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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 March 30, 2020

              How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life

              How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life

              We all know the feeling—when you sense that you are not completely happy and fulfilled with your life—things are not where and how you envisage them to be. You go through the motions everyday, angry with yourself and the universe for throwing you such an unfavorable dice.

              You can’t help yourself but feel a perennial envy towards those who are smiled upon by karma—the lucky individuals who seem to have the Midas touch and everything they undertake ends up with success, recognition and greater opportunities. Life must be so exiting.

              Unlike yours.

              We call this sensation many names: I’ve hit a wall; I’m not making progress; I’m stagnant; I’m moving in loops; Something is off in my life; I’m off balance.

              Or simply: feeling stuck.

              In this article, we’ll look into the reasons behind this feeling and how to get unstuck in life and live a more fulfilling life.

              Is Being Stuck Really Such a Bad Thing?

              Is it really so bad to be stuck in the status quo? After all, not everyone can be a super-star, right? What’s wrong with living a quiet life, with not many turns and twists and just going with the flow?

              True—there is not much fun in this, but there is not disappointment, anxiety, stress and ill-ambition either. Life is easy and uncomplicated.

              So why do we keep hearing over and over from the greats that staying is one place is not a good thing?

              Tony Robbins gives us an elegantly simple answer to this question:

              “If you are not growing, you are dying. “

              “Progress equals happiness,” he says. “That ’s because reaching a goal is satisfying but only temporarily. Life is not about achieving the goals, life is about who you become in pursuit of those goals.”[1]

              There you have it—staying in one place makes us unhappy.

              We all know that the comfort zone can be great. It’s like a warm old blanket you wrap yourself around on a cold winter night, cuddled in front of your favorite TV show.

              But just because something feels comfortable, does it mean it’s ok to stick to it forever?

              Progress equals happiness, remember.

              You may not even fully be aware of the small voice in the back of your mind that’s been bugging you, but you better learn to listen carefully—because you may wake up one day and realize that your productive life is gone and you haven’t achieved many of the things you wanted for yourself.

              Pretty gloomy picture, indeed.

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              Simply put, what the wise men advise us of is not just some self-help fluff for them to gain more popularity or sell more books. It is true—as you will learn below—that not moving forward, not even making the effort to do better or become better—even if you don’t always succeed in these endeavors—is a mental demise and a waste of your potential.

              The Common “Stucks”

              There are many reasons why you may feel stagnant in your life—some may be completely out of your control even. The main thing, though, is to be able to identify the reasons and then try to take some remedial actions.

              But it starts with an awareness—because you can’t fix what you don’t know about, right?

              Here are some of the main contributors to your feelings of stuck-ness:

              You Lack Purpose in Your Life, or the “Why” of What You Do

              Simon Sinek, the best-selling author and motivational speaker tells us in his famous TED talk that every successful endeavor—be it related to an organization, your career or personal life needs to begin with defining the “Why.” You need to be able to explain to yourself why you do what you do and what drives you.

              It is the thing (s) that gives meaning and inspires you to wake up in the morning and to want to take on the world. It is your reason for being.

              You Like the Status Quo

              You may like your comfort zone. After all, it’s…well, comfortable. But as we established, the good old blanket is not necessarily going to make us fulfilled in life. You can watch so many TV shows wrapped in it before you get bored.

              We, humans, still carry our ancestors’ fighting instincts—for hunting, for self-preservation, for taking actions to make our lives better. Inaction is not what made the mankind create all the innovations we enjoy today.

              The Good-Old Fear of Failure and of the Unknown

              Admittedly, it’s not an emotion to be taken lightly—it can be quite real and powerful for many of us.

              According to a Gallup poll done a while ago among U.S. teenagers, the fear of being a failure and not succeeding in life was at number four.[2] More specifically, this feeling was described as “making mistakes that will mess up my life,” “not measuring up,” “not leaving a mark.”

              So, fear can be a powerful paralyzer and can elicit a “safe-mode” response—i.e. stuck-ness.

              Your Crowd

              We all know the famous adage that we are the average of the five people we rub shoulders with. So, if your in-crowd is similarly stuck as you are, although it may be consoling at times, you won’t be motivated to make much progress yourself.

              It’s called a social proof bias—if everyone around you is doing (or not doing) something, then it is ok for you to follow suit.

              Comparisons to Others

              While comparisons are not always bad, according to the Social Comparison Theory,[3] they have to be handled with caution.

              Faring against others can make you very unhappy with yourself. Failing to recognize that your path is not the same as others’ and that there are many ways to get to an end-point (goal) can be very discouraging to taking the first step to unstuck-ness.

              Personality

              Our temperaments can also contribute to a sense of feeling stuck. For instance, you may be more of a passive, dreamy kind of person who prefers observing to taking action, pensiveness to gregariousness, solitude to venturing out in the world.

              That is, you have more of a slow-burn personality vs. a fiery one—therefore, it takes you longer to contemplate all alternatives before taking the plunge.

              And that’s ok. But you need to recognize that this may also be the reason why you are not progressing as fast or as much as you would like towards your goals.

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              And while changing who you are is hard (impossible even, according to some psychologists), there are things that can be done to make it so much better for yourself, which I will discuss a bit later.

              A final point to note here is that, paradoxically, it is possible to feel both stuck and unstuck at the same time. For instance, you can have a great career, but your family life may feel a bit stale, or wise versa.

              As our personal and professional lives constantly fight for the top spot on our attention list, the feeling of stuck-ness may also depend on where you are on your life’s trajectory.

              For someone who is younger and single, stagnation may be felt more vividly in their professional lives, as opposed to someone who is in their mid-life, where family takes priority—such individuals may not feel as down-hearted that they are not progressing quickly enough professionally.

              How to Get Unstuck in Life

              The neat thing about your path to becoming unstuck is that it follows the so-called Principle of Equifinality,[4] which states that the end state can be reached by many means.

              It’s not just one thing that can help you to start moving forward again. There are many avenues you can explore to find out what works for you and with your own story and personality.

              1. Show up and Be Willing to Do the Work

              Woody Allen has famously said that “80% of success is showing up.” That is, you need to begin with the right motivation and willingness to take action towards unstucking.

              You must want to improve your current state. And you must follow through.

              2. Self-Reflection

              Spend some time alone. You need to figure out why you are stuck—that is, what is the root of your discontent. Meditation may help here too. But this step is essential:

              Packing on some self-knowledge and awareness on why you are where you are in life can help you discover a whole new universe of ideas on how to make it better for yourself.

              It is as the saying goes: Identifying the problem is half of the solution.

              Start to do self-reflection with the help of this article: The Power of Self-Reflection: Ten Questions You Should Ask Yourself

              3. Break a Sweat

              There is an avalanche of research on the benefits of exercising for the body and the mind. The latest research tells us that if you want to put your mind in the best possible focus shape, a 15-minute jog will do the job better than 15 minutes of relaxation and meditation.[5] It also clears your thinking, improves your attention spans, and can generally make you feel like a “brand new person.”

              4. Find a Purpose

              As I already touched-upon, the “Why” behind your actions is a prime driver of self-progress. If you link your goals—be them personal or professionals—to a “bigger-than-me” aspiration, then it will be so much easier to convince yourself to keep moving.

              According to recent research,[6] we all have a specific purpose-seeking style—similar to our own way of writing, dancing or speaking.

              There are four types or “Whys”—creative, prosocial, financial and personal recognition. The prosocial approach to finding meaning, though, which is based on kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others, is the best one in the long-run—it was shown to lead to greater caring, integrity and personal growth.

              Here’s How to Find Purpose in Life and Make Yourself a Better Person.

              5. Find a Passion

              It’s barely a secret that if you enjoy something, you will want to do more of it and it won’t feel like an obligation. You will have an internal motivation to keep going despite setbacks, despite the stress or the tiredness you may experience at times.

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              So, find what thrills you and makes you come alive and strive to become better, the best even, at it. The more progress you make, the more confidence you will have that you can apply the same passion and dedication to all other parts of your life that feel stagnant.

              Learn How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life.

              6. Nudge Yourself

              The Nudge Theory[7] has been around for a while and has shown some wonderful results in positively influencing people’s behaviors—from making us conserve more energy, to improving the payment rates of fines, to making job-seekers more engaged and involved.

              Small things as daily reminders in terms of micro-goals you can set on your phone, for instance, can have a profound favorable effect on becoming unstuck.

              Nudging can also help overcome some of these personality traits we talked about—like passiveness or acute proneness to procrastination.

              7. Seek Different Experiences

              Even if you are in a happy relationship, you may still feel stuck—i.e. you may be unfulfilled, uninspired, or bored even of doing identical things over and over. The same rings true for your professional life.

              The end-point is that you need to feed your brain different experiences if you want to get unstuck. If you repeat more of the same thing, you will end up with more or less similar outcomes. Change requires taking the path less trodden, experimenting, learning new ways, seeing new places, reading, travelling—it’s an endless list, really, to personal growth.

              According to research covered in Psychology Today,[8]

              “Activities that lead us to feel uncertainty, discomfort, and even a dash of guilt are associated with some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of people’s lives. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy.”

              8. Leave Behind the Things That Are Not Constructive for You

              Arianna Huffington put it in a great way:[9]

              “You can complete a project by dropping it.”

              Assessing the things that make you feel stagnant is important. But equally valuable is to recognize that just because it may be hard or even impossible to get something that you really want, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you are necessarily stuck.

              Maybe it’s simply not your thing. For instance, you may want to become a professional golfer. You practice and practice but you can’t quite reach the level of Tiger Woods that you aspire to. Perhaps it’s time to take stock of your life and shift your focus.

              9. Compare Wisely

              Comparisons can often make you feel down and create a sense of stagnation, which may not always be valid. You must realize that your pace of progress differs from your friends’, neighbours’, siblings or even significant others’.

              Just because you are not a millionaire by the age of 30, or haven’t started your own business, or written your third bestseller yet, doesn’t mean that you are not moving forward.

              So, mind how you measure your progress and your state of stuck-ness. Your perceptions may differ from reality.

              Besides, it’s never ever too late to start things over! Here’s how:

              How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

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              10. Ask for Help

              Finally, remember that you don’t have to do it all alone. If you feel stuck in your personal life, you can speak to your close ones and find a solution together. Maybe they feel the same way.

              At work—raise your hand, speak to your manager, volunteer to do things that can help you learn and become more valuable.

              You don’t have to come up with all the answers right now. The most important thing, going back to the first idea, is to be willing to make a change.

              When Is Enough Enough?

              Seeking progress is a great thing. Who wouldn’t want to become a better version of themselves after all?

              But the pursuit of growth should be handled with caution. It can become very addictive and sometimes even be counterproductive.

              It’s true—you may experience a “runner’s high” and success can make you overflow with dopamine, but the constant chase of “more” can toss you into a never-ending spinning wheel.

              You will never be happy with the status quo and won’t accept things as they are—which, naturally, can open a Pandora box of mental health issues.

              That is, too much of a self-improvement drive may leave you unable to enjoy your life, to be fully present in the Now and to appreciate the person that you are.

              And this is not necessarily a good thing.

              So, should you strive to improve yourself, so that feel unstuck and free again? Absolutely.

              But remember to take a breather and be grateful for what you have.

              Summing It All Up

              The feeling of being satisfied or unsatisfied with one’s life is very personal. Similar to its cousins—happiness and success, it is best measured by and depends on our individual histories, personalities and paths—i.e. my trajectory is different than yours and what makes me feel content may not create the same feeling for you.

              For instance, you may be happy to be in a position where you help others and their gratitude is sufficient enough reason for you to wake up in the morning. But for someone else, this situation may create a sense of stuck-ness.

              The main take-away here is that you shouldn’t compare your story to anyone else’s because you may end up feeling constantly stuck. And this, speaking from experience, is not the best place in the world to be.

              Progress is great, but don’t forget that your life is here and now.

              So, try to enjoy yourself some too, while making your grandiose plans to take on the world, will you please?

              Featured photo credit: Camila Cordeiro via unsplash.com

              Reference

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