Change is hard. Whether it’s losing weight, leaving a relationship, starting your own business or any number of other situations, it can be really tough to take the plunge.
Even when we know with absolute certainty that we want and need to make a change, the process of actually seeing it through can feel extremely uncomfortable.
We are stepping into the unknown - moving outside of a norm that we have become accustomed to. Our mind enters into a constant internal battle about whether we are making the right decision, even if we know deep down that we are. We worry about the possibility of failure, and doubt niggles away at us 24/7.
We can find ourselves so overcome by fear and indecision that we end up doing nothing. We take no steps towards accomplishing our dreams, so nothing really changes.
Doing nothing doesn’t feel like a decision, so it doesn’t feel scary.
But the truth is, inaction is in itself the most profound decision we could possibly make.
By taking no action, we are deciding that our fear is more important than our dreams. We are concluding that our safety is more important than our happiness.
But I’ll let you into a secret. Action is the thing that KILLS our fear. Let me explain.
Fear is the consequence of our chimp brain. Our chimp brain is an emotional character that thinks independently from our rational human brain. It is ruled by fear, paranoia and greed, whereas our human brain thinks rationally and logically.
Our chimp brain is the voice we hear when we are trying something new. It tells us we are in danger of looking stupid or of hurting ourselves in some way. This can be very useful when we are genuinely at risk, but it is very distracting when we are trying to make a positive change in our lives.
It’s also the voice of our greed, temptation and laziness. When we feel overcome by the urge to overindulge in food, or are finding it hard to get up off the sofa to complete a ‘boring’ task, that’s our chimp telling us it’s OK to do the wrong thing.
We cannot change our chimp’s nature - after all, it is only trying to protect us. But we can learn to control our own reaction to its incessant chattering.
When new information is received by us, our chimp is the first one to see it. The chimp then makes an offer of advice to our human brain, and we must decide whether or not to accept this offer. If at this point we start to overthink our decision, we allow the chimp to win.
The chimp is a very powerful beast - in fact much more powerful that our human brain. Therefore, the best way to outwit the chimp and overcome our fear is to act before it can overpower us.
Action KILLS fear, because action shuts out our chimp before he or she can take over.
So, does this mean we should jump in head first without thinking? Take great leaps towards our dreams and to hell with the consequences?
Of course not. In fact, the most powerful thing any of us can do to enable change is to take small, frequent steps that take us closer towards our vision. That way we CAN jump in head first without taking huge risks.
How does this work in practice?
Need to pick up the phone to a bunch of prospects but scared of rejection? Pick up the phone and dial the first number as quick as you can. By the time someone picks up the phone it’s too late for your chimp to butt in - at this point it would be more scary to be rude and hang up that it would to not go through with your pitch.
Want to go to an exercise class but feel afraid of what others might think of you? Pick a class where you have to pay beforehand so you’re committed to go. Or buddy up with a friend and commit to going together. Make it so you are more afraid of letting other people down than of your fear of looking stupid.
Make the decision to act before the chimp has chance to sabotage you. Put in place conflicting, uncomfortable situations that will confuse your chimp. If this sounds overly simplistic then, quite honestly, it is - you are intentionally simplifying the situation before negative thought has the chance to creep in.
It’s a simple equation - allowing ourselves to be overcome by fear will lead to inaction. And if we do nothing differently, then nothing will change. When this happens, we are making a decision to place our fears above our desire for change.
But taking small, frequent and decisive action is the number one enemy of fear. And the more often we practice action, the less scary it becomes and the less often we will hear from our chimp.