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You’re Exaggerating

You’re Exaggerating

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Business people with stress and worries in office, You're Exaggerating One of our brain’s most important functions is to maximize our survival, and the fear system is a major component of that. The whole reason we feel fear is because a threat to our safety has been detected. So fear is really our own alarm system. The problem comes in when we let fear, a system designed in cave man days, hold us back in our 21st century life.

Many people feel that when they feel fear, they need to stop doing whatever it is they are doing. The emotion is so strong that we feel like avoiding situations where we feel fear. This is not the best use of our fear system.

Our fear system is designed to sound the alarm when we feel danger. But most of the time, when it goes off these days, we are not in danger of dying. Your car alarm goes off many times, but your car is not in danger of being stolen. You home security system often generates false alarms. When our own fear alarm system goes off, we need to do a better job of evaluating the threat and then deciding the best course of action to take.

To make things worse, the intensity of our negative feelings compared to our positive feelings is not the same. In other words, our positive and negative emotions are not symmetrical.

Which feels more intense to you: winning $100 or losing $100?

Most people say that losing $100 feels much worse than winning $100 feels good. In fact, they are right. Negative emotions, including fear, are felt more intensely than positive emotions. Our fear system wants to make sure it has our attention so that we will run from the bear in time to stay alive. So that’s likely why our negative emotions developed more intensely over time than our positive emotions.

This may explain a lot to some people. When you fight with a friend, lover, or family member, it feels bad, intense. The reason our fear system is triggered during a fight is that we have this need to stay part of a tribe. Being part of a group, back in cave man days, allowed us a much higher probability of survival than if we were a loner. Hence, the drive to get along, not make waves, be a follower, and fit into the group is quite strong.

What can we do to feel better? First, we need to see a yield sign in place of a stop sign when we feel fear. Evaluate the source of your fear, then move forward with your best course of action. Second, increase the number of positive interactions in your life compared to the number of negative interactions. (Listen to soothing music instead of the TV, watch a comedy instead of a horror show, be nice instead of grouchy!)

Speaking in front of a group is a great example of feeling a fear that does nothing but get in our way today. Why in the world does this fear outrank death in every top fears list I have seen? The cause of this fear is a self-consciousness about how we think we will be perceived in front of a group of people. Our systems are likely designed to help us keep our mouths shut in front of the whole tribe so that we will not say something that could get us kicked out. The chances of survival were much higher if we could remain a good conforming member of our group or tribe.

Our fear of public speaking remains, but there is no real usefulness to this fear in the 21st century, and it has likely derailed a huge number of career promotions in people who just couldn’t muster the courage to develop these skills. If you’re ready to conquer public speaking or another skill that is fearful to you, turn that stop sign that you see when your fear rises into a yield sign and proceed with caution to build your skill.

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