Four questions to conquer fear – plus the ONLY way to transcend it
The company was in dire straits. Revenues were plummeting. Competition was squeezing them tighter and tighter.
Hard and fast decisions had to be made. In desperation, they locked the CEO, an experienced and intelligent man, in his office to prevent him from weighing in on any decisions.
Then, they all went down into the basement. In the darkest, deepest corner of the basement was a cubicle. In that cubicle a puny, frail man cowered on the floor in the fetal position, shivering and muttering incoherently.
“Tell us what to do!” they cried.
The man’s whisper was barely audible: “Be afraid. Be very afraid. Run for your lives.”
They all ran out of the building screaming.
It’s an absurd, unbelievable scenario, right?
Funny thing is, that scenario plays out all the time in our brains.
To watch the lizard brain in action, answer these questions based on gut instinct:
- Do more Americans die of suicide or homicide?
- Which is more lethal, kidney disease or AIDS?
- Which is more dangerous: skiing or flying on a commercial aircraft?
Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, has spent decades studying how we decide what’s risky and what isn’t.
His studies have shown that how risky something actually is has almost nothing to do with how risky we think it is.
For example, most people think skiing is safer than flying on a commercial aircraft, that smoking is less dangerous than being around handguns, that nuclear power plants are riskier than cars.
According to the U.S. government, in the year 2000 nearly twice as many people killed themselves as were murdered, and kidney diseases caused nearly three times as many deaths as AIDS.
Although Americans consistently rate nuclear power as one of the most dangerous of all technologies, it’s actually safer by any objective measure than most other forms of power. And two of the deadliest things in America are cigarettes and cars; auto accidents alone kill an average of 115 Americans every day.
What causes such gross distortions in risk analysis and perception? The amygdala — the coward in the basement of your brain.
In contrast to that yellow-bellied animal, at the front of our brain, just behind our forehead, lies the prefrontal cortex — the smart and experienced CEO responsible for planning and decision-making.
When he’s not locked out of decision-making processes, he can consciously, judiciously, and accurately analyze risk and perceived threats. He can override the amygdala’s fight-or-flight mechanisms. He can guide us to make wiser, better decisions that help us overcome obstacles and reach our goals.
The challenge is that, as cowardly as he is, the amygdala is powerful and often locks the prefrontal cortex out of decision-making processes.
One of my financial mentors, the late Les McGuire, once taught me a formula for keeping the cowardly lizard locked safely in the basement and allowing the CEO to stay in charge of our lives and decisions.
When we are faced with fear, Les said, we can overcome it by answering the following questions:
- What’s the worst possible thing that could happen if my fear occurs?
- What’s the worst possible thing that could happen if I never overcome or eliminate this fear?
- What’s the best possible outcome I can expect if I don’t overcome or eliminate my fear?
- What’s the best possible outcome I can expect if I do overcome or eliminate my fear?
Answering these helps us to consciously deal with unconscious, instinctual fear, thus reclaiming our decisions from the amygdala.
But let’s go even deeper. The CEO in our brain has a mentor who has access to far more information than he does, who can see far more than he can.
The CEO is smart, but his mentor is wise. The CEO is logical, but his mentor is intuitive.
This mentor I speak of is our spirit, the “I Am” that transcends both our physical urges and our mental thoughts, the intuitive awareness that observes our thoughts.
To permanently overcome fear and make the best decisions of our lives, we must learn to not only consult our mental CEO, but to get our CEO to consistently consult with his mentor. This is done most effectively through habitual mindful meditation.
The best, wisest, most powerful decisions that are made in love, not fear, and that propel us to purpose, contribution, and prosperity are made on a spiritual, intuitive level, not a mental level.
Conscious, logical decision-making, engaging the prefrontal cortex through Les’s four questions, is an effective way to keep the cowardly amygdala in check.
But ultimately, the amygdala can be transcended entirely through spiritual meditation.