Everyone’s story is different, but when they come to me it’s always because of the same issue.
- It might pop up when they see someone they’d really like to talk to and they freeze.
- Maybe the issue manifests during a conversation when they can’t think of anything to say and feel disconnected from the other person or group.
- Often they’ll see it when they’re attracted to someone and feel unable to express their sexuality (unless the other person is flirting with them first) and don’t feel comfortable with themselves as a whole.
- Professional stress can cause this overwhelmed feeling as well, and it’s the same reason why some athletes or performers choke under pressure while others flourish.
- When we like someone, we can build the fantasy up in our minds and scare the other person away with our neediness instead of being tapped into the romantic abundance that surrounds us.
The first similarity in all of these situations is that the more the other person, people, or situation intimidate us for whatever reason, the more likely we are to feel overwhelmed and freeze.
The second thing that these things manifestations have in common is that the overwhelmed person will feel that they “can’t get out of their head.” Their mind is racing for solutions to perceived problems and not finding anything.
The third situational similarity is that they cause us to physically tighten up. Our breath becomes short while our shoulders, necks, and other parts of our body tighten up in habits that become aches and pains later in life.
To put it simply, we enter fight or flight mode and we fly — sometimes quite literally as we flee the intimidating scene.
Why do we sabotage ourselves so often in situations that matter most? Why do we habitually choose lives that are short of our full potential?
The answer is that around ten-thousand years ago our brains’ self-defense systems — evolved over hundreds of millions of years for our security and comfort — developed a nasty defect. We developed a conscious distaste for what are commonly referred to as our “bad” feelings : Fear. Pain. Sadness.
It’s no secret that we’re not the biggest fans of these feelings. We typically try to avoid them at all cost. We medicate ourselves in an assortment of ways, and have evolved our means of distraction from whittling a stick to supercomputers in our pockets in around a century. Our flawed defense systems have never been more successful at avoiding our “bad” feelings.
And yet, we’ve never been more miserable. We’re plagued by epidemics of anxiety, depression, loneliness, addiction, and suicide like the world’s never known.
The fatal flaw of our defenses is that they fail to recognize our “bad” feelings as a part of us. In judging a part of us as “bad” — an especially powerful part at that — we’re judging ourselves as inherently bad. This self-judgement makes it impossible to feel truly confident in ourselves.
More practically, framing these instincts as “bad” negates the powerful impact they’re meant to have on your life.
Pain is necessary for growth. Any athlete will tell you the importance of learning to embrace and use pain to fuel them. Our muscles literally can’t grow without tearing. Pain is necessary for strength.
Courage literally can’t exist without fear. Courage is the growth that can only be fostered through facing fear.
Sadness educates us on what truly makes us happy. It’s impossible for us to know joy if we don’t know sadness.
Your full potential on this planet demands growth, courage, and joy. Your biggest dreams are scary as all hell. They’re so frightening that our brain calls them “impossible” so we don’t even consider it. Truly putting ourselves out there socially is scary and can be painful. People who become socially savvy don’t do so by avoiding this fear and pain. They do so by embracing it.
Fostering true joy might be the most important growth of the three, and it will get its own focus in Chapter 4.
There’s no trick, or quick fix to living your fullest potential. It simply requires you to face your fear, pain, and sadness and grow through them. The first step in this is not listening to the seductive voice in your head that’s already in the process of avoiding them.
Before you can even be aware of your feelings, your brain’s defense system is employing counteractive measures to intercept those instincts as quickly as possible. Fight or flight kicks in and your body tenses up in ways that minimize those emotions. Your brain starts spinning as a first line of distraction against them before trying to figure out how to make your “bad” feelings go away and feel “good” again. This is why I call the feelings we’re typically consciously aware the ‘tip of the iceberg’ — it’s what our brain has filtered and approved for us.
Like a governor on a car, when the car goes too fast the governor cuts the gas. Once we start feeling enough fear our brain cuts in and starts choosing the easier, more comfortable path. As we make more and more of the safe, comfortable decisions, our maximum speed moves lower and the more we settle.
The first step is to recognize that when our bodies tighten, the mental masturbation in our head isn’t helping us out. It’s not going to provide answers. That rush of thoughts is only trying to distract us from our all-knowing, primal instincts that we’re best served embracing in that moment — instincts that have long held the answers to achieving and conquering anything.