Your brain doesn’t just want to stay in the comfort zone because it’s comfortable. It actively fears the unknown. It doesn’t care if you know for a fact that you’re not going to be harmed just by changing your circumstances; it only knows that new things can be dangerous.
How daunting it can be that changing your life is all about facing new things: new people, new places, new responsibilities, and new experiences. You might even have to deal with a new wardrobe, a new lingo at work, or a new sleeping schedule.
You can choose to white-knuckle your way through that fear if you like, but there are two proven techniques for quieting, even silencing that fear instead: mindfulness and the “dare response.”
We’ve talked before about the need to learn the basics of meditation for true mental toughness (as opposed to simple emotional control). Hopefully, you’ve started to practice this (I recommend the Headspace app.), but even if not, it’s a simple thing to start using mindful meditation.
Again, as a Westerner, you need to separate the pop-culture prejudice against meditation as a “foreign” thing where you learn Kung Fu, or sit on a mountain for ten years, or fill your home with sage. This is about the simple process of paying attention to your life for a few minutes a day without multi-tasking.
Be honest. When was the last time you really listened to your own brain? Are you actively aware of when it hisses at you that you’re doomed to fail? Do you pay attention when it screams that you’re not giving it enough time to process the data you’re trying to shove into it? Or do you just impose your will, grit your teeth, and get through the day?
Mindfulness is about being aware, and thus receptive, to your own situations, needs, and strengths. Such awareness can let you know on a conscious level that your brain is fearful of change, and thus you can control it.
The Dare Response
When you feel truly anxious, the first best response is to confront yourself. Ask, “So something might happen, so what?” or say, “Whatever.” My personal response to anxiety is to smile and laugh. I have trained myself to visualize any of these feelings as an ugly, five-inch-tall creature. I take it out of my head, set it beside me, and tell it to shut up!
(Please note I am not talking about those who have panic attacks best treated with therapy and medication. If you feel the need to meet with a professional about your anxiety, no matter what anyone has to say about it, do so proudly in the knowledge that you are dealing with a health issue.)
After confronting your anxiety, let it come on. Ride the wave, and take pride that you survived. Picture your anxiety as funny cartoons running around trying to hurt you with silly, animated weapons. Separate yourself from your anxiety and treat it like an unwanted, over-inflated guest.
And like the guest who will not leave, shut it up and confront it. Reframe feelings of anxiety into feelings of excitement, and then take that excitement and direct it toward your next steps. Focus on the task at hand with the exhilaration of knowing your fears didn’t stop you.