I know that might sound a little strange, even dramatic but if you think about it for a minute, it might be more truthful than you first imagined. Think of a visit to the zoo and looking at the lions through the five-inch-thick plexiglass. Aren’t they cute, majestic, furry, powerful and of course, dangerous? Yet, from our safe, vantage point, we can look in awe and wonder at these beautiful, magnificent beasts.
Now, take away the plexiglass!
Our limbic system.
Think fight or flight. That is the role of our limbic system. It is one of the oldest parts of our brain and most living creatures possess a limbic system, or a version of it. It is all about survival. Protecting the organism. In your case, that is you. It performs one task, about every thirty seconds or so. It just asks one question, am I safe. Back to the zoo and from behind the plexiglass the answer is yes. Take away the plexiglass and the answer, suddenly, is very different.
High emotions make us stupid.
Our body uses emotions to get us to do stuff. Think of the way you feel when you are running late for an important meeting. Those odd occasions when you have slept through the alarm, missed your stop or you are running late for a flight. There is some degree of fear and fear is one of our most powerful motivators. So, missing a stop on the train, more of a pain in the behind, than fearful. Being late for that important meeting, is more fearful but not when compared to the plexiglass suddenly vanishing at the lion enclosure.
Subjective Unit of Distress.
First, a few years ago, I designed and ran a course for students at Brunel University, London. Designed, primarily, to help them with exam stress. One of my favourite ‘lightbulb’ moments for the students was when we discussed a scoring system, taken from the therapy world. S.U.D.’s. Quite simply it is a score from zero to ten. Zero, representing, as it suggests nothing whatsoever. Ranging up to ten, being the strongest fear imaginable. Subjective because the score is given by the individual rating their own experience.
That ‘lightbulb’ moment.
Second, explaining that when the score was a 0, 1 or 2 that it would likely be the kind of ‘on the beach’ type scenario and the opposite end, the 8, 9 and 10 was when we were likely approaching or in a kind of panic attack. But the best part was the 3 to 7. Anywhere in this ‘goldilocks’ zone, when we are at our best and within our ‘operational norms’. The ‘lightbulb’ moment came when the students realised that it is natural to go into an exam feeling a certain degree of fear.
So, in conclusion, feeling some degree of fear can be beneficial. It helps to keep us sharp, focused and in the moment. If we are too relaxed or even complacent, then we are as likely to makes mistakes, the same as if we are wound up like a clock spring and feeling panicky. There is no bravery without fear.
Using our fear in the moment, can help us find the sweet spot, the 3 to 7 where we are not being lax nor freaking out, but performing at our best and maybe even, feeling ‘in flow’.
P.S. Fear and excitement are the same feeling in our bodies. What we think about it, is all that counts.