It is very important to understand how fear influences behavior for a number of different reasons. You’re afraid to ask for help, you avoid a conversation because you think the other person won’t understand your point of view, you fail to speak up when your integrity is in question, you are indecisive with your decision making, or maybe you simply settle for less than you deserve. How fear influences behavior can be the bane of our existence …or it can be the launching pad to our freedom. The beauty of life is that we get to influence how we feel about our outcomes.
Understanding Our Behavior
Behavior all starts with stimulus. A stimulus is anything that cause us to make an action or inaction. What we think about, the actions we take, the patterns we develop all start from a stimulus. Something that we saw, heard, or experienced triggered something within our psyche that made us behave a certain way.
Now with knowledge of what a stimulus is, we can now dive into our behavior. The behaviors that we carry are just a cumulation of actions that have come from past experiences. So, our experiences are the stimulus to our behavior. The natural responses we have to a certain situation are our behaviors. One of the most basic examples of this is when our bodies get hot and we sweat, we know from past experience a cold beverage will cool us down. Or, if you ever unfortunately touched something hot, like boiling water or a hot stove, and it burned you, the next time you were around those elements you likely to stayed far way.
Situations we deem uncomfortable may make us act differently than if we were in a situation that made us comfortable. So, avoiding anything that give us a negative feeling is natural response for the majority of people in this world. Our perceptions of events largely determine how we feel moving forward. 10 different people can experience the same situation, but they all can feel and react differently moving forward. So, what is it about our past experiences that make us not behave in our best interest?
Understanding Our Fears
When you get the feeling that something is dangerous or painful or causes anxiety, that is fear. It’s the emotion that makes you feel troubled, annoyed, or irritated. In order to feel these things, there must be a stimulus. A situation in front of us that we see or hear about that trigger our perception to feel a certain way.
Fear makes its presence in our lives in many different ways. It looks like doubt, indecisiveness, and procrastination. You hear the term “potential” a lot to describe what is possible in the face of these different looks, but the only way to see potential come to fruition is to understand when you’re looking at doubt, indecisiveness, or procrastination.
What makes fear possible is our relationship with past experiences based on what we saw, heard, or felt. We tend to base our future interactions on these factors. The amygdala, which is an almond-shaped gray matter in the center of the brain, is primarily responsible for detecting a threat and sending signals to your autonomic nervous system (ANS) which has several affects once activated like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and released stress hormone cortisol (Call Ph.D., J.D., A.).
The signals sent to the ANS are based on what we associate or perceive to be a threat. So, in order to manage these signals, we must reframe our minds and change our associations.
Relating Our Fears to Our Behavior
A common misconception about fear in relation to not achieving a goal is that you were too afraid to take action, and because of that you are weak. Truth is you weren’t too afraid or weak to take action. You had reservations based on previous experiences. Maybe you saw how someone else struggled with what you were trying to do. Perhaps you were involved in a conversation that talked about how difficult it would be to accomplish the task at hand. Whatever the experience was, your amygdala sent signals to your ANS that a threat to your comfort was upon you, creating doubt and fear into your decision making.
If the experience of accomplishing the task at hand is non-existent, then there is a high chance you are going to have apprehension and reservation about following through. The only way to get experience is to create experience, and experience is created through opportunity.
In order to change our behavior in the face of fear triggers and stimuli, we must change our relationship with fear. Fear will always be present in our lives because it triggers a basic survival mechanism though our ANS. Just because you are fearless does not mean that fear is not present. In order to become fearless, you have to fear less, and that is done by embracing fear and taking action against it once triggered. This is how fear influences behavior. Reframe your mind to see fear as the launching pad to your success.
Ways to use Fear to Your Advantage
1. Use Fear as the Trigger to Take an Actionable Step
If you built a relationship with fear as the trigger to make you stop in your tracks, then you need to change your perception of what that fear trigger is. Instead of sitting there second guessing yourself while your body starts to overheat and your anxiety builds, use these bodily signals as your “GO” stimulus. Once you start to feel that internal pressure, use that as a sign to take one step towards what you have to do and build on that. Whether that looks like writing down an action plan for an entrepreneurial endeavor, initiating a difficult conversation without hesitation, or making a financial or emotional investment, you must act when your body triggers fear stimuli. This will create a behavioral habit of tacking problems head on when first presented without letting anxiety, doubt, and hesitation build toward the task at hand.
2. Allow Fear to Increase your Self-Awareness
Remember, fear triggers a basic survival mechanism through our ANS. In order to survive any situation, you must be aware of the situation at hand and how you are feeling about it. When you feel triggered take a moment to ask yourself some questions. What is the situation at hand making me feel? Why do I feel this way? What is the first step I can take to handle this situation? Going through this process will force you to understand where your place is in the situation and take action to move forward. Self-awareness is key in understanding how fear influences behavior
3. Attach Fear to Commitment
Whatever required tasks are causing you the most fear triggers are the tasks you must commit to 100 percent. Commitment issues are real, and they are normally caused by the uncertainty of what will happen next. Leverage your fears by turning them into mandatory commitments. This creates self-accountability behavior and once put into practice will make you a conqueror of your own reality. By converting your fears into commitment tasks, you are taking control of your life by choosing to go through obstacles head on.
Call Ph.D., J.D., A., John A. “The Anatomy of Fear.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 July 2008, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/crisis-center/200807/the-anatomy-fear.