The disabling forces of doubt and fear start deep within our brains. Understanding their origin and purpose brings us one step closer to happiness.
Think of the reptile that lies on a dirt track, warming itself in the early morning sun. As you approach, it rises to warn or attack you, slithers away, or lies motionless, hoping that its inactivity and camouflage will leave it undetected. These instinctive survival reflexes, originating deep within its brain, keep it safe and ensure survival of the species.
Mother Nature built our primitive or reptilian brain to enhance survival during our pre-mammalian origins. These centers control instinctive neurological reflexes that keep us safe. When these centers are active, we respond with predictable behavioral responses – fight, flight, and (sometimes) passive evasion.
Mother Nature has subsequently enhanced the mammalian brain substantially, adding new layers that further ensure adaptive success and survival. In order, she gifted us with our emotional brains which drive us to nurture our offspring and collaborate with other adults, followed by our cognitive brains that enable thought and reason. These latter strengths, and our huge cerebral cortices, differentiate us from all other animals.
But deep within our brains, our reptilian instincts persist. Mother Nature has deemed that they are still valuable for our survival – otherwise, she would have silenced them. Understanding their residual value is an important step on the road to Personal Mastery.
The currency of the reptilian brain is doubt and fear.
These deep, disturbing thoughts and emotions prompt survival behavior, even when the resulting actions are not particularly helpful. This is the trick to managing doubt and fear – understanding when they are valuable and when they are limiting, and then knowing how to over-rule them when they are the latter.
Doubt and fear are valuable when they alert us to real (mainly physical) danger. You should listen to the persistent voice that cautions you to hurry through (or better still avoid) a dark ally in a dangerous neighborhood. The fear that grips you when you lean out of a window of the 112th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper is valuable. In both situations, our reptilian brain alerts us to real danger.
For the most part, those of us who live in safe, protected worlds are not often in real physical danger. Yet, I’m sure that every reader will agree that doubt and fear are frequent visitors. And, yes, you usually respond with fight, flight, or inactivity.
Remember the time in the fourth grade you had to sing the solo at the school concert in front of all the parents? Or the time you had to ask that good looking boy out on a first date? Or the day you decided to register for the toughest course at your college or University? Or the day you dreamed about writing a book or starting a company? Actually, doubt and fear often surface only a couple of days after you’ve had one of these big ideas, but they always appear!
In each of these cases, your reptilian brain is responding in a protective manner. The serpent’s voice rings loudly in the chambers of your mind, usually in the form of a daunting question. “What if you forget your words and all the parents laugh at you? What happens if he rejects you? What will people think if you fail the difficult course? What happens if nobody reads your book, or nobody patronizes your new business?”
Do you think that the reptilian brains of Steve Jobs, Rosa Parks, Taylor Swift or Nelson Mandela asked these questions before they set out to change the world? You bet! They, and all successful people, have the same brains we do – the same survival instincts. So, something is happening in their brains to negate or override these formidable negative emotions that barricade the rest of us from the huge success we desire.
Not surprisingly, the secret lies in Mother Nature’s most recent gift, our cerebral cortex. Our cognitive centers are the only parts of our brain under our complete voluntary control. This gives us the ability to imagine, desire, then deliver success.
Successful people employ several different strategies for managing their serpent voices. In each instance, they invoke the power of their cognitive brains.
First, they question the negative voices. They push back, demanding reasons for the fear and doubt. “Why should the parents laugh at me at the concert? Aren’t all they all just proud and happy? Don’t they want me to succeed?”
They challenge their reptilian brains. “I am smart. I have passed all my other courses this year. There is every reason to believe that I will be up to the challenge of this tough course.”
They repeat their positive arguments and beliefs. Each morning when the writer sits at her desk, the little voice starts chipping away at her confidence. To counter this, she floods her mind with positive thoughts and images of her as an accomplished writer. She visualizes success. The weight of these thoughts drown the plaintive bleating of her protective brain.
And if all this fails, they distract their negative brains, busying themselves with the important tasks required to build a new business. Before long, it’s done, and happy customers are leaving the store with loaded shopping carts.
Remember, the cognitive brain is under our complete voluntary control. The first step towards success is to understand that doubt and fear seldom alert us to real danger. The four counterstrategies above are within the capabilities of each and every one of us. We can practice them and perfect them. This is the proven road to success.
Your success is always in your own hands.