Fear: paralysis by analysis!
How too much thinking prevents us from taking action
There’s a huge difference between how young people deal with irrational fear compared with how adults do it.
Let me clarify. In addition to running our in-depth NLP training courses I used to occasionally work as a High Ropes Course instructor and I’d assist adults and young people experience the thrill of climbing, and walking or standing, on poles or trees about 30-60 feet above ground. (To see pictures of High Ropes’ activities here.)
In all the high activities you are secured with safety ropes which are managed by your instructor on the ground. You cannot fall: High Ropes’ activities are safe, the training and testing of Instructors is rigorous, all safety equipment is tested regulary – and is designed to be able to support a weight equivalent to that of four racehorses!
But being on top of a 30′ pole with nothing to hold on to does evoke fear – irrational fear. People know they are safe – yet feel nervous or downright scared and exposed.
How is this? It’s because the fear evoked by the unfamiliar height and exposure bypasses our attempts to be ‘sensible’ and rational – just as it does in the case of a phobia.
Now there is a big differences between how the, say, under-twelves and the over-twenties take part in High Ropes’ activities. For the most part young people tend to welcome or enjoy irrational fear and the adrenaline it produces. Adults are paralysed by it.
Act or Freeze
For the most part young people keep moving – whereas adults paralyse themselves with fear. Young people give more attention to the physical sensations – adults pay more attention to their over-activated imagination.
These are generalisations – hence my saying ‘for the most part’. There are lots of exceptions – but the principle is what is important.
It also provides some pointers for how we adults approach risk or unfamiliarity in our lives. Because we were young once – we had the pro-active young person’s approach.
So we still have the neural circuitry which enabled us to have this approach – even if the circuitry has become a bit ‘rusty’ through underuse. And, with NLP, we can re-access and redevelop the ‘go for it’ attitude we once had.
The young people just get on with it. They do not allow the fear to paralyse them. They do feel nervous about the height but they just get on with the activity. Adults know, rationally, that they cannot fall or get hurt. But they are much less able to manage the sensations and thoughts that High Ropes activities involves.
Too much thinking – too little action
Adults do too much thinking. They take a few steps, then pause and imagine falling. For example, the Trapeze Jump involves climbing up a wobbly pole, standing on the 9 inch top and jumping out to catch a swinging trapeze.
Most young people focus on what they are doing and get on with it. Most adults pause a few times as they climb the pole, hyperventilate a bit, imagine how awful it will be and climb a bit more. They take ages to get into a standing position. Then they freeze once again – sometimes for long minutes – and then jump.
It seems that as we move away from our youth there is an insidious process of allowing our fears to rule us.
Learning to fear excitement
HOW we do this is interesting. We adults have learned to fear excitement because of the adrenaline it produces. When we were six years old the build-up to going on holiday or to a party evoked shakiness, dry mouth, a need to visit the toilet, and a churning tummy. And we called the sensations ‘excitement’.
By our twenties we are labelling these sensations “anxiety” so we linger and analyse them. And the more we analyse the sensations the stronger we make them until they become so unpleasant that we decide to avoid the activity. Now the activity becomes a new ‘no-go’ area for us. With passing years more and more no-go areas develop. Our lives are shrinking by the year.
We have learned to feel nervous about feeling nervous! We no longer enjoy excitement. Life is becoming a threatening experience.
Acting or Thinking?
Any unfamiliar activity will produce adrenaline. The same applies to activities that used to be familiar and have been avoided for some time.
Because the activity is unfamiliar it is ‘coded’ by our emotions as a potential threat and a version of the Fight or Flight response is produced – which provides us with adrenaline and energy to act quickly and energetically.
But… Fight or Flight clouds rational thinking. Because it evolved as a means of taking physical action – of fleeing from a physical threat or fighting it. And if we do not take action but engage in irrational and fearful thinking this will produce even more adrenaline. Soon we are scared about feeling excited and, until we do something the internal cycle continues and builds up.
As adults what we often do at this stage is avoid. We back off. “I don’t like this feeling so I will avoid this situation.” Now we are developing a no-go area. We could be developing a phobia.
More action – less analysis
The answer is to ACT a little more and analyse a little less – so you don’t get into paralysis by analysis.
Too much thinking about the threats simply produces too much adrenaline. Action dissipates both adrenaline and physical tension. It also ensures that we increase our confidence rather than develop no-go areas. Especially if we decide that, for us, ‘success’ is achieved by trying even if we do not achieve our goal!
Decide to become more action-oriented. Do it rather than brood over it. And remain aware that the alternative is hours, days or even months of paralysis by analysis and the stress that goes with that – and the way in which this ever-present stress saps vitality, saps the joy of living, and clouds each day.
Start noticing areas where you freeze or procrastinate through too much thinking and analysing. Get into the habit of quickly assessing your options – then go for it. Take action – even if you don’t always get things right you’ll achieve more, fit more into your life, and boost your confidence and self esteem.
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More information about NLP
NLP – what’s in it for me?
How to learn NLP
7 tips for choosing an NLP training provider
NLP Core Skills – our course in the New Forest
What people have said about our courses
By Reg Connolly, Director of Training, Pegasus NLP