We have evolved for a simple world.
See tiger. Predict danger. Run from tiger.
And, by design, that process happens automatically, unconsciously and rapid-fire fast.
When facing a real physical threat, like a wild animal in the savannah, we did not have time to think through all our options. We had to get ourselves to safety as quickly as possible.
Had we relied on the slow, effortful, energy-intensive processing power of our pre-frontal cortex we would have found ourselves to be a tiger’s dinner.
So we relegated safety to our autonomic nervous system which unconsciously and reflexively regulates our breath, our muscles, our heart our organs in response to danger.
Now know this.
Danger is danger.
Our body can not tell the difference between a physical threat like a tiger in the wild and a mental, emotional one like the threat of not belonging or not being loved.
In the face of a a mental, emotional or social threat our body-brain reacts the same way.
Perceive threat. Predict outcome. React quickly, unconsciously and automatically.
Let’s put an example around this.
One of my clients was a mid-level manager working at bank, wanting to initiate a new project in her workplace and also secure a promotion. She had a goal to be more outspoken in group meetings, to share her thoughts, and to not back down when she was questioned by her mostly male colleagues and superiors in team meetings.
But instead of following through in meetings in a way that was confident and clear, she instead found herself keeping her voice quiet and her hand down. (She’s not atypical here, Princeton University found that when outnumbered, women speak 75% less than men).
There seemed to be conflict between what her head wanted and and what her body did.
And the conflict was this.
Her head wanted to expand her presence and work towards her goals, but her body wanted safety. And in the moment, her body won out.
The Four Steps to Shift
Over time we were able to help her shift through four major steps
- Awareness: Together we developed awareness of what was happening in her body during meetings. She was able to identify the physical cues
- Curiosity: Together we explored what these sensations were telling her. What they took care of
- Choice: With awareness and curiosity came the ability to have choice. To expand her perspectives. She could keep practicing her old habit or to begin to cultivate new ones
- Practice: We set aside time in the morning as well as throughout the day for her to practice new habits that would help her embody confidence and courage.
This client is still a work in progress but over time with continued awareness, curiosity, choice and practice she will be able to rely on something else.
Confidence and courage.
And over time, with enough repetitions, that will become what she does automatically.