I recently shared while doing a corporate training about a time in my life when I had gotten used to being late and had habits for being late while living in Southern California. I had moved to Austin where the culture was different, and people were not late as a matter of routine. I still was, and I developed a new habit to support my old SoCal habit— I would listen to the radio for where accidents were so I could explain (lie!) my tardiness. I know, that sounds crazy. Maybe even outrageous- I know it does to me when I look back at it from what I know now and who I am now.
You might wonder what had someone do that, what is so important that you would fabricate an excuse for being late. It is actually quite simple. I was protecting my reputation- I wanted to look good. I did not want someone to think I was ‘bad’.
My brain, just like your brain, is designed to protect and defend itself from any threats. That is what keeps us alive- we appreciate that about our brains! The perception of threat in my brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat to life and one that is simply an unwitting reminder of what seemed like a threat from my childhood. As people, our drive is to belong and be accepted or thought well of, so when there is a chance that we might not, the neural pathways of threat in our brains are lit up! Our brains spew nasty neurochemicals that keep us alive, but get us into the fight, flight, freeze or appease reaction. When that survival reaction happens, we will do whatever we need to in order to survive or what we think it takes to survive that moment, including lie.
Why is this important? If you can begin to identify when there is a perceived threat, you can notice what your reaction is and learn to calm your brain’s response down. When you are able to do this, you are also able to interrupt this automatic pattern and create new neural pathways. When you don’t react, automatically, you can expand your results in your work or in your life. When you are not threatened, you get freedom to create big things in life.
Look to see how many times you react to something that is not really a threat, but it seems like it. Some places to look or ways to look— when you are concerned about what other people think, like you want to be liked and are driven to be liked. One hint-if you don’t say something when you know you should because you are afraid of their reaction, for example. You worry when someone looks at you a ‘certain way’. You tell partial truths, white lies or fabrications about insignificant things. The other side of the coin, so to speak, is when you have worked to have people think well of you, and you are afraid to take risks, as if you think you fail, you will lose your reputation. That, too, is highly threatening. Again, this is all because, as a species we are driven to belong.
What would you do, what would you create if you knew you could not fail- that you would not lose your standing, that people would still think well of you?
I invite you to think big, stretch yourself, and create whatever that is for yourself. Notice your threat reactions, and begin to break them by reminding yourself, there is no REAL threat, and retrain your brain!