, openly, with enthusiasm, your boss will likely feel that and be more relaxed and less nervous themselves — and you will likely find them to be more friendly, positive, and relieved.
Your brain is looking for the red flags; those flags tense you up and hold you back. Instead, look for a checkered flag, and the idea that you are about to win. If you had that mindset, how would you enter that conversation?
Face the tiger, and know that you will survive. You might even become stronger for it — and that tiger may well become a docile pet on your side, ready to protect you. Wouldn’t that be an awesome shift of circumstances?