“All your dreams are on the other side of fear.” – Patrick Sweeney
Fear is the most powerful, yet least understood, force in our life. If we understand the neuroscience, we can use fear to reach our full potential. The more uncertain and chaotic the time is, the more we are forced out of our comfort zone. Once we get out of our comfort zone, into a new place, that is where the opportunity lies.
As we continue to navigate these perilous times, in which the COVID-19 pandemic is turning our lives upside down, it’s never been a better time to contemplate fear, and how to address it and harness it. In addition to all of the emotional heartbreak the pandemic has caused, the economic toll has also been massive. When the dust settles, some people and businesses will have, tragically, been crushed. Others, however, will have seized the opportunity.
Give yourself the best chance to fall in the latter category, using this five-step process.
5 Steps to Face Fear Head-On and Create an Opportunity
Step #1: Understand the Brain
You can say that a car works by getting in and turning the key. Or, you can say that when you turn the key, the energy in the battery turns a crankshaft that compresses a mixture of air and gas, and then ignites a spark and explosion that pushes the piston, which then turns the driveshaft.
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Your brain is the same: If you understand the operation, you can figure out what is happening to you in stressful situations. and how to best act. First, you have to accept the fact that the brain is continually changing. It never stops developing because of something called neuroplasticity. So, if you think you are a wimp, or you procrastinate, or you are shy, all of those things can change with focused effort. We have a fear center called the amygdala, which sets off a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. The problem is that the software, which runs the device, is 2 million years old. It was designed when our biggest worry was getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.
It doesn’t care about happiness, success, love, fame, philanthropy — only survival. When the amygdala senses any threat — from embarrassment to uncertainty — it tries to defend against it. Our default is defense.
Step #2: Recognize Your Fear Tells
When the amygdala tries to take over your action, you’ll feel a change in your body. Some people feel butterflies in their stomach, or will perhaps get a dry mouth or sweaty palms. Either way, they are always the same, and those unconscious reactions are your tells. The amygdala is priming your body for a fight for your life against that tiger. This is the time to realize that it’s not a threat that makes you feel this way — it’s an opportunity. Replace that threat mindset with a challenge mindset. Look for the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone when you feel those bodily changes.
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Step #3: Dissect Your Fear Frontier and Your Amygdala’s Defenses
Try to think back to when you were 8 or 10 years old, and think about an event that scared you. Maybe your dad jokingly looked for a “monster” under your bed, so you had to sleep with the light on, or the teacher called on you in front of the class when you were unprepared. You have built a defense against these memories and experiences. Think about what that is, and think about how it has served you, and how it has also held you back. Then, try to let go of the dark side that holds you back when you’re scared.
Step #4: Replace Judgment With Curiosity
Design your subconscious mind’s future past. Yes, future past. Eighty percent of the choices and actions we make every single day are done subconsciously. Without thinking, we go back to our past experience and judge if things are good or bad, and what actions we should take. The information we use to make those judgements is usually not our making. From the third trimester up until puberty, other people are putting information into your head, and all of this makes up the complex tapestry of decision-making below the surface.
If you want to be creative, brave, and truly happy, you have to add new experiences to that database. That requires doing anything other than what you have always done, which is usually scary. So when you realize that you are judging something, someone, or some event, force yourself to stop. Then, try to think of three reasons why the opposite of your judgement is true. As a result, these new experiences will shape you, rather than your parents, siblings, or teachers. You can own your subconscious thinking if you replace judgment with curiosity.
Step #5: Find the Opportunity With Offense
Now that you are comfortable scaring yourself, you no longer have to default to the defense that your amygdala demands. Now you can look at the world in front of you with a much broader lens. This mindset will allow you to acknowledge how horrific this pandemic has been, yet at the same time recast it as an opportunity to move your life forward in new, exciting ways. You just need to find your fear and keep going until you are on the other side of it. The potential is in the present: Find it and make it yours.
Patrick Sweeney is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and world-class adventurer. Visit his website, and click here to check out his bestselling book, Fear Is Fuel: The Surprising Power to Help You Find Purpose, Passion, and Performance. You can also follow him on Instagram @TheFearGuru. His class, Fear Is Fuel, is available on the Spartan Edge online education platform