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How to Fight Back the Human Instinct to Flee When You Panic

How to Fight Back the Human Instinct to Flee When You Panic

In 2003, Aron Ralston went hiking alone in southeastern Utah. An experienced outdoorsman, the trail didn’t seem to present any danger for him. Things were going well until he slipped, dislodged an 800-lb. boulder, and was pinned to the canyon wall by it. With limited supplies and no way to call for help, he realized that the only way he’d leave the canyon alive was if he amputated his arm. Using a dull multi-tool and leverage, he managed to free himself after five days.[1]

    Aron could have lost his wits and died in the canyon. He had to be willing to fight for his life.

    We’d all like to stay calm under pressure, but the reality is that some of us panic, while others among us have the drive to fight for what they want.

    “Fight or Flight” Keeps Us Alive

    When faced with challenges, people tend to panic. Our brains do everything they can to keep us alive. When we’re afraid, it sends us the signal to either fight or flee.

    When you are afraid, your amygdala sets off a chain reaction in your brain.[2] Your amygdala is responsible for making you fight or flee, and it can even play a part in self-defeating behaviors and resistance.[3]

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    When your amygdala perceives that you’re in danger, it sends a distress message to your hypothalamus. The hypothalamus overrides the normal way your brain handles incoming information. It activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers what you feel when you are afraid.[4]

      We usually respond to a distress signal by fighting or fleeing. When your survival is at stake, you react without thinking. Your brain either tells you to stay on the path and fight through it, or give up.

      The Pitfall of Flight

      When you are in physical danger, your flight response can save your life. It’s not that flight is bad, but sometimes our brains tell us to flee in situations that aren’t life-threatening.

      You may feel the urge to flee when you face something that seems overwhelming. You might tell yourself a negative story about how you won’t succeed if you continue on your current path. With that mindset, failure is almost guaranteed. You don’t believe that you can make it, so you won’t. Flight can keep us from reaching our potential.

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        People who always choose flight give up quickly. At the first sign of a challenge, they jump to another task. This is the person who runs away from difficulties in their personal and professional lives because they don’t think they can deal with them.

          Make Fighting the Only Option

          You may have the impulse to run away, but you can re-frame your thinking. Next time you panic over some challenge at work, choose to fight by telling yourself a positive story. Replace your negative self-talk with hopeful internal dialogue.

          Even if your positive story doesn’t end up being true, it can be enough to keep you going. People who beat the odds often do so by visualizing an excellent outcome. When you know that your intention is to keep going, it makes you more persistent and keeps you motivated. Hope carries people through the toughest times.

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              Fight Like You’re in a Video Game

              If you take a moment to reflect on your situation, you can imagine a positive message that will override the negative story you’re telling yourself. Any time self-doubt creeps into your head, play your positive story.

              Make overriding your fear a game. Games are fun, and they break challenges into more bearable parts. Playing games that are too easy is boring, which makes challenges the perfect thing to turn into a game. Challenging games are more difficult, but they’re more fun and engaging.

              The best games have multiple levels, enemies that increase in difficulty as you become a better player, and achievements along the way. When you get an achievement, it motivates you to strive for the next level.

              As you play, you can look back and see your progress. You either fail and have to try again, or you succeed and get something good for all your effort. This process is addictive to players.

              One of the best ways to turn challenges into games is to break your big goal into smaller steps. Milestones help you check your progress and stay motivated. Achieving a milestone is like entering a new level of the game. Give yourself rewards and punishments so that you have extra motivation to move forward.

              Ralston’s brush with death wasn’t a fun game by any stretch of the imagination, but he did have certain milestones that he reached in order to decide what to do next. At first he tried to survive with the limited supplies he had. He hoped someone would find him.

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              When his supplies ran out, and it became clear that nobody would find him, had to take more serious action. After he discovered that his hand was dying from being trapped under the weight of the boulder, he realized he would lose part of his arm anyway. This knowledge combined with his ultimate goal of survival led him to do what he had to do.

              Even though his work was gruesome, he described grinning when he realized he was going to make it out of the canyon. When he freed himself, he got over the largest hurdle in his ordeal.

              Keep on Playing

              If Aron Ralston decided not to fight, he would have died. For him, there was nowhere to run, but if he fought he stood a chance at making it.

              People who reach their fullest potential don’t give up easily. They don’t run away at the first sign of trouble. They take the hits and keep going.

              However, there are some times when you do have to quit in order to win. Be on the lookout for my next article on when you should quit in order to get ahead.

              Reference

              More by this author

              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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              Last Updated on August 7, 2020

              40 Acts of Kindness to Make the World a Better Place

              40 Acts of Kindness to Make the World a Better Place

              “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

              So, you want to change the world? Who says you can’t?

              You’ve had the power this whole time. You just have to tap into it and embrace the ways you make changes.

              You can start small or go big. The important thing is that you try. Even in little ways, we can change the world. It’s up to you to show up and make that difference.

              Here are 40 acts of kindness to make the world a better place.

              1. Give a Compliment

              Tell someone that you care about them by complimenting them. It can be a big compliment or a small one. The point is that you share what good you see in them. That will help them develop confidence and a stronger sense of self.

              2. Volunteer

              There’re many reasons why doing voluntary work is good for you. Find a good cause you care about and give your time to it. Serve in some way. Volunteering transforms your hard work into other people’s happiness. This is one of the most common acts of kindness that you can do.

              3. Contribute to a Charity

              Similarly, charities also contribute to other people’s happiness even with minimal effort from you. If you can’t serve a charity or nonprofit, you can give financially or even raise money with a fundraiser. Volunteering and contributing to charity are acts of kindness that require sacrifice but are definitely worth it.

              4. Visit Someone

              People may know you care but are you present with them? It’s best to give your time to those you care about and show them that they matter to you. Go and visit them while you can. This simple act of kindness can go a long way.

              5. Listen

              When someone talks, are you really listening? A person will feel like you are listening if you actively respond and can repeat back what they’ve said, asking questions to further probe their problems. Regardless if you’re actively or passively listening, listening has positive effects on others, which is a step towards making the world a better place.

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              6. Show Empathy

              Show empathy – feel what someone else is feeling. Put yourself in their place. They may need that, and this shows that you understand what they are going through, which can help make them feel better. Showing empathy is one of the simplest yet best ways acts of kindness can manifest.

              7. Point out the Positive for Someone

              Not everyone can see the positive side of things, especially if they are going through very rough times. It may make their day though if you show it to them. Then, they can enjoy it, too.

              8. Help Someone With Something

              Do you have some skills to offer? Do you have the ability to help out? It doesn’t matter how you can help, just find some way to be of use to someone. You never know how doing so might find its way back to you. Ask how you may be of help, and it just might make someone’s day a lot better.

              9. Give Input or Advice

              Someone may benefit from what you know. You may have the experience that they don’t have. When you give input about something using your expertise (whether a little or a lot), you are more appreciated for doing so. Valid criticisms and feedback are always welcome, and they may even help others improve their situation.

              10. Lead Others

              You may now know it, but people may be looking to you as an example of what to do. You can lead them from point A to point B, maybe because you’ve gotten there yourself or because they trust you. Regardless, leading others is one of the best acts of kindness that you can do for others.

              11. Promote Someone

              Show off someone’s skills and their value. This will make them feel good enough as well as touched by this act of kindness. Promoting someone not only benefits them economically or financially, but it also helps them mentally and emotionally, knowing that you believe in them.

              12. Solve a Problem for Someone

              You don’t have to have all the answers. But if you have solved a problem for someone, they will look at you as if you do. That’s rewarding in and of itself.

              13. Tell Someone That They Matter

              People don’t always know their worth. Some people don’t recognize that they and what they do matter to others. If you tell them that they are worthwhile, they will feel better and be able to do better. They will look to you for strength at first, then to themselves.

              14. Teach Someone a New Skill

              You don’t have to be a teacher to share your knowledge. If you teach someone a new skill, they will spread the knowledge and your influence may extend to more people. This is a simple yet effective act of kindness that can help improve the world.

              15. Plant a Tree, Clean up Trash, Recycle, Get Educated

              Even in simple ways, taking care of the environment is important in making the world a better place. You must care about nature and its value. We are connected to nature, and nature is a big part of our world.

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              16. Start a New Initiative Toward Social Good

              You may not be the only one interested in an idea, but you may be the first to act on it. Lead others towards this initiative and see the goodness spread. Any initiative that benefits society will benefit the whole world.

              17. Analyze if Products Are Ethical

              In the current consumer culture, we often want instant gratification. But that’s not always safe or effective. We must look into the ethical practices behind the products we consume. Our consumption should be consistent with what we stand for, and we should spread the message to gain greater awareness of the right kind of products.

              18. Ask Questions

              This is called being considerate. When you ask someone a question, you are showing interest in and building their confidence to talk about themselves.

              19. Make a New Friend

              We can’t have a list of acts of kindness without including this one. Everyone needs friends. We must hold onto each other not hurt each other. Having friends means we’re no longer alone. You can share more and do more when you have a friend.

              20. Positive Reinforcement

              Rather than just criticizing someone for what they did wrong, praise and reward good behavior, too. This is especially useful when dealing with kids or in the workplace. Learn the benefits of positive reinforcement: Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

              21. Be Honest

              This may just be a simple act of kindness, but people will feel respected if you are honest with them. It may not solve everything, but it helps them know you are trustworthy and that you care about them.

              22. Give Your Time

              Giving your time to help others shows them that you will be there for them no matter what. Your time is the most valuable thing that you can give, and this can encourage them to give their time to others as well.

              23. Be Accountable

              If you make a mistake, that’s okay. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. But be accountable and try to make things better. This will let others know that they can rely on you.

              24. Learn

              Learn from someone. Listen to someone’s story, learn how someone does something, and be teachable. We can’t learn everything, so there will always be something new for us to learn.

              25. Love

              Love makes the world go round. Love is the ultimate manifestation of kindness. And when you love someone, let them know it. Let them feel that you are in their life for the right reasons and that you want to be there for them.

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              26. Stand for Something

              Society has many problems, and there are many causes to choose from. Find something you are passionate about such as a social justice issue, environment, animals, etc. The list goes on. What’s important is that you show conviction toward a good cause.

              27. Write a Note of Encouragement

              A nice note can turn someone’s day around. As long as what you wrote is from the heart, the recipient will feel that it is and will feel better than before.

              28. Say “Thank you”

              Saying “thank you” is often taken for granted. Such an act of kindness is often overlooked, but it’s still as important as before. Saying “thank you” is how you can make some feel appreciated and supported.

              Here’re 60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life.

              29. Heal Someone

              If you can heal someone, you can make the world a better place. You can heal them emotionally, physically, or spiritually and if you heal them, they will never forget it. You will feel healed in your heart, too.

              30. Be an Advocate

              Stand up for someone or something. Sometimes, it’s not easy to do the right thing, but if you want to show that you care, you have to put a stop to any form of injustice. You may be the only one to take that stand. Know that it matters.

              31. Raise Someone

              Raising a human being is just one contribution that you can make in the world. This may be more complicated than the other acts of kindness, but it’s just as impactful. You can leave a legacy on the person who grows up under your care.

              32. Embrace Community

              “No man is an island.” It’s a common saying but it speaks the truth. We are meant to be social beings in need of each other. That is why we have communities. You can help a community flourish through what you bring to the table.

              33. Hold Space for Someone

              This means having no judgment. It is unconditional care and support without trying to solve someone else’s problems. It may be kinder than talking over them or taking over. Let them be, and let them know you’re there.

              34. Forgive

              Grudges hold us back. Second chances give us more life. It’s not just for them, it’s for us. When the situation is appropriate, be the bigger person and you will have a better life. Forgiveness may not come easy, but you’ll find that it transforms everything it touches.

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              Learn How to Forgive and Live a Happy Life Again (A Step-By-Step Guide).

              35. Give a Gift

              If you give a gift, someone will have something that makes them think of you. They also learn that they are deserving of kindness, and they may feel good about themselves.

              36. Keep Your Promises

              People look to you for consistency. They want to know that they can count on you. Show them they can by keeping your promises.

              37. Just Be Nice

              Other acts of kindness require more effort, but you can just be nice and this will contribute to having a better world. The important thing is to always be aware of your words and actions.

              38. Make Others a Priority

              When was the last time you checked in with someone else and their wellbeing? How high up the list do you put them? Make them a priority and show them that they are being heard.

              39. Meet Someone Where They’re at

              You may not understand someone’s point of view or see a lack of experience compared to your own. But you can still meet them where they are and how they are still important to you. Find ways to use this to teach them how to be better. Find grace, patience, and understanding.

              40. Save a Life

              If someone’s in need and you answer the call, that simple act can change everything. Sometimes, the little things we do can already save or change the lives of others. Make the world a better place by saving those within it. This is the greatest thing you can do with all your talents, money, and time.

              Final Thoughts

              Can you think of more ways to make the world a better place? Then do it. Invite others to do it with you, too. This will change the world, but it will also change you. You will become happier and healthier to have done so.

              Use this list anytime you need a good idea or a simple reminder of what you can do. No matter what you do, you are a hero. How you live is your legacy.

              Featured photo credit: Andrea Tummons via unsplash.com

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