Last week, I offered a simple neurological definition of Happiness – the constant pursuit of eliminating fear in how we feel, think, and do. This week, let’s discuss where and how fear manifests itself so that you can recognize those experiences both as they occur and preferably, before they occur. There are three distinctive scenarios for causality of fear: (1) those that we cause (2) those that others cause and (3) those that a situation causes. Any of these causes by themselves can release significant levels of cortisol – the opposite of the happiness hormone. Any combination of these or worse, all 3 together, can result in debilitating trauma that can cause long term or even a permanent state of unhappiness where no amount of happy moments can result in happiness. The absolute worst case scenario is when as a result of this, you, as an initial victim, now become a perpetrator and create a cycle of unhappiness. These are reasons to really understand just how powerful of a positive impact removal of fear can have on your life, happiness, and performance.
The ones the we cause are based on our own past experiences. Lay terms to describe this cause include “feeling insecure” or “not a risk-taker” or “lacking courage.” There are many reasons for this state but the result is that you own this, and you are solely responsible for this. The second one is caused by others. In the workplace place, it might be an abusive boss or peer. In athletics, in might be a competitor. In life, it might be a relative who brings out the worst in you. Make no mistake, in this scenario, though you are not causing it, you are without question complicit in it and an enabler. How so? The worse you feel about yourself (already high levels of cortisol), the easier it is for others to take advantage of you (increase those already-high cortisol levels). The last one is a situation. It might be a big meeting at work in front of key people or the last few miles in a marathon, the gravity (consequence) of the situation is so high, that cortisol levels reach the same levels as though someone has pulled a gun on you at a grocery store. Totally different situations but identical neurological reactions. You can understand now just how and why the experiences combining all three causes can be traumatic. For those in the business of high performance, whether you a leader in a company or a competitive athlete, you must have fear-removing skills to having a fighting chance to be successful.
The first step in removing fear is to take inventory of these causes. Make three columns on paper with each of these causes: You, Others, Situations. Under each one, be honest and list specific (about three under each category) and recent experiences (past year) where you recognize the cause of your fear. For example, under Others, there might be a business meeting last week where someone did something that caused you to feel some anxiety or fear and make you be extra cautious. Once you make this list, can you find common attributes in all those experiences? Are you able to see a pattern of what it is that you are really afraid of – what causes fear to be present in your life? If you believe in the premise of last week’s blog, that happiness is really about removing fear and if you can do this exercise this week, then you are now ready to pursue the removal of fear. Next week, I will share 3 very specific tips on each of these causes of fear.