“I’m going to count back from three to one. Then I’ll say BUNGEE and you can let go,” the instructor said. Sure, I thought as I looked at the 140-foot drop. Let go of the bungee. I knew with absolute certainty that if I even waited until he said “one,” fear would have me clamp on to the handrail tighter than a bear trap and I wouldn’t be able to jump. So I jumped on two! Was I afraid when I let go? Absolutely. The idea that someone can be totally “fearless” is complete nonsense! However, we can learn how to have a more nuanced response to fear than mere panic.
This is Your Brain on Fear!
Here’s what I mean. When we are scared, the part of our brain called the amygdala (also known as the reptilian part of the brain) sees a spike in activity. This is the part of the brain responsible for the 3F Responses: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. When we are fearful, available adrenaline increases and our heart beats faster. Blood is pulled from our organs and floods into our limbs so that we can move faster. Our focus narrows and concentrates. (This is a good thing. After all, you don’t want to be noticing pretty flowers when a bear is chasing you.)
The Law of Associative Memory
Fear isn’t bad. It’s a survival mechanism and we need it to protect ourselves from danger. When we cognitively examine whether a situation (or a change in the situation) is life-threatening, then we can begin to manage fear. The challenge is that the amygdala uses the law of associative memory to assess the things that we “should” be afraid of. This means that if a situation is even vaguely similar to a previously unpleasant/painful situation, the amygdala sends a biochemical message we need to avoid it and the way to best do that is without a rational process but rather through a 3F adrenal response. For instance, if a spider bit us, every time we see a spider in the future, we are likely to beat the spider to death with the nearest heavy object, run screaming out the room, or stand absolutely still.
One other thing to know about fear is that it is a shapeshifter. It can morph into looking like aggression, or humour or any number of other forms that have us or those observing us misunderstand and mislabel it. It might show up in the obvious form of physical or verbal aggression, but it can just as easily show up in the form of withdrawal and complete shutdown that looks like indifference. Whatever the disguise, at its root it is simply fear.
Fear is Subjective
Something we all need to remember is that fear is subjective. There are things that you do without so much as a second thought that could be terrifying to me and visa-versus. Here’s something you’ll likely find fascinating and maybe even a little counter-intuitive: A 2008 study in the Journal of Neurology found that fear floods the brain with dopamine. In case you didn’t know dopamine is also associated with pleasure. When this happens, there is usually a“rush” of adrenaline and endorphins that can lead to an elevated mood. This suggests that scary situations can be pleasurable (at least for some people). Think about people who love to see horror movies. Their pleasure response at seeing the film outweighs the fear response of the incidents.
Courage is foundational for purpose-driven leadership.
What does this have to do with leadership? Often the things that are the most terrifying to us are also intangible. For many people examining their beliefs, behaviours, or any part of their past can create a fear response that is completely debilitating. Therefore, the purpose-driven leader must learn to face fear in all its forms. A leader must take active steps to develop courage. As we understand and develop ourselves, we begin to realize that courage is a cognitive ability that can be strengthened through the brain’s natural ability to adapt and change, also known as neuroplasticity.
However, let me remind you that courage is NOT the absence of fear. Courage emerges when we are afraid and we take action in spite of that fear! Your fear is there to serve you (by keeping you alive) and you must not allow it to rule you!
There is Deep Greatness™ within you that calls you to fulfil your purpose. Knowing that let me challenge you to come to the edge. Look down into the chasm of your fear and know with absolute certainty that everything that can and will fulfil you is on the other side of your fear!
Thank your fear doing its best to keep you alive and then step off into the darkness because on the other side is the treasure you’ve been searching for.
I can’t tell you what happened on the way down from the bungee jump, because I may have blacked out. All I know is that at the bottom I let out a massive “Woo-Hoo” at the joy of not only facing a fear but also at being alive. And I have never done another bungee jump. Sometimes facing the fear one time is enough.
Grab the mic.
It’s your turn, tell me: What great fear (remember not to measure courage by others, if it scared you it counts) have you faced and how has doing so made you a better leader and human being?
My Authentic Leadership Matrix is free this link! Why? Because one of the questions I’m most often asked is; What authentic leadership is and how do we define it? As a result, with years of experience and extensive requests, I created the Authentic Leadership Matrix. It’s designed to give you a clear process of how to perform in each of the five main areas that are required for you to become a world-class authentic leader. Start your yes and no evaluation to discover your leadership traits here: http://matrix.fullmontyleadership.com