How Your Brain Conspires To Keep You from Succeeding

According to accepted neuroscience, we have three brains: our Brain Stem, which controls motor function, our Limbic or emotional brain and our Neo Cortex or rational thinking brain.

The purpose of our Limbic or Emotional Brain is to ensure survival, and all the complicated emotions and behaviors that implies. It is here that the basest of instincts thrive: sex, fury, fight. It is short term oriented. It is visual, concrete and self centered. It is not designed to deal with abstract, complex concepts and ideas. In short, it is designed to protect us from threats either real or imagined.

It is this very mechanism that keeps us from taking risks and pursuing opportunities that would propel us forward. The Limbic Brain constantly reminds us of all of our past failures, fears, and anxieties because it wants to protect us from threats real or imagined. It conspires and protects us from reliving anything emotionally painful.

For example: Suppose when you were in high school you were called up to the front of the room to give a book report and you did a horrible job, were laughed at, ridiculed and humiliated by friends. Because of this traumatic psychic experience you vowed never to get up in front of a room again and relieve this demeaning experience. From that day forward the Limbic Brain attempts to protect you from ever reliving that experience. Remember, its job is to protect us from danger – real or imagined.

Fast forward twenty years and you are now an account manager who is asked by your boss to give an important presentation to a group of investors. You are knowledgeable about the content but are scared to death that if you get up in front of that group you will experience the same humiliation that you experienced as a student. For twenty years, your Limbic Brain has protected you by steering you away from possible humiliation even though learning to speak influentially in front of a group would earn you promotions and enhance your position within the company. Your Limbic Brain has conspired to keep you emotionally safe at the expense of career advancement and opportunity.

You know, intellectually, that learning to speak influentially in front of a room would be a good skill to possess, but you are deathly afraid of even trying. So you avoid this task and reject the idea. You have been told by superiors that you should “just suck it up and gut it out” and “get over it” because not being a good speaker is preventing you from being promoted. They have suggested that you join toastmasters so you can overcome this fear. Your Neo- Cortex rational brain agrees with that but your emotional Limbic Brain rules and you continue to avoid speaking in front of a group. You can’t stand the thought of being humiliated again you come up with excuse after excuse why you can’t do this. These are lies and you know it, but you cannot risk failure again.

This avoidance of emotionally painful experiences keeps you and countless others mired in mediocrity and stuck in status quo. If you are ever going to get over this fear and develop new skills and take advantage of new opportunities you must do what psychologists call “re-frame” your experience. This re-framing involves embracing fears and making them your friend. I know this is counter intuitive and goes against every instinct and belief you have.

If re-framing is the answer, how do you do it? First experience the feeling. Ask yourself what is the origin of this fear? How long have you had it? What does it feel like? Where is the fear located in your body? How big is it? Does it have a shape, size or color? What parts of your body are affected by it? Are your muscles tense? Which ones? How tense? Go with the feeling and experience the fear.

I know this sounds nuts and a bit New Age, but trust me this does work. Remember, I am the guy who has a psychology and counseling background. The only way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it. Give it a name and experience it. Once you do you will experience it leaving your body and liberating you.

You like me, were probably taught to overcome fear by ignoring it and putting it in a ‘do not mention’ box. I have discovered that doing so does not make it go away. What I experienced was that by acknowledging my fear and telling someone of it and how it was affecting me I eliminated it. It’s cathartic and cleaning. Hiding it and being in denial does nothing but keep it lingering and lurking always ready to inflict procrastination and hesitation.

If you are like me, your brain may initially dismiss all of this as hogwash and some psycho-pseudo mind game stuff. Believe me, I felt the same way until I tried it and saw my fears dissipate like the fog. I remind you again that I am The Sales Psychologist and have spent many years studying this stuff. I only reveal and admit it to you because I see so many people who have so much potential to do great things fail because they are paralyzed by fear. Instead of expending huge amounts of creative energy fighting and trying to overcome their fear success would come to them if only they would let go and embrace that which they are fearful of

If you hesitate the next time you have a decision to make or an opportunity to do something great recognize this and realize that your procrastination or avoidance is simply fear in disguise. Recognize it for what it is. It is fear working behind the scenes to trick your brain into engaging in safe and comfortable diversions rather than stepping out and taking daring and ambitious activities that will make your wildest dreams become a reality.

When you are afraid ask yourself, why? Where is this coming from? Why am I hesitant? What am I avoiding? What is my body trying to tell me? In other words, go with it and get in touch with it and experience it. Tell someone about it. Trust me if you do this you will find that fear leaving your body and you will experience great clarity about your goals and confidence in your ability to take action that will create the life of your dreams.

Let me know what you think of this post. Leave your comments below – I am curious what your experiences and thoughts are.

5 replies
  1. Charles Allen
    Charles Allen says:

    Dear Sir,

    In many areas of life, I function well and on time, an example would be in my professional work. But, at the same time, in other areas, I have been prone to procrastination.

    Your essay suggests that procrastination may be fear based. Perhaps so, and it is interesting. Surely, I would like to rid my soul of procrastination.

    Yet, when I procrastinate, I do not “feel fear”. In fact, it may be a time when feelings are numb.

    However, having read what you said, maybe I can link procrastination to avoidance and to fear. If so, it could be life changing.

    Thank you,
    Charlie

    Reply
  2. Duane
    Duane says:

    I concur! The clearing that can occur is very freeing!
    I got “stuck” in my career……and life for a very long time. Your example described me and my situation with scary accuracy.
    This area of personal development has been an area of interest for me for a number of years as I searched to figure out why I was the way I was. I have learned some very power techniques and have had tremendous clearing for myself.
    I am now able to facilitate sessions that help others overcome their ‘silent saboteurs’ and am continually amazed on how seemingly innocent occurrences in childhood can have such devastating and debilitating impact on a person later in life!
    Yes, the starting point is to face the fear/emotion and ask “what’s here?”

    Reply

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