One of the things that consistently stands out amongst great leaders and people who are living at best in the world in their field of expertise is their ability to conquer their fears. Don’t get me wrong, they feel fear just like the rest of us, the difference is that they feel it, they recognise it, they acknowledge it and they move through it because they know that on the other side of fear is their destiny.
Let’s face it, we would never have got where we are in the world today if some of us were not able to conquer our fears.
Take Christopher Columbus for example. At the time of Columbus most sailors would not venture further into the ocean than to lose sight of land. They travelled parallel to the coast. Why did they do this? Because they feared the unknown. Columbus had other ideas, he decided to travel at 90 degrees to land to see what was out there. The rest is history.
Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 – Wikipedia
Let me get slightly technical with you for a minute in order for you to understand what is going on with fear.
You know that you have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind, don’t you? The conscious mind is everything that you are conscious of and the unconscious mind is everything else. Your unconscious mind takes care of your breathing, healing and basic things like that. Things that you do not have to consciously think about.
The theory goes that the brain is made up of three distinct parts that have built up as we have evolved.
The original part of your brain is the reptilian brain. ‘Reptilian,’ as it is thought that this was the part of the brain that we inherited from prehistoric reptiles.
Bear in mind that the world of the reptile is pretty basic and is ruled by the need to survive, fight or flight repsonse. Faced with what seems to them like a threatening situation the reptiles’ instinct is either to fight for survival or run and hide.
Then we have the limbic brain, this is the domain of your emotions, originally associated with feeding, reproduction and parental responsibilities.
These two parts of the brain make up the unconscious mind.
We then also have the neocortex, this part is unique to mammals and this is the thinking part of our brain, where we plan, construct ideas, make logical decisions. The neocortex is the conscious mind.
Think of it like this. You know what a golf club looks like. A golf Driver, with a big head. Think of this as the reptilian brain. Then think of the limbic brain as a sock that you put over the driver head, it fits snugly. Then finally put a bicycle helmet on top of the driver head, this being the neocortex. This is in effect what it looks like.
Where does fear fit into this? Well, fear is a fight or flight response isn’t it? It comes directly from the unconscious reptilian brain. Our reptilian brain is programmed to help us to survive in a prehistoric world, and so we are programmed to fear anything that might be associated with a threat to our survival. That’s great but the problem is that this is deeply unconscious within us and the unconscious mind works with symbols and patterns.
The unconscious mind tries to make sense of our world by associating current and perceived future events with past events using symbols. So where it thinks that it recognises a threat to survival, the response is fear and therefore fight or flight. Think now about Christopher Columbus, setting off out into the unknown, his reptilian mind must have been screaming “stop!!!” but he was able to overcome this.
Say you were offered a promotion at work and it meant taking on extra responsibility, unfamiliarity. What do you think is the response of the reptilian brain.
What about being faced with the prospect of redundancy? It’s fear, isn’t it?
Some people are able to conquer this fear. Think of mountain climbers climbing an unclimbed north face in the Himalayas. They would not be able to continue unless they were able to overcome their reptilian brain fear response with neocortex logical thinking.
Now obviously fight or flight response can be useful in some situations, and what I am saying is recognise when you are feeling unwarranted fear, recognise that it is the reptilian brain, let’s call it your Saboteur! Thank it for doing its job and move on through it.
This is the way to overcome fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of loss. This is the way to leading a bigger life and achieving your potential.