- The place where fear lives has no eyes….
It is that primordial. We choose what to fear, even though our fear-response is so fast it seems involuntary. Indeed, part of our brain is actively scanning for danger every 400 ms as we go about our day, so we are filtering innumerable data signals from our environment. How empowering to realize that we alone assign meaning to the events in our lives. I see a dog and I feel love, but you may feel terror. Whether that is chosen or not varies by the state the person’s in, their context, and even changes for that individual over time.
Yes, we fabricate fear. And thank goodness. We learned as children to actively and intelligently choose to assign meaning to threatening facial expressions as dangerous for example, because acceptance and belonging often meant survival more than self-actualization. Not because those threatening faces would cause us physical pain by biting us as a sabre-toothed tiger might, but perhaps because of the risk of equally powerful emotional pain such as risk to our sense of belonging/acceptance, credibility/worth; when a value we hold dear is in danger of being breached, we have learned to assign and respond with fear. Research has shown that emotional pain is recorded in the same region of our brain as physical pain when measured by functional MRI. Not surprising then, that days and lifetimes spent in threatening environments develop hair triggers and unconscious emotional drives determined to have our needs met. Since our emotional brain has no access to logic, strategies it chooses to address unmet needs may turn out to be brilliant, or destructive. But I’ll post about that another day.
Triggers are assigned meaning based on what we experience
These fight-flight-freeze risk triggers were lifesaving and secured our survival when our prehistoric ‘big brain’ intellect/executive functions were being remodeled, so long ago. The importance of triggers was locked in because they protected us well when we learned from our lived experiences (fear/pleasure) which shaped our stone-age best guess ‘prediction algorithm’. Worked great then, but our living conditions have completely changed. Our limbic Fight-Flight-Freeze system wiring hasn’t noticed or kept pace. So accept it. It is your and my job to learn to manage our emotions e.g. to listen closely to our hopes, expectations and fears, and to ask what is truly at stake here?
Don’t be swept away by your own emotion and monkey mind chatter.
How? By learning to recognize what is helpful, and what isn’t. Yes, definitely listen to your intuition, then slow down so you can ask “is this fact or fabrication?” Do your best to align your opinion with objective data. Substantiate the stories you tell yourself by double-checking how others perceive your assumptions about the world; our and others’ intentions and future potential. Reflect on the real meaning of that busy internal running commentary we call “monkey mind chatter” about what is going on about and around you. What genuine human need is surfacing? Then you can more easily reassure and quiet your inner dialogue enough so that you can here and be present with the person, priority or process which you are facing in the moment. This mindful living helps us to be enriched by the experiences of others, to meaningfully track our achievement and development, and to more accurately contribute to our lives and the lives of others.
We can ONLY be mindful by starting with ourselves.
Our life is a forest of different relationships and YES it is much harder to be Calm, Focused, Positive and Compassionate when we are being watched, judged or criticized by others. The fact is, we don’t know how others are interpreting us, so we’re most often distracted or accosted by our perception of what things mean. Sometimes it can be relentless or worse, violent and merciless. It helped us to be vigilant and on our toes. The system that was most successful produced a being who was a guarded nervous wreck, but alive. The easy-going non-triggered beings unworried about acceptance, belonging or that shadow in the background ended up ostracized and/or as a lion’s lunch. By that design, feeling unsafe was a good thing indeed because it meant survival. Now fast forward to today and this same excellent system which wired a “meaning-making” drive to lock in early learning, now has to be honored, soothed and reassured. Have empathy when a person feels unsafe and insecure. Their emotional brain “knows” it is crazy dangerous out there and they would be a fool to let their guard down and be vulnerable.
Have empathy, for yourself and others.
When a jackal is ready to bite you if you make a mistake, it is much less painful and in fact healthier to be guarded, vigilant and keenly sensitive to how our environment needs us to be, in order to reduce risk of injury. We are keenly wired to avoid mere discomfort, let alone actual pain. We wouldn’t have survived as a species if we didn’t have these innate forces driving us. But if the pain is generated from experiences in the past, today we DO have a say in managing the voice differently. It is a voice we have internalised. If you have Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) , know you also have the agency needed to make a change. You CAN step up to be the best version of yourself, rather than a compromised guarded one that is wisely protected from potential dangerous judgmental events from the past. Be bold. Be yourself. Don’t hide what you can contribute to the world.
ANYONE can learn this.
Know that you impact others, every moment, in every conversation. In the same way your spidey sense know when others are nervous or out for only themselves, they also unconsciously notice how you are showing up. Like it or not. Think of leaders in your past. You have likely been inspired by those who are confident and helped you to feel confident and competent when in their presence. Know that you too can choose the impact you have on those you interface with, by you being courageous and being your best. Recall that “we may not remember what he or she said, but we always remember how they made us feel”. You get to choose how you want to be remembered.
You can’t “try” to inspire others. It must be earned.
Other’s must choose to be inspired by you. You must earn their trust for them to truly hear what you have to say. You need to be safe with yourself before they will feel safe with you. Only then will THEY feel safe to be the real them, with you. At the end of the day, inspiring others isn’t something you do as much as how you are being. How you show up as a leader especially under duress, sits squarely in and is founded by your relationship with yourself. Be aware of your concerns, and how they show up in your leadership presence. Think you can hide them? Think again.
Leaders know things are done most effectively by bringing out the best in others.
When others trust and believe in themselves, the team is happier and gets more done, and you will get more done as their leader. Remember: being a leader is not about you. You will achieve far more and be better protected from burnout when you can better inspire others by being aware of and more effectively directly addressing tension and fears, then highlighting felt values and hope. It is an approach to life, like a mindset brought to your day-to-day job, rather than an action or task that can be perfected. In the same way we can never revisit the river, it is a moment to moment interaction, a presence, which shapes the relationship. Each conversation is unique. Leaders inspire trust in self. Leaders give hope.
Be the leader that others want to work with because of the way you MAKE THEM FEEL.
We each have a chance to be a leader in every moment. It is a decision. Choose to be in the moment, attending to those you are with and being aware of unmet needs which might be at play, and what will help others be courageous and commit to being their best. These are not rules or absolutes. They are mere thoughts and perspectives gained from my experiences which might apply in certain contexts and may provide a new lens. I would love to hear if any parts ring true (or don’t) for you? What have you found works better for you?