Fear, doubt and the lizard brain

Almost 2 years ago, I posted an article on LinkedIn titled Self-doubt vs Self-belief. In the article I discussed and reflected upon a podcast I’d listened to where Thom Yorke (Radiohead lead singer/musical genius/legend) stated he regularly lost confidence in his ability to produce great music. He went on to affirm that he found comfort in the process because it meant he wasn’t blindly producing music and, in turn, slowly whittling away at the quality of his work.

So, what does all of this mean for us regular folk? At the time, it helped me reflect on my performance at work. In 2015, I was the sole HR practitioner in a small organisation. I would regularly find myself in situations where I was the lone source of advice across a broad range of HR topics. I was regularly full of doubt, but little did it seem to matter. I was there, I was the HR guy, I should have had the answer. Through these interactions I realised that people saw strength in the ability to, when necessary*, confidently put my hand up and say ‘I don’t know’.

(*It’s only strength when used sparingly. The majority of the time, you still need to know your shit.)

The lesson I learned is that, when you give yourself time to go away and research an answer, several things happen:

  1. Quite often, you find that you were right all along and you should have listened to your gut.
  2. People are more willing to take the information on board because they know you’ve taken the time to provide the right advice.
  3. Those same people are more likely to readily trust what you say in the future because they know you will only give advice when you truly believe it’s correct.

I still find myself in these situations, but they happen less regularly because I’ve taken the opportunity to pause and learn so I can offer solutions based on experience and gut feel.

When I think about the role that doubt plays in terms of this blog, it’s completely different. There’s less pressure and less to go wrong if I’m incorrect. Yet I still feel fear. I tend to hear it, but I don’t listen to it. I let it percolate and then I completely ignore it. Why? Because if I listened to the doubt, I wouldn’t have ever started writing at all.

All that’s happening when I’m hearing or feeling this fear is that the most primitive part of my brain is trying to maintain the status quo. My lizard brain, the amygdala, is screaming out, trying to stop me from making a mistake. What the hell is this lizard brain? I hear you ask. It’s the part of the brain which allows us to react to a threat in an immediate and automatic way, without the rest of the brain processing information, thus gaining a split second that has allowed our survival for millions of years. In caveman times it meant you survived that saber-toothed tiger attack.

Despite our world no longer resembling a scene from Ice Age, the amygdala still works in the same way and is very strong. The lizard must be ignored.

My resolution is to remember why I’m doing this. I enjoy the process. I enjoy the work. The outcome is simply a by-product of the process. If I think about this in terms of my WHY – to have a positive impact on those around me so that they will be inspired to have an impact on those around them – then it leaves me no choice but to act.

Put simply, if I do nothing then nothing changes. There’s no opportunity to have a positive impact. If I write something I like, then there’s a chance it has a positive impact on someone and that’s the best gift I can give.

The takeaway from this long, rambling, stream of consciousness type post? When you embrace fear, great things can happen. When you doubt yourself, stop and think about why. If you think, even for a moment, that fear and doubt are being caused by your lizard brain then ignore it and run. Run in the direction that’s somewhat uncomfortable. I promise you the reward is on the other side.

Take the leap!


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