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From all my years of coaching and training others (including my entry-level days as a hypnotherapist), one thing I know for sure: Fear is a bitch.

Pardon my bluntness, but seriously, when something is so pervasive it keeps you from living a life you love, a little cussing can’t hurt, right? Before we follow the fear train from a scientific perspective, let’s look at how it impacts you on a personal level. What chances don’t you take because you’re afraid of failing? How many opportunities did you let pass you by because you were scared of change? What dreams inside you will never see the light of day because you’re pretty sure you’d never make it? What about cold calling and asking people for business or referrals? How many times do you put off calling people because email or texting is so much easier (i.e. less scary)? Phone reluctance is as real as the measles, at least with most people I coach.

Well, guess what? It’s not because you’re a wimp.

Once again, your brain is behind the whole thing. Here’s something most people don’t know: your unconscious brain picks up fear before you do…and by “you,” I mean the you that is using your prefrontal cortex to read this gibberish. Basically, science now shows us that your unconscious brain is way ahead of your conscious brain when it comes to picking up on fear. And get this–your unconscious brain picks up on a fearful facial expression in 10 nanoseconds (Whalen, 2004). And if you don’t know what a nanosecond is, let’s just say that with anything under 30 of them,  your conscious mind is completely unaware of it.  That means if I show you a picture of a scared face for 15 nanoseconds, you’ll swear you never saw it.

So now a little science…

Dr. Joseph LeDoux, who has studied the science of fear something like a million years, explains that our sensory organs pick up on environmental cues.  Basically, your eyes, ears, tongue and skin detect fear first. From there, a message shoots up two different pathways to your brain. The short path whips right up to the thalamus, then to the amygdala. This immediately gets a message to your brain stem that causes you to freeze. From there, the message goes to the hypothalamus which causes your heart to start pounding, your legs to shake and your mouth to go dry. Got all that?
Okay, the long path takes us from the environmental cues straight to the hypothalamus. Here is where we get a more complete picture. So imagine you were hiking and you heard a sound in the bushes. The short path above would have you frozen–your body is getting ready to fight or flee–but not yet. With this longer path, you’re able to assess the alleged danger. That way, when a cute little, furry chipmunk pops out of the bushes, you sigh with relief and decide no fighting or flighting required. The “threat alert” also reached your hypocampus and prefrontal cortex which created a memory of the event. The more serious the scare (and possible aftermath) the more deeply embedded the memory becomes.

So let’s apply this to our businesses (& lives) now, shall we? Ever try to succeed but just can’t get ahead? Find yourself doing something different than what you said you were going to do? Feel bored or stuck? Does your dream career seem to be a trillion miles away…or sometimes worse yet; just out of reach? When we sabotage ourselves or stay stuck in time and space, it quite likely can be traced back to all the fear that has managed to weasel its way into your unconscious mind. And it doesn’t really matter how it got there–maybe you fall asleep with a scary movie on too often (seriously), or maybe you endured fearful experiences as a child (very common).

The amygdala is in place to protect you. It’s your evolutionary watchdog, if you will. However, when it’s alerted, your brain and your body are temporarily out of service when it comes to growing your business or making rational and intelligent choices. In fact, the rush of adrenaline that floods your system quite literally hampers the abilities of your prefrontal cortex where all your brilliant thinking happens. The electrical currents that snap together do so at such a rapid speed, it’s impossible to catch. You can think of your amygdala as a danger detector…and when it’s alerted, you’ll do something different, even if you don’t realize you’re afraid. Do you see the dilemma?

So what do we do?

Fortunately, we don’t have to necessarily dig up old fears and false alarms of our past. That would take all of ever–at least for me. To begin eliminating useless fear from your life, begin taking calculated risks on a daily basis, meditate, and be super aware of your responses and reactions. You can, overtime, override the neuropathways that are cemented in. Many of them are are stored memories of real or imagined fears. Of course, serious panic attacks and phobias may require a different and even medical approach, but they too are signs of an overactive amygdala.

Doing something scary everyday may seem counter intuitive, but what you’re actually doing is creating a new memory that shows the hypocampus that it’s actually pretty safe to call the prospect. Now I’m not saying do something scary like lay down on a train track or anything–but making a video, giving a speech or standing up for yourself are all things that will actually grow your brain and help reverse the fear factor from your life.  And speaking of trains, it’s never too late to jump off the fear train. Make up your mind and make something happen.

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