The last couple of weeks we have looked at how the brain comes to conclusions. Your brain makes judgments about the world, other people, and you! Most of the time these judgments are correct and accurate. There are times, however, when the brain makes an inaccurate judgment.
This is primarily due to what you think. Last week we looked at how thinking can become distorted (skewed, incorrect, inaccurate) based on previous experiences, what you have been told by others, or even what you tell yourself. These thoughts will cause you to have negative and upset feelings. I am here to tell you, these thoughts will also impact your behavior. Everyone has the same emotions because we are all human. Feelings are universal. What is unique for all of us is our thinking and the behaviors that accompany those feelings.
Martha Monroe, Brian Day, and Mona Grieser, in their book, Environmental Education and Communication for a Sustainable World state, “Knowledge alone doesn’t harm or help the environment. Human attitudes don’t harm or help the environment. Human behaviors, on the other hand, have greatly harmed, yet hold a great deal of hope for helping, the environment”. In other words, what you think and know is not harmful or wrong. What you feel is not wrong or harmful. But what you do with those thoughts and feelings can either help you or harm you.
We all experience fear, stress, frustration, and distress. But for some, these feelings are crippling, disabling, and can completely limit the person. Fear for others is a motivator, encourager, and a will to survive. Psychology Today explains that fear is a necessary reaction that helps us protect ourselves. So then why, when exposed to the same scary situation, will some thrive and others struggle to survive?
It is all about the thought content in your mind. People fear change. Change is scary because it is unknown. The brain has not had this experience yet so it is not sure what judgment to come too. When the brain struggles to make a conclusion it can cause feelings of upset, confusion, and fear. The brain will make a conclusion based on what is known about your situation, your experiences, and your world. Not knowing what to expect causes the brain to kind of go “insane” and jump to wild conclusions. When thoughts are negative and worrisome a person will struggle, but when thoughts are positive a person will experience success. Every single person on this planet goes through this process, unless someone really does have a mental illness, but everyone will face upsetting situations, everyone will have thoughts about that situation, and all will develop feelings. You, my friend, are not alone.
How we respond is what makes us unique. For the most part people have 3 choices.
1. You can do nothing. When faced with fear, frustration, or another distressing emotion you can simply avoid it. Sure it may make you feel better for the time being. But denial actually can make things worse. Things will never change and your situation will remain exactly the same. So the thing that scares you or frustrates you will come around again. This time it is worse. I like to think of denial as sweeping things under the rug. Well that dirt doesn’t go anywhere. So as you continue to sweep things under the rug the pile gets bigger and bigger. Eventually the rug can no longer cover the dirt and you have a big mess.
2. When faced with fear, upset, and frustration you can run away from it. This is different than denial because here you acknowledge it, but you feel so emotionally overwhelmed you use all behaviors to get away. People will abuse drugs and alcohol. People will overeat, over sleep, or isolate from loved ones. All of this is an attempt to get away from the problem. This sends the message to your brain that you are weak. Thus we have a vicious cycle. Next time a situation causes these emotions you remember how weak you felt before and tell yourself you “cannot”.
3. The last option is to face the problem head on. Is this scary? Heck yes! The feeling is the same. What separates this option from the others is the belief that “you can”. Literally three little letters (n.o.t.) can make you or break you.
You probably see people and think, “they are so strong”, or “they are so brave”. You see them as having courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather courage requires fear. Courage is feeling fear and acting to deal with the situation anyway. Here are some tips to find courage even when you are scared, frustrated, or upset.
1. Consider the cost and your purpose. How will your life be different if you push through the fear? How will you be better? Consider “why?” you need to continue on.
2. Evaluate your thoughts. Identify negative thoughts, discouraging thoughts, and lies you are telling yourself. Then change those thoughts to be more positive.
3. Remember a time you were scared but you continued on anyway. Think all the way back to childhood if you have to. Things are scarier when we are children so if you were able to be brave then you know you have the ability to face the fear now.
4. Evaluate your resources. Who do know that can help you? What skills do you have to help you? What experiences do you have? Use these things to help you push through the fear.
Your brain may try to trick you and tell you that something is scary. Your brain may make up stories to frighten you and deceive you. The good news is you are in control of your brain. You choose what you think. If you do not like what your brain is telling you, it is a simple as thinking about what you want to think about. Rather then imagine the worst case scenario or all the times you failed before, think about how great you are and how awesome you will be when you face your fear!