It has been said that the 3 most addictive substances in life are: Carbohydrates, Crack and the end-of-month pay Cheque. The reasons are becoming clear and generally are associated with the emotion of fear. Although the word fear is hard to precisely define, everyone knows how it feels to be afraid. The fear of quitting a good job and starting a new business can be crippling. Can we ever truly get rid of these fears? Neuroscientists are trying to find out the neural pathways of this powerful emotion. There are a few useful tricks that can really help overcome fear.
Human anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it, even a future that is physically impossible. – Joseph LeDoux
But fears very much like fire; our best friend when it isn’t raging out of control. It is essential for your survival, allowing an organism to detect a potential threat to its life. Too much fear, however, can lead to pathological conditions such as anxiety, phobia, paranoia, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Please note that fear is definitely not anxiety. Fear is an emotional state that exists in the presence of danger and ends once that danger has passed. Anxiety exists when we anticipate a danger or threat, regardless if one is present or not.The physiological response to fear is called the ‘fight or flight’ response, was first described by the American physiologist Walter B. Cannon in the 1929. The response is caused by the actions of adrenaline, noradrenaline and the steroid cortisol, whose release is triggered by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. The following physiological responses will happen, that you will have experienced:
- Your heart rate increases
- Your breathing speeds up
- Your pupils dilate to let in more light
- Your metabolism of fat and glucose in the liver increase to provide the energy
- Your production and release of endorphins is greatly increased
- Your brain’s decision-making areas become primed for action.
On top of this (and it is surprising), your brain doesn’t want your conscious awareness to override your fear response. This is a result of millions of years of evolution. If I ask you, right now, to get on stage with no preparation and be funny (with a big, ugly audience whom are restless and hostile), you may have an evolutionary response to protect you and help you survive. It turns out that it was a helpful survival mechanism in our cave dwelling days but is distinctly unhelpful at The Comedy Store. What your brain does next is very interesting. It does two things simultaneously.
Firstly, is the powerful Primary Response. This is both innate and unconscious and very fast (a few milliseconds).
- The sensory thalamus receives some sort of a sensory input, like seeing rows of unfriendly people sat there, staring at you.
- The sensory thalamus then passes that information to the amygdala.
- Your brain isn’t even sure what exactly it’s seeing here but knows that you might be killed or eaten.
- Your amygdala recognises that the input is a threat and prepares your body to respond.
The Secondary Response takes a few seconds, is both conscious and rational.
- Your sensory thalamus also sends information to your cortex (which gives you context to understand what you are seeing).
- Your higher brain, the cortex says, OMG, that is a lot of people. They really do look aggressive. I might die out there.
- This information is sent back to the amygdala, where your fear response takes over: your heart rate further increases, your pupils dilate, and you sweat more.
- You may feel sick, forget your lines and run off the stage screaming.
This neural circuitry, which processes information about fear is now well mapped, but otherwise, little else is known about the biological basis of this emotion. In recent years neuroscientists have understood some of the cellular and molecular mechnisms underlying fear. Your brain is set up to allow fear to take control. The evidence is in the wiring: there are a good number of pathways from the amygdala to the neocortex. There are far fewer pathways from the neocortex to the amygdala.
What can we do about this fixed pathway of neurones and circuits? Research indicates that just admitting what fears you have can help you get over them faster. The research shows the ability of the brain to restructure our fear pathways and heal itself throughout life. This discovery alone tossed out centuries of scientific belief which previously held that we cannot do much about the damage caused by trauma and certain set patterns such as those labeled mental or behavioural disorders. Known as neuroplasticity, the findings show you have an innate ability to restructure the gray matter of your brain. Change the primary and secondary response pathways with your mind and conscious-mind action. We can then challenge these fears and barriers to success.
Because your fear responses are largely unconscious many people have struggled to think that they can change them. The become bound by unwritten rules and don’t change. It is these poor decisions (or fear of making them and non-decisions) that stop us achieving our potential. The evidence is that we can change and help re-wire our circuits with some simple actions. The first thing you need to do is bring awareness to what is happening for you right now. By being honest and asking some good questions about the basis for your fear you have the capacity to change the basis of your fears. So ask the following questions and right your honest answers down:
- What am I actually afraid of? [Specific / Detailed / Thoughtful]
- What triggered this fear? [Look at the timing, circumstances and previous traumas.]
- What is the worst that can happen? [When I ask this question, many people start to exaggerate the actual real risk and consequences. This end of the world scenario needs careful re-framing and a reality check.]
You may think these questions seem silly or indeed obvious, but it’s not about the complexity of the question, it’s about unravelling the fear. By untangling it from our minds we can get control of it. The thing about fear is that it often makes us believe things that just aren’t true.
So back to the title question, why do people fear quitting and start out on their own? What do they need to do to be fearless and courageous? Maybe it starts by resolving a fundamental fear and changing those neural pathways.
For example, If I quit my job, I am a quitter.
- What am I actually afraid of? [ List, sort edit and amplify]
- Am I afraid of not being good enough? [To whom? When? Where? Why?]
- Am I afraid of letting people down? [About? Where has this come from?]
- Am I in fear of not living up to my potential? [ Analysis and Honesty]
If you can understand this, you can use evidence to contradict your fear. It’s also extremely beneficial to talk to others about your fears.
When you start to ask the right questions and reframe them, challenge what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the what to fire and wire messages, whenever your felt experience of an event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the neural pathways of your brain.
By disputing fears and reframing them, you can covert them into something that isn’t a scary abstract beast. Break the fear apart by questioning and understanding; dissect it, smash into small pieces, then you can control it Your brain will do the rest if you can change your physiology (start with your breathing) and if you ask the right questions.You can quit that job and become an entrepreneur, a business leader or your own boss.You can achieve anything you want in life if,
- You have the courage to dream it,
- The intelligence to make a realistic plan,
- The will to see that plan to it’s end.