Is Fear Getting the Best of You?

The Long Island Coaching Alliance hosted our first ever (as far as I know) public coaching event on Sat, 4/5. Given it was our first time trying something like this, attendance was low. I guess you could say if we hadn’t shown up, the room would have been mighty empty.

That wasn’t so surprising to me. Something else happened that morning, however, that did surprise me.


Several days before the event, a woman had called me and said she was interested in attending with a friend. She was concerned about showing up for fear it was some sort of wacky group that was going to embarrass her in front of her friend. She wanted to come down because she was considering starting a business and thought talking with a coach might help clarify things.

She did indeed show up with her friend in tow. I introduced myself, suggested they grab some coffee/breakfast and a seat, and said we would start shortly. They stayed a few moments and then, literally, snuck out the back door.

To say I was puzzled is an understatement. I thought, "Why on earth would they sneak out?" And all I can think of is, "fear." Fear of introducing themselves; fear of what they might learn; fear of being seen by someone; fear of appearing foolish.

Unfortunately, much of what we do, or more likely DON’T do, is because of fear. The bad news is, this is purely natural. There is a part of the brain, called the amygdala, that is primarily to blame for our "fight or flight" response when faced with threatening physical or emotional situations. Some call the amygdala our animal brain. If a situation seems threatening, our amygdala is "aroused" and sends out signals which result in a release a variety of chemicals, including dopamine and different forms of adrenaline. Our brain & body automatically respond before we are even aware of what’s happening.

So what’s the good news? The good news is, we have an ability to choose how we react to these situations even though the brain has already started things in motion. This notion came out of a research project conducted in 1983 by Benjamin Libet and some colleagues. In essence, their work replaced the notion of people exercising "Free Will" with them instead exercising "Free Won’t." By this I’m referring to the idea that if the brain automatically sends out a signal for us to do something before we’re even aware the signal has been generated, we are not acting of our own free will. We do become aware, however, of the signal before it completes it’s journey (to our muscles/bones) and it is here, in these few milliseconds, that we can exercise Free Won’t and decide whether to allow the signals through.

What does this have to do with fear? When this woman and her friend started for the door, they were allowing their animal instinct and the flight response to rule supreme. Being aware of the fear, they could just as easily (or perhaps with a bit more effort/energy) decided to exercise Free Won’t (I won’t run away) and benefit from the morning’s events.

The next time you feel fear and begin heading for the door, ask yourself, "Is this the best course of action or am I letting my automatic animal response get the better of me?"

Then decide what response is the best response and take it. My guess is you’ll be much better off.

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