We all know fear is bad. We know it has a negative impact on not one, but multiple facets of our life. We may even realize our fears keep us from success, that they are (at least in part) irrational, and can even wreak havoc on our health.
For those who default to fear when uncontrollable crises present themselves, this information probably does not seem very helpful, but frustrating. Knowing fear is breaking us down physically, emotionally, and spiritually educates us on the reality of living a fearful life long term, but educating people on the downsides of being fearful, or worrying, is not necessarily helpful if it does not arm people with the power to withstand various crises in a healthy manner.
We can’t always control what happens in our life, and what problems may present themselves. We can mitigate those potential risks, but that is only a small step in the right direction.
Turmoil and conflict are a constant in life. The occurrence varies from person to person, but there is no one on the earth that is able to live without some conflict in their life. How you react to those situations, however, is a variable, and I believe your mindset toward turmoil and conflict can almost eliminate debilitating stress in your life.
Have you ever wondered why certain people react differently to stressful situations? Why does the local accountant suffer panic attacks “because of his high workload.” While high profile CEO’s, athletes, politicians, and other people seem to thrive despite more intense trials and more frequent crisis. If circumstances are the lone cause of fear, the data doesn’t add up. People’s circumstances don’t directly relate to their fear level.
Jesus seemed to think we can control our fear levels, quite simply by how often he commanded us to “fear not” or “take courage.” This seems to be an insensitive request if we have no control. Just His mere presence is the first reason as He said multiple times, “Fear not. It is I…” (Mark 14:27) Jesus said in John 14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid…” Apparently, we must have some control here. However, simply “letting not…” can be more difficult than one would initially expect.
We have to re-train our brains.
There have been many medical studies on the correlation between mindset and fear. Specifically, in the context of your telomeres, and how fear and your mindset affects the length of your telomeres. Telomeres are in essence the “shoestring tips” on the ends of your DNA strands, and when your telomeres shorten your DNA can become, in a sense, frayed and you become susceptible to disease. In the book, “The Telomere Effect,” Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn talks about people with a “threat response” having shorter telomeres vs. people who have a “challenge response.” The number of problems in the person’s life can be the same, but the mindset of having “challenge response” vs. a “threat response” is the key differentiator between subjects with long healthy telomeres and short stressed telomeres. Your telomere length is greatly linked to how fast you age, and many other things such as your mental health.
Obviously, this science wasn’t around in the 1st Century, but the Bible has been teaching a “challenge response” to conflict long before modern telomere science came about. For instance, James taught us to “Rejoice in various trials…” and Paul boldly proclaimed that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (also translated discipline, and sound judgment).” This is a “challenge response” mindset, there’s no pity or victimization in his advice to Timothy or the churches being persecuted, simply a re-training of the mind.
I also find it interesting in 2 Tim 1:7 the parallel between power, love and a sound mind (discipline, sound judgment), denoting they are somewhat of a package deal. Fear clouds your thinking and makes success much less likely as you are only looking for potential crisis, instead of potential opportunity. Entrepreneurship is based and founded on seeing value creation/ opportunity and taking on challenges with eagerness. This is almost impossible if crippled by fear. Ray Dalio mentions a “challenge mentality” as one of his key principles of success in his book entitled, well, Principles.
Jordan Peterson, in his book 12 Rules for Life noted the positive implications to the brain with those who saw potential dangers as “challenges” vs. “threats.” Interestingly enough, a whole different part of the brain is used for taking on challenges vs. threats. Even if the problems are the same, and the outward reaction is similar, the mindset makes all the difference in terms of the cognitive effects of dealing with a crisis.
You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can stop the negative effects on your brain, body, soul, and spiritual life by choosing to adopt an “I can do this/challenge response” mentality, seeing problems whether big or small as challenges.
This will not only stop the negative effects of stress, but it will enable you to see opportunity through conflict and position yourself for greater success in the end. This is the parallel between the “spirit of fear” and a “sound mind” or “sound judgment.” Perhaps brave leaders not only can do more merely by a lack of fear holding them back, but also make better, wiser, decisions. Without dealing with the clouded vision of worry and fear.
Fear has a compounding effect on our brain, defaulting to “threat mode” that will lead to more and more common thoughts of what negative things might happen. This results In a situation where the things that trigger negative thinking grow in size, and become more and more frequent. The Bible tells us that “fear has torment”, and before we know it, we live our lives in a constant state of panic, and try to avoid any and all confrontation. We need to have difficult confrontational conversations from time to time, and delaying these can make our issues worsen, as we stew and embroil ourselves deeper in conflict and fear. People who think about what someone did to them, or what may happen to them can also take longer to recover from the stressful situations.
This is due to your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is responsible for helping you feel calm and regulates your digestive system and heart. Ruminating (worrying and “stewing” on past events where other people have wronged you or not treated you fairly) causes your vagus nerve to withdraw, causing the effects of a stressful situation to last far longer than the actual event, and compound its effect on your body and mind.
Fulfilling God’s plan in your life will require navigating through many trials and potential pitfalls, and it’s a road that is very difficult to navigate if every problem is a “threat.” Adopting an “I can do this/challenge” mentality is crucial to fulfilling God’s will, and becoming a top performer in life without self -destructing.
So, next time trouble arises (you shouldn’t have to wait very long), practice saying to yourself, “This is a challenge, I can do this!” and re-train your brain to see problems as challenges. It will eventually become a habit.
Do this now, so when God promotes you (to bigger problems with bigger opportunities), you will be prepared. Your brain will already be in “challenge mode,” you will make wise decisions and live out your life being a top performer without the health problems that ensure those who default to “threat mode.”
In my series “Only Believe”, I teach you how to live out a life of faith, not fear. You can order it today at http://www.karenconrad.net/product/only-believe/