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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

              Learning Methods to Help You Learn Effectively and Easily How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life How to Find a Sense of Purpose to Live a Full Life How to Set Professional Development Goals for Success Social Learning How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

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              Last Updated on September 30, 2020

              Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

              Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

              Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

              The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

              And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money[1].

              And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

              Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

              So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

              Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

              “To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”[2]

              Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

              An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

              Why? It’s simple.

              There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

              If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

              Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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              The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation[3]. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

              When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

              Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it[4]:

              “Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

              If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

              Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

              If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

              Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation[5].

              One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

              Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point[6].

              By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

              Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”[7]

              In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

              Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

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              6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

              So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

              There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

              1. Self-Efficacy

              The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982[8]. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do[9].

              Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

                It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills[10].

                Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

                You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

                2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

                Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

                And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

                Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

                “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

                Inspirational, isn’t it?

                Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

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                3. Volunteer

                Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism[11].

                When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

                4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

                A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it[12]. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

                But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

                Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

                For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

                Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

                5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

                The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci[13]. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation[14]. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

                There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

                If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

                All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

                6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

                Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically[15].

                The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

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                A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

                The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

                And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

                Final Thoughts

                Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:[16]

                “If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

                Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

                Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

                In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

                And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

                Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

                More Tips to Boost Motivation

                Featured photo credit: Juan Ramos via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] Harvard Business Review: Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research
                [2] Contemporary Educational Psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
                [3] Scientific American: The Science of Lasting Happiness
                [4] The Guardian: Is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?
                [5] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Employee Motivation on Employee Performance
                [6] Adam Grant : Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance: The Effects of Contact With Beneficiaries on Persistence Behavior
                [7] Grand Valley State University: The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
                [8] Encyclopedia Britannica: Albert Bandura
                [9] Pinterest: Self-Efficacy Theory
                [10] Educational Psychologist: Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning
                [11] University of Minnesota: The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
                [12] Harvard Business Review: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
                [13] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
                [14] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being
                [15] Nick Tasler: How some people stay motivated and energized at work—even when they don’t love their jobs
                [16] Harvard Business Review: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

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