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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

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              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

              The Lifehack Show Episode 5: Taking Learning to the Next Level The Lifehack Show Episode 4: Succeeding at Business as a Woman Entrepreneur The Lifehack Show Episode 3: Why Validation is Key to Lasting Relationships The Lifehack Show Episode 2: Making the Most of the Limited Time We Have Announcing Our New Podcast: The Lifehack Show

              Trending in Mental Strength

              1 Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason 2 How to Use a 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness 3 How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck (And How to Overcome It) 4 Nothing Makes You Happy: Here’s Why and What to Do 5 How to Not Be Sad When It Feels Like Everything Is Going Wrong

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              Last Updated on August 12, 2019

              Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

              Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

              In our diverse world, where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and has their own opinions just about everything, there is a rather universal idea we all – regardless of age, race, location, gender — embrace…

              We all want to be happy.

              We want to feel that we matter, are loved, appreciated, problem-free, care-free, and financially secure. And this has become one of the most obsessive quests of our society—to be happy, at all cost, by all means.

              Happiness has undisputed benefits—supported by countless studies—to about pretty much everything in our lives—from our mental or physical state, to careers, relationships, finances.

              Although the self-help industry is still having a sunshine moment with its advice on how to get to this coveted state, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with The Magic Potion—that one thing or action or thought—that can make us all content and whole for good.

              Of course, we also all are knowledgeable enough to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that it’s often a combination of things that each one of us should intentionally do daily in order to reach that enchanted place where everything is intensely bright and upbeat.

              The reason that there are multiple antidotes to feeling gloomy is that there may be a million different explanations and their nuances of why someone is unhappy. It’s pretty much a different cause, path and experience for everyone.

              Top this with the “hedonic treadmill” phenomenon[1] —and you end up with an incessant (and rather tiring) pursuit of something that, quite frankly, no one has been able to define in concreate measurable terms.

              The second problem with happiness is that all of us become so hung up on the goal itself—that utopian state that we want to get to “one day.”

              Naturally, you can spend your whole life waiting for happiness to finally come knocking on your door, hoping, anticipating, existing in perpetual discontent—and the moment may never come.

              And then, looking back, you may ask yourself—was I truly that miserable or did I fall a victim of the happiness craze?

              That is—how can you know if you are really unhappy, if happiness means different things for everyone, it’s impossible to measure directly, and it’s rather fleeting?

              So, let’s start from the beginning— and examine the cause of why you’re unhappy, the symptoms and the treatment.

              Symptoms of Unhappiness

              According to the wellness site Mind Body Green, some of the most common manifestations you are not happy are:[2]

              • Feeling like you’re not as good as other people
              • Feeling like a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
              • Feeling like your daily life is meaningless and task-driven
              • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or pessimistic
              • Protecting your heart with steel walls
              • Trying to fit in and belong, but rarely feel like you do
              • Feeling beaten down by the challenges you face in life
              • Feeling depressed, anxious, or chronically worried
              • Feeling like you’re not appreciated enough

              If this sounds like you, on a regular day, then you are not a happy fella, my friend.

              Reasons for Feeling Unhappy

              The most important indication that things are not great (at least in your mind) is the sense of “something missing.” You may not know what it is, but you feel hollow, incomplete. And you are aware that something needs to happen to make you come alive again.

              Of course, finding the reason for your woes is vital to prescribing (to yourself) the right steps to make it all better.

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              So, here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel heavy-hearted, or “like the joy has been sucked out of my life.”

              Lack of Meaning

              Everyone who’s someone in the happiness-advice trade will tell you that this is one of the main causes (of not THE biggest) of feeling blah. Especially relevant for our professional lives, lack of significance can be a dream-downer.

              An excellent piece in the New York Times talks about Harvard graduates who make $1.2 million a year in salary, but still feeling miserable and trapped in what they describe as “wasting my life” existence.[3]

              Simply put—you may feel unhappy because you need the “Why” in your life, as I also wrote in a previous post How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life.

              Happiness Disruptors

              Even perceived problems can feel quite real to many of us. Undeniably, though, any personal, financial, career, physical complications can make your happiness aspirations plummet.

              The constellation of all the issues or walls you can run into can be quite vast. For instance, you don’t like the way you look, you don’t make enough money, don’t have any friends or significant other, your health is fragile.

              All these can be serious impediments to an undisturbed-joyfulness type of life.

              Lack of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

              Few years ago (2003), a paper by the psychologist Roy Baumeister rocked the science world. Titled “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” it presented the idea (supported by research) that self-esteem and happiness are linked.[4]

              Specifically, high self-esteem leads to greater happiness.

              In addition, according to the famous American author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, the main reason people are unhappy is because they lack self-respect—that is, they value others’ opinions above their own. Of course, it makes sense—and surely, it rings true with many of us too.

              Personality

              Linked to the above is another hindrance to becoming relentlessly upbeat, which may prove slightly challenging to overcome, if even possible—your personality.

              Of course, not per the self-help industry which thrives on the assumption that you can, with your own willpower, become a different person altogether. Namely—a much better version of the current you.

              But what the Wise Men also tell us is that you are either born to be a silver-lining kind of person or you are not.

              You can, of course, work on yourself to start seeing the glass half-full (vs half-empty). But you may never reach the gregariousness of someone who is just born with a more care-free temperament.

              Unreasonably High Expectations

              Having high expectations of yourself can be beneficial, according to research.[5] It leads to higher performance—a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect.

              Having too high expectations of yourself, though, may be counter-productive. You can run into all slew of mental health issues—depression, self-sabotaging, self-punishment, etc. And it can spill over all areas of your life.

              It’s certainly a case for future investigation.

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              It will take perhaps at least few articles to list all the reasons why we can feel unhappy (a book even!).

              So, some of the other causes of being disgruntled with your life can be: long hours at work, “always-on” culture bread by the internet, increased screen time,[6] or boredom with one’s life (i.e. lack of excitement).

              Addiction to Unhappiness

              Apparently, you can also develop an addiction to unhappiness[7] —that is, some people like negative feelings and are “happy to be unhappy.” Rather disturbing, indeed.

              Unexplainable Reasons

              Or, sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on one thing, or on anything, for this matter—you don’t know for sure what makes you feel unhappy, nor what will make you happy. It feels like it’s everything—your whole life is a mess.

              But that’s not the end of the story. The most important questions you should be asking yourself are:

              Why? What’s the cause of my unhappiness?

              Because you can’t fix it when you don’t know what’s broken, right?

              5 Steps You Can Take to Figure Out The Why

              So, if you tick most of the symptoms above, it’s very likely that you are not living in Dream-land right now.

              Here is my advice on how to find your lumps in the batter.

              1. Mull over What “Happy” Means to You

              Happiness can take different shapes—hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment.[8] All of these—separately or together—can deliver to us sprinkles of joy.

              And because our lives are so diverse, the above will translate into different pursuits for each one of us.

              For instance, my hedonic weekend happiness means reading a book or writing, while for someone else—it’s socializing, taking a walk, or going on a shopping spree at the mall.

              Or, my life satisfaction can be to have a big family and leave a mark in the world this way. For others, it may be going after fame and fortunes. But either way, don’t fall for the society’s “narrative traps”[9]—that a bigger pay check, house, a certain job, person, etc. will give you a never-ending stream of bliss. It won’t, science confirms over and over.

              So, once you know what your happiness vision board looks like, you will have a better idea of what’s “missing” in your life.

              2. Re-Visit Your Expectations

              As I already mentioned, unreasonable expectations you or others have set for yourself can be deterring you from feeling gleeful.

              For one thing, aspirations often can become outdated. What you wanted ten or five years ago (or even six months ago) may not be relevant to your situation today and will need to be filed into a mental cabinet.

              Another issue is that our culture is putting an exponential pressure on all of us to perform more and better, to try and stretch the 24-hours a day into 30, to chase kudos and recognition. Any outcome that has earned less than the gold is punishable by exclusion for the cool crowd, by receiving less in perks, bonuses, and appreciation even.

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              As a result, anxiety, depression and all their dark friends start creeping into our minds and tint everything else that may be giving us joy and satisfaction.

              So, taking periodic audit of your expectations—their validity and importance place on your happiness list, is pivotal to stopping unhappiness spread into your life.

              3. Examine Your Way of Thinking

              At the heart of the so-called Rational Emotive Behavior Theory (REBT),[10] which was established by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in 1956, is the idea that it’s never the actual event that upsets us.It’s our interpretation and thoughts about it. By inference, changing our thoughts will reduce (and hopefully remove altogether) our anxiety.

              Let’s take this a stretch further. Positive (not delusional) thinking has been long proclaimed to be a winner when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself going down the spiral of negative inner dialogue, you must stop yourself immediately. It’s unhappiness trap.

              But it’s not easy-breezy, of course, to do such conscious policing all the time. It can become a habit, though, psychologists tell us. We can teach ourselves to quell negativity, and there are many things that can be done: How to Have Happy Thoughts and Train Your Brain to Be Happy

              And don’t forget to be grateful. It’s the best happiness shot there is.

              4. The Good Old Pros and Cons

              Although it may appear to be a less fascinating way to figure out whether you are unhappy or not, the pros-and-cons list has been around for a long time—and it’s still an excellent tool to let you examine things closely, evaluate alternatives and come to satisfactory answers.[11]

              Interestingly, as history tells us, this invention is credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. Notorious for his productivity, he applied the pros-cons exercise to almost everything in his life.

              The beauty of the method lies in its simplicity too. So, go back to the drawing board and start penciling down the things that you like and don’t like (make you unhappy) about your life, and the things that you know with certainty to make you happy today.

              Of the “things-that-make me-unhappy-about-my-life” subset, have a think what you can do to move these along the continuum—to the brighter side.

              You may be surprised to discover that you have much greater say in the building of your own happiness than chance, circumstances or others.

              5. Mental Cleansing

              Mental health is in the limelight quite often these days. And rightly so.

              The way we care about our bodies and minds directly links to many of our life outcomes.

              Mental clutter can become a well-being stumbling block. Overthinking, old grudges, past events, can all make it very challenging to feel elevated and content.

              Doing a mental cleanse once a month can be the remedy to set yourself on the path to happiness recovery.

              Pay a visit to the past to confront your fears, get rid of the people who bring you down, free yourself from any emotional baggage. It will help you silence the bully in your head.

              Take a periodic stock of all the things that make you anxious and declutter. Why hold on to the things that you know to bring you grief anyway?

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              Unless you are one of those unhappiness addicts I mentioned above (which calls for a more radical intervention), carrying emotional baggage without doing anything to unload it, is a anti-glee behavior.

              Bonus Advice

              Finding our Achilles’ heel of happiness can sometimes be a tall order. It takes time, conscious efforts and an honest desire to make it better. It also alludes that we are ready to take the plunge into the self-help territory and take actual steps to improve our situation.

              But it’s not a lost cause, the research tells us. It’s possible to make yourself happy on a consistent basis.

              Here are few universal suggestions:

              One of the things you can do is to inject some meaning back in your life. And the best way to go about this is to flip the narrative. Case in point—the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. He ran into a janitor and when asked him what he was doing, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

              The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin tells us that there are two major path that lead a more fulfilling life:[12]

              One way is through our relationships—having strong bonds and feeling that we belong.

              The other route is through developing better self-knowledge—i.e. what things make us us, or glad, or sad. And base our way of living on our own values and goals, not others’.

              The feeling that we are not making progress is a definite joy crusher. We should compare wisely, find our passions, and diversify our experiences. These are not magic pills but more so opportunities to make our time here worthwhile and fulfilling.

              Final Thoughts

              Happiness is notoriously hard to pin down.

              There is no one definition of contentment, nor one way to ‘fix’ it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quantify and it’s idiosyncratic.

              More and more we hear a murmur from the science world that perhaps the best way to happiness is acceptance—of your failings and shortcomings, of the fact that life is imperfect.

              Knowing what makes us disgruntled is, of course, needed to find the right remedy for each one of us. Feeling constantly unhappy is not good and necessitates closer examination.

              Finally, beware of the narrative trap that if you are unhappy, there is something wrong with you. It may be normal, for a while at least. Otherwise, how would you appreciate the highlight moments of your life if you don’t see them against the backdrop of the gloomy times?

              Or, as the great singer Leonard Cohen tells us:

              “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

              More About Staying Happy

              Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

              Reference

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