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How to Get Gutsy

How to Get Gutsy
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    “If you wanna run with the big dogs, you’ve gotta get off the porch.” This was the sage advice given to me some years ago as I considered my first entrepreneurial venture. You’ve got to take risks. Be gutsy. All of which led me to wonder what guts really is. And, more importantly, if you don’t have it, can you get it?

    What is “gutsyness?”

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Guts (in our context) is…

    1. Courage; fortitude.
    2. Nerve; audacity.

    To me, “guts” translates to a willingness and ability to embrace risk. What kind of risk?

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    • Risk of trying and failing
    • Risk of exposing your true-self and being judged
    • Risk of losing status, time and money
    • Risk of injury or death, and
    • Risk of…succeeding at whatever it is you are attempting

    Looking at the above list, it’s pretty clear there are activities that require you to take risks that, addressed and embraced, are constructive and have the potential to add to your life. These would include turning a deep interest into a profession, introducing yourself to a potential mentor, client, partner or lover, writing a book or creating a painting for public display.

    Other activities, though, are substantially more likely to require risks that are likely to take away from the quality of your life. Those would be actions that place you in peril. And, while, occasionally justified by extreme circumstances, my focus is more on the willingness to take the day-to-day risks with the potential to enhance your life.

    Guts and genes

    Who hasn’t been in a scenario where you wished you had the guts to do something, but just couldn’t get it together to try? We tend to blame ourselves for “wimping out,” but interestingly enough, a solid chunk of gutsyness is not learned or conditioned, it’s genetic.

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    According to Jungian theory, we all have innate personality preferences or types. If you have kids or know anyone with kids, this is readily apparent. Two kids from the same parents literally come out of the womb with radically different personalities, temperaments and preferences.

    Seeking to create a usable tool to identify genetic personality preferences some 60-years ago, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers created their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®). This tool allows you to determine your innate personality preferences. Indeed, you can even take variations of the MBTI® test online today. Give it a shot, it’ll only take 10 minutes. Then, see how close the results come to revealing your deep, dark secret personality traits.

    I was blown away when I took mine. Part of my profile reveals a strong tendency toward introversion, which, for those who have known me for years, is not surprising. But, for those who know me only through business, it’s pretty shocking, since I make my living largely in the public eye.

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    So, genetics plays a strong role in your preference to take the various risk involved in being gutsy. And, according to most, there’s not a whole lot we can do to change that. But, another chunk of gustiness is actually not inherited, but learned.

    Guts and environment

    While we arrive on this planet with a certain attitudes about risk, our interactions, relationships and experiences as we go through life also play a major role in molding just how gutsy we are. The more we risk stepping out of our genetic comfort zones, the more opportunities we have to “learn” about the benefits of being gutsier and then “choose” to take those same actions again in an attempt to get those same feelings that came from our adventure in gutsyland.

    Which begs the question…

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    If you didn’t inherit the gutsy-gene, what can you do about it?

    First, you’ve got to ask yourself, “if I’m not too gutsy, do I really need to change?” The short answer is, it depends. A certain aversion to the risk of injury or death is natural and good. It stops you from being reckless.

    But, if you have an irrational fear of injury, death, judgment, failure or embarrassment or simply an aversion to risk that stops you from participating in the everyday joys of life, that needs attention. Similarly, a certain amount of caution in social situations is fine, but when it engenders a level of fear that stops you from doing things that would add genuine joy to your life, it’s time to do something about it.

    Here’s a three-step approach that’s gone a long way toward moving me past my natural tendency toward introversion and contemplation to regularly taking fairly major risks, both personal and business.

    1. Visualize gutsy action and success. Twice a day, visualize engaging in the activity that would require guts and then succeeding wildly. Make it as vivid and detailed as possible. Use all of your senses. Over time, this really helps to alleviate the anxiety/fear that holds you back. Through repetition, you tend to desensitize your fears and anxieties, while simultaneously reinforcing your belief that, should you take a gutsy action, you will succeed.
    2. Take incremental action. Pick a situation that gives you the opportunity to confront one of your fear-inducers in a controlled, supported, incremental and gentle manner. For example, if you have a fear of speaking in front of people, commit to a small weekly gathering of friends and begin speaking up, rather than scheduling a 20-minute presentation in front of your entire company. Then, begin to commit to events/actions that will allow you to confront your fear in increasingly more exposed situations. This process lets you experience serial success, builds confidence and gets you “incrementally gutsy” over time.
    3. Rinse and repeat. The more-often you engage in this process and succeed, the more you’ll believe in your ability to succeed and the more willing you’ll become to step out of your box.

    Share your experiences, stories and other techniques to help make the transition from gutless to gutsy.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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