HOW TO REWIRE YOUR THINKING AND KICK FEAR IN THE FACE

2015-04-10_0047You know you were meant for something more, something great. You know you want to make a difference in the world with your time, your talents, and your passions. But there’s one problem holding you back…

The problem is…it’s scary. Following your purpose is risky. What if you fail miserably? What if you’re not as equipped as you thought you were? What if you lose a bunch of money? What if people look at you negatively?

These are questions that go through all of our minds as we consider embarking on endeavors that will hopefully make a difference in the world. But fear has the potential to keep us from doing so much. It can paralyze us and keep us from carrying out a brilliant idea. It can keep us in our boring day job too long and prevent us from producing work that will make the world a better, brighter place. We don’t want to let fear direct our actions, but it’s easier said than done to keep that from happening! So how can we go about fighting those feelings of fear, anxiety, overwhelm, and insecurity, and push through to pursue what we were meant to?

But fear has the potential to keep us from doing so much. It can paralyze us and keep us from carrying out a brilliant idea. It can keep us in our boring day job too long and prevent us from producing work that will make the world a better, brighter place. We don’t want to let fear direct our actions, but it’s easier said than done to keep that from happening!

One way is by literally changing our mind.

Did you know that we can actually rewire our brains? We know how muscle memory works: we learn to ride a bike, and even though it takes a while to get the hang of initially, we never really lose that skill. We’ve trained our muscles so that we’re able to go on autopilot and ride without even trying.

2015-04-10_0045Our brains actually work in a similar fashion. In the past decade, neuroscientists have discovered truly amazing evidence surrounding neuroplasticity and how our brains can be “rewired.” Our interactions with people, the thoughts we have, our work processes – all of these things are essentially creating pathways in our brain that become more solidified over time and as we repeat them. In the same way that our muscles go on autopilot when you get on a bike, our brain goes on autopilot with our thoughts and emotions when we experience certain situations. For example, if you experience failure and think, “I’m stupid, I’m inadequate, I’m worthless,” and feel the emotions that go along with those thoughts, you just made that pathway in your brain a little more ingrained. Next time you experience failure, you’re that much more likely to encounter those same negative thoughts and emotions. Someone else, however, might face the same failure, but experience positive thoughts and feelings that have to do with empowerment, creativity, and overcoming challenges.

The good news is that we can actually use our thoughts to take ourselves off of autopilot and change those pathways. We can, over time, change the way we react to or handle certain situations in a way that is healthier and more productive, and actually makes us happier. So, “looking at the bright side,” though cheesy, actually IS something we have the power and choice to do.

Here are some practical ways you can begin to rewire your brain to overcome things like fear, anxiety, and perfectionism:

  1. Choose your fuel.

Ultimately, the actions we take in life are fueled by our thoughts and feelings, and this has a great deal to do with our levels of joy and satisfaction. Although it might look the same on the outside, whether we are motivated by positive or negative thoughts affects us greatly – in our relationships, our work, and potentially every aspect of life. When I wake up in the morning, I can consciously choose whether or not I will fuel my day’s work with stress and anxiety or with gratitude and inspiration. My to-do list may not change, but my mindset can!

  1. Stay conscious.

When we let ourselves go on autopilot (which is probably more often than we’d like), our subconscious runs our life. When this happens, we’re not as in control as we might think we are. But when we stay aware, we can take time to ask ourselves questions like “Why do I feel this way? What am I believing that might not be true? What can I do to change the direction of my thoughts right now?” We are beginning to tell our brain that our old autopilot way of thinking and feeling isn’t cutting it anymore.

  1. Take time out.

Self awareness is powerful, and knowing when you need to take a timeout and hit the reset button is important. If you’re working on a project and feel loaded down by fear of inadequacy, if you’re about to go into an important meeting and are freaking out about what they might think of you, or if you’re so overwhelmed by your to-do list that you’re not actually getting anything done – take a few minutes or even an hour. Do an evaluation of your thoughts and emotions and honestly ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Go workout. Get outside. Get a meditation app like Headspace or Meditation Studio and take 10 minutes to just get quiet and refocus.

  1. Exposure therapy.

Exposing ourselves to our fears in small ways gives us the opportunity to practice that conscious rewiring. Maybe it means just having one conversation with someone about an idea that you’re excited but nervous about. Or perhaps it’s finding a way to speak in front of multiple people if you’re afraid of public speaking. You’ll most likely find that at first, your brain will go on autopilot and you’ll experience the same negative thoughts and feelings you usually do. This is when you have to consciously choose your thoughts, whether or not you believe them at first. Over time and as you practice, it will become easier, until you are a pro at overcoming those fears and positive thoughts become your brain’s autopilot.

  1. Practice Gratitude

Choosing to focus on what is good in life is a really powerful way to fight feelings of overwhelm, insecurity, and fear. Try keeping a gratitude journal and scribble down things you’re grateful for, either every day or whenever you are feeling unnecessary negative emotions. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t expect this to be a one-and-done exercise. Choosing to focus on the good things in life won’t change our habits overnight; however, if we do it enough, it will eventually become easier for our minds to automatically think that way.

2015-04-10_0048When doing these exercises, remember that practice makes perfect. You’ve most likely spent years, or even decades, building and solidifying the current pathways in your brain, so it’s only logical that it will take time to change them. Have patience with yourself and be consistent in your practices. For me, it’s helpful to have visual reminders that bring me back to the positive thoughts that I eventually want to be my autopilot. Choosing to repeat these phrases to yourself will begin to help you rewire your brain, until these truths become your fuel.

For a further look, check out:

Article: Psychology Today: New Clues on Rewiring Your Brain

Podcast: The Lively Show, Episode #127: How to Experience More Positive Emotions Everyday

Article: Mindful: Rewiring Your Emotions

Book: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

Photos by Whitney Schey

AbigailDriscoll