Why Fear Is a Good Thing: Waking Up to Success and Self-realization
There’s nothing quite like self-employment to bring up fear. There are plenty of things to be afraid of. Will anyone hire you? What if they think you charge too much? Are you really good enough at what you do?
There’s nothing quite like self-employment to bring up fear. There are plenty of things to be afraid of. Will anyone hire you? What if they think you charge too much? Are you really good enough at what you do? What if you fail? And will you be attacked if you succeed.
So fear is inevitable. But it’s also indispensable, because most of the time there’s an opportunity at the heart of what we fear.
Fear Can Mean Two Things
Fear carries at least one of the following messages, sometimes both.
- Watch out! You are in danger, and you'll need all your faculties to survive.
- Wake up! That pot of gold over there is yours, but first you have to figure out how to walk the rainbow.
Whether we are energized or paralyzed by fear depends on our ability to distinguish between these messages and respond appropriately.
When we hear "Watch out!" our lizard brain, the amygdala, takes over. It floods our nervous systems with powerful neurochemicals, sharpens our hearing and vision, and blocks out anything that might compete for our awareness so that our resources are devoted to staying alive.
That's a good thing if there’s a real emergency. But what if fear is trying to say, "Wake up"?
When we hear “Wake up!” higher levels of the brain modulate what’s happening in the nervous system so we can interpret what’s going on and respond appropriately. We can then draw on heightened awareness to spot opportunity, create new opportunities, and recruit resources.
The High Cost of False Alarms
When we mistake “Wake up!” for “Watch out!” our instinctual reaction blocks creativity, resourcefulness, and confidence. By the time we recover, whatever opportunity was waiting at the end of the rainbow may well be gone.
The lizard brain is designed to stay on alert until it has disarmed or escaped the threat or simply exhausted the body's energy stores. Meanwhile the mind tries to make sense of nervous system arousal by finding evidence that something really is terribly wrong. Minor obstacles and irritations are magnified. Even sources of support can seem like threats.
Meanwhile, we live in a state of hyper-vigilance or frozen retreat, wearing out the adrenals, exhausting neurotransmitters, and, by the way, sending out all matter of random, prickly signals that either keep people from helping or wake up their co-dependent rescuer.
When Fear Feels Just Right
Actors talk about tapping stage fright to gather and focus energy for the performance. You may have felt something similar when you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone to set and reach an audacious goal.
Do you remember how it felt as you looked risk in the eye and moved forward? As you experienced the challenge to go beyond your limitations? That's fear that feels just right.
Just-right fear is all about waking up and staying awake for as long as necessary to seize and realize a possibility. Unlike the fear that gives control to your lizard brain, just-right fear wakes you up to opportunity, issues challenges, and offers choice.
You Can Train Yourself to Wake Up
The amygdala developed long before the higher brain structures that modulate fear. Until we learn to over-ride it, the amygdala will always send us into fight, flight, or freeze mode before we can assess the situation. But you can train your brain to recruit those higher brain structures.
Start by tuning into an experience of just-right fear. Recall it as vividly as you can, noticing body sensations, sounds, visual experiences, emotions, and the self-talk that accompanied the experience. Sink into it.
Now bring to mind a situation where your lizard brain shut down your creativity and resourcefulness. Notice what that was like, again recalling body sensations, sounds, what you saw, emotions, and the self-talk.
When you’re feeling the full force of the lizard brain, bring in your multi-sensory experience of just-right fear while you hold the scary situation in mind. It may take some practice before you can think about the scary situation while embodying just-right fear, but if you persist, you’ll succeed.
Practice this daily using remembered situations to build up a history of responding to wake up calls with just-right levels of fear. Eventually you will be able to do it in real time as new fears arise.
Wake Up Calls Are Good for You and Good for Business
Wake up calls point to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They alert us to opportunities and stimulate creativity and resourcefulness. That’s good for business.
And for the spiritually and psychologically savvy Accidental Entrepreneur, wake up calls are invitations to greater self-awareness. They are steppingstones to evolution in many dimensions, including the instinctual.
Isn’t that a call worth hearing?
Learn more about the author, Molly Gordon.
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