June 11th, 2021 12:00am
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but over thirty years in medical practice, I have seen a lot, learned a lot, and feel I have gotten a pretty solid peek into the human condition. To be sure, not all of what I have learned is from my patients. My life has moved alongside my career, and with it has developed my own self-awareness and understanding.
When one comes to me for medical help, often the physical complaint stems from some life challenges. Whatever the challenge, the two emotions that seem to upset a person’s balance are anger and sadness, let’s even say depression.
And this is the way I see it. Humankind means you, me…everyone, possess a duality: a primitive (animalistic) nature and a Divine nature. The former dominates most of our life and human interaction. It is controlled by what I have dubbed the Automatic Brain (or AB). This AB has been with us for more than 200 thousand years, past down from our evolutionary ancestors, way back to reptiles. This brain inspects the landscape 24/7 to detect any danger, threat, or vulnerability. When it detects such, it causes us, automatically and instantaneously, to fight or flee. Therefore, any fight-or-flight reaction must have some danger behind it; in other words, a trigger.
The way I see it, Anger is always a fight reaction, and sadness or depression a flight reaction. One is not better or worse than the other, just that the AB had to detect a situation in which, to that individual, some danger, threat, or vulnerability had to be around.
These dangers, threats, and vulnerabilities about which I speak are usually not so obvious as a saber-toothed tiger (50-thousand years ago) or a mugger in our modern-day. No, the dangers this AB detects are stored in its data banks beginning in our childhood.
The dynamic of the AB is as follows: Sensory Stimuli (external or internal) hits the AB>The AB matches it against data it has stored>If it indicates possible danger>fight and/or flight (the only protective action for which it is programmed). And the AB will do whatever it takes, by all means, necessary to make the danger go away by either fighting or fleeing.
For everyone, the dangers are slightly different. However, there are some universal dangers. One is the danger of the unknown. The future is the greatest unknown of all, and our AB tries desperately to arrange it in a fashion so that it is predictable. That is one reason why we have trouble staying in the moment, in the present. Nevertheless, our inability to predict the future often leads us to fear it, or stated a little differently, often leads our AB to detect it as a potential danger. Therefore, the unpredictability of the future—financial concerns, relationship concerns, health concerns—can trigger us and cause fight or flight. Anger can be how the fight shows up, and depression can be a way the flight shows up.
Another universal danger is that of being one-upped. Our AB will monitor our surroundings for anyone or anything that might be superior to us, and therefore a potential threat. Well, what if, due to data stored from our childhood, our AB detects almost everyone and everything to be superior to us? This we see in low self-esteem causing self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. In these situations, our AB will have us fleeing such. To get us to flee, it may generate self-sabotaging thoughts to “protect” us from threatening situations or people.
Happiness is elusive when we are constantly fighting and fleeing. To access our Divine nature, we must get beyond the AB. Here are some ways to do that.
Overcome Fear of the Unknown
1. Take one step at a time
This seems obvious, but usually, the possibility of danger has us trying to predict the future to protect ourselves.
2. Don’t worry about being the best; focus on doing your best
When each step is precise and determined, and aligned with our individual abilities, gifts, and talents (not someone else’s), it will lead to a future that is right for us.
Ask yourself, “What am I going to do today that will move me in the direction of my best future?” Then take one step today, another tomorrow, and keep moving forward with courage and determination.
4. Get organized
As you take steps, write down what you have learned from the previous step and what your immediate goals are to follow up.
5. Don’t plan too far in the future
Since your AB detects the future as potentially dangerous, avoid planning too far in advance. Dreams and goals that are so grandiose can appear too “dangerous” or daunting and may cause you to fight and flee too much, never reaching them.
1. Begin to understand that self-doubt is a learned response
Our AB wants to protect us. Even though it can generate thoughts to help do this, it does not think. It only reacts. When self-doubt becomes familiar, and we feel weak, it will always cause us to fight and flee strength since that is unfamiliar, unknown.
2. Practice not believing, trusting, or taking direction from feelings of inadequacy
Just because this may be all you know, understand that it was formulated somewhere in your development and means nothing. It is only stored data. Begin creating a new set of data.
3. Embrace previous success
When we experience something that we view as success, it is quickly explained as a fluke or luck. The way to create new data is to understand that success, however big or small you may view it, could not have occurred without your participation. Don’t dig your heels in and try to find reasons to prove otherwise.
4. Understand that all successful people doubt themselves
The difference is that they are successful because they continue to move forward and view the doubt as more of a fluke than success.
5. Develop a mantra when you feel weak or vulnerable
I use the mantra, “There is no danger; there is no threat.” I say this, relentlessly, in my head many times a day!
6. Downtime motivation
The average commuter spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. Try listening to motivational and inspirational radio or digital media. When you are surfing the net or spending time on Facebook, occupy your time on similar content.
Many unpleasant and self-sabotaging reactions, behaviors, and emotions can prevent us from living our best life or, as I say, “live your everyday extraordinary.” By understanding the concept of the AB and implementing these steps, we can gain more control; thus, overcoming the obsolete and antiquated reactions that frankly have no place in the life of 21st-century humankind.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD