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Dance with the Fear

October 16, 2017

I will never forget an experience I had with my aunt when I was eight years old, as she took me to swimming lessons for my final test of the season. My mom and dad were out of town for some reason or another and my aunt was in charge of watching my brother and I. Leading up to this test, I was extremely nervous about not knowing how to dive off the board, do the various strokes, or tread water for an extended period of time. In the locker room before going out to the pool, I had an unethical moment; I told my aunt I was very ill and could not swim that day. She accepted my excuse and I was let off the hook. This was not the most proud moment in my life and I still think of it from time to time. I will tell you 30 years later, I still have “locker room moments” where fear gets in the way of achievement and rational decision making.

We will never get rid of fear, as it is wired into bodies originating from a part of the brain called the amygdala (often times referred to as the lizard brain). There are many researchers and neuroscientists a lot more articulate than I am on brain research, so I will keep my explanation pretty simple. The amygdala is an almond shaped piece of the brain that recognizes what it perceives to be threats and produces a natural "fight, flight, or freeze" reaction. This is useful to us when we truly are experiencing threats such as being attacked, walking on a high plank, and so forth. Fortunately, for me anyway, these situations don't happen too often; however, my brain and your brain does not know the difference between what is a legitimate threat and what we perceive one to be. There are many situations where our amygdala fires and we have that fight, flight, or freeze reaction I described earlier. If you are an athlete, you have this feeling before stepping into the batter's box or in the final two minutes of a tight football game. If you are an educator, you experience these feelings of fear before entering a difficult conversation, when others watch you teach, or before contacting a challenging parent.

As I have learned a little about the brain from

conversations with Trevor Ragan (@train_ugly) and reading the work of Shawn Achor and Seth Godin, I have realized we cannot avoid fear and must learn to dance with it, as Trevor and Seth have said. Simply acknowledging this truly changes the way I approach various situations. Knowing that I am going to feel fear when entering difficult or challenging scenarios allows me to keep the rational side of my brain in check. It is completely normal to experience fear and just saying that makes a world of difference.

How many times have you avoided an awkward conversation, ignored a challenging situation, or pretended not to know something because you were uncertain or afraid of the outcome? My assumption is you are like me and this has happened more than you would like to admit. Fear is wired into our brains and impossible to avoid; we must learn to dance with it and rationalize its origin. If we are experiencing fear, odds are very good we are going after something pretty important.

 

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