Imagine humungous, bulbous, billowing alto-cumulus clouds building higher and higher in the sky. They are as black as tar at the bottom and snowy white at the top. It looks as if we’re in for a storm.
CRACK, rumble, rumble, rumble. Use your imagination folks. That’s thunder, not a malfunction of my keyboard.
My black and white Border Collie, Tip, catapults from her slumber, ears laid tight against her head, and she’s off, full tilt, as fast as her legs will take her. Where is she going? She doesn’t know. She’s scared and she is just running.
Does she have a safe place at home? Absolutely. She has a nice dog house that she uses for protection from the rain, snow, and coyotes that venture too close to the yard. But when there is thunder, she runs blindly. She is an incredibly intelligent dog, but under these circumstances, the expression “as dumb as a sack of hoe handles” comes to mind.
You may be thinking, “Cute story but what does this have to do with me?”
Does a similar reaction happen for you? Something happens in your life (the something rhymes with “it”), and you jump to reaction mode, as if on autopilot? You know what I’m talking about: angry outbursts, sarcasm, rudeness, aloofness, running away, or retreat. It doesn’t make logical sense, and it doesn’t get you the results you want, but you do it anyway. You are an intelligent human being, and yet, it still happens.
Why does this occur?
Let’s have a quick look at how the brain works – in dogs and in you.
Dog Noodle Notes (about Tip’s brain)
The intense sound of the thunder is a nerve message that goes to Tip’s brain. Her brain stem, the most primal part of her brain, receives the stimuli and determines that this loud sound could be a threat to her safety. A threat causes fear, and the brain stem instantaneously overrides all other brain systems and directs her body to do one of three things – fight, flight, or freeze. In Tip’s case, it’s flight. Is she really in danger of losing life or limb? Not a chance, but her brain doesn’t know that.
If I am near Tip, and hear the thunder, there is a split second in which I can catch her attention, and encourage her to make a different choice – to go to the safety of her house. If I miss that chance, she’s gone.
People Noodle Notes (about your brain)
As a human, you have the same primal brain stem and it works exactly the same as Tip’s. When you are hurt or frightened (physically, emotionally, or mentally), a message goes to your brain stem, the threat is recognized, fear is created, and you move into the same mode – fight, flight, or freeze. You lash out at yourself or others physically or verbally, cry, pout, become argumentative or defensive. You run, or at least leave. You retreat to your own space, and are unable to do anything constructive. You do and say things that you wish you hadn’t, and the consequences of your reactions, over time, can completely destroy your relationships.
I know this happens for you because the “fear” and “reaction mode” happens for me.
What is my reaction? Because of my personality style, I retreat, become aloof, and lose myself in my work. I become sarcastic and abrupt.
Am I this way to customers or friends? No way! I take it out on those closest to me – my wife Carol, my sons Jamie and Brad, or other family members, even though they may not have had anything to do with my fear.
Does it make logical sense? Not at all, but it happens, unless I am aware of what is going on and make a different conscious choice.
Just like Tip, there is a split second in which I have the ability to let the message move past the brain stem to the cortex of my brain, which is the logical and spiritual part of my brain. The cortex processes the message, considers consequences, alternatives, feelings, and allows me to make a different choice for myself and others.
The same applies to you.
How can you benefit from this knowledge?
4 Steps to Use Fears as Friends
These are basic, not necessarily simple:
1. Notice that feeling of fear, disappointment, discouragement, hurt, or anger. It may be: tenseness of muscles, heat, perspiration, scowling, tears, clenched fists, rapid heartbeat, and lack of focus. These are some cues to let you know that fear is present.
2. In that moment, STOP! Take a deep breath – or ten. This gives the stimulus enough time to be accepted by your rational cortex. Think about your reactive responses in the past to the same or similar experiences. Were you happy with the consequences and the effect on your relationships? Do you want that to happen again?
3. Wave your magic wand. What is the “best way” for this to turn out, and what actions can you take to achieve that desired outcome? Notice it says “actions you take,” not what someone else should do.
4. Choose and Act!!
You are a human. You have fears. They show themselves as: anger, defensiveness, frustration, or a need to be right. The reactions are not healthy for you or your relationships.
The truth is this: you are the captain of your ship! You are accountable for everything that happens in your life. You always have the power to make a choice – ALWAYS. And ultimately, not making a choice is still a choice.
Use the fears as friends and follow the steps above. You will notice a dramatic improvement in your self-esteem and self-confidence. Watch your personal and business relationships soar.
You know that relationships are vitally important. Treat them with care. Genuine happiness is impossible without them. Don’t be a thunder dog!