Have you ever wanted to do something very, very much, but at the same time you were so scared, that the best you could do was reading or watching videos about people doing it? You probably hoped that some day you would feel ready enough to start doing something about it… Probably in these situations you start to wonder if it’s possible for you to earn anything profitable for yourself by going in this direction. And you may have concluded that maybe not. If the result is so uncertain, is it even worth to start trying and to be exposed to so many obstacles and difficulties on the way, which will surely occur?

In these kind of situations it usually seems like your conscious mind would like to do a great thing, but something in your mind, which you cannot fully control, holds you back. It could be really annoying if it lasts for some time and the great thing, you wish to take a chance of, could be very good to yourself or other people. Or both. So how it works? Is the call to adventure something conscious and the fear is something your mind does automatically?

If you have kids, you’ve probably experienced this in your own home. If not, you’ve may seen it in some of your friend’s house. My son is 18 months old and since he was born, he tries to do something new every single day. When he was 10 months old he tried to stand up. Somewhere around his 1st birthday he tried to walk. When he learned it, he tried to climb. Now he’s climbing up on everything he can. He climbs up to a chair to see what’s on a table. He climbs up to a table to reach something interesting for him there. He climbs up a windowsill to check what he can see through the window. And he is so obsessively determined to do all these things! He fell down many times, he got some bruises many times, together with my wife we tell him many times not to climb up to dangerous places, but it seems that the call to adventure is so strong in him, that no matter what, he will climb the things just to see what’s up there, just to reach the interesting thing. Does he do it consciously? Well… doubtfully. He knows only few words now like “mommy”, “daddy”, “yes”, and “no”. So he doesn’t seem to be capable of consciously thinking to himself like “I’d like to explore the room and check all the things, which are too high for me to see them from the floor”. And even if now he can build some simple thoughts inside his head, when he was like 10 months old and knew no words at all, he tried to stand up with the same struggles (except the discouragement from me and my wife) and he did it with the same, if not even bigger determination. So is the call to adventure conscious? Is the desire for self-development conscious? Is curiosity conscious? It doesn’t seem to be. If so, why we – adults, struggle so badly every time we need to do something outside of our comfort zone? Why this unconscious force stops us for doing that?

It’s all about the fear of course. My daughter, at the age of 5 years, is already afraid of many things. At this age, she still needs some warnings not to do things, which are too dangerous for her, but she also needs encouragements to overcome fear stopping her from doing the right things, which would develop herself. So it seems that the fear is being developed during the childhood. So maybe the fear is kind of conscious? As you’ve surely felt it by yourself, not at all!

The part of brain, which is responsible for the fear – the amygdala – works so fast, that by the time you realize that you’re feeling scared, the scare is already fully developed. The reaction is immediate. The adrenaline, being a main product of amygdala, needs about 5 to 6 seconds to be distributed around your whole body. But why it happens so fast?

The amygdala is a part of a reptilian brain – the evolutionary oldest part of our mind. And it’s the part, which is closest to the spinal cord – the nervous system’s main highway distributing nerve signals to all parts of your body. It has been developed for hundreds of millions of years. Think of it. What happens when you knock on the aquarium full of fish? They suddenly swim away from the place which you hit. And they do it so quickly, that you barely can see their moves – they are just suddenly in the other place. In this fraction of a second, their primitive brains realizes that there is some threat, it sends signals to the muscles, and they move at least few times to swim. And they don’t move in a random direction – they move away from your knocking finger, so their brains had to process the information of the threat localization too and decide what is the good direction to escape. So, as we’ve been evolving from fish during millions and millions of years, the fear has been with us all the time. But, why it stayed so strong?

Well, because there were always some threats to avoid. When some animal wants to eat you or the other tribe attacks your village, you don’t want to wait until you mindfully realize what’s going on. If you want to stay alive, you need to escape or start to fight immediately. You want automatic, instant reaction. If you don’t do it quickly enough, you’re eaten or killed. It means that it’s not likely for an individual with a broken fear mechanism to live long enough to reproduce. And if you don’t have kids, your broken fear is not passed to the next generations. As more individuals with properly shaped fear survived though ages, the genes of healthy, strong fear have been passed and preserved, as we have them today in our bodies.

So what do you need the curiosity and the call to adventure for? Especially in your adulthood, when you’ve already learned everything you need to survive? Why, when we’re about to go out and try something new, we feel not only fear, but also excitement? Well, let’s say you’re kind of caveman living tens of thousands years ago. You can’t just hide. You also need to go out to hunt some food. You have to travel to find a place with more food around. And it means risking your life daily. You can’t stay alive without risking your life. And often the result is the more you risk, the better results you achieve – you come back from hunting with better, more nutritious food for example. And if you travel, you’ll eventually find better places to live, which over the generations let your tribe become stronger, bigger and smarter. It has has been going like this for millions of years of evolution to shape that feeling in you – just like it is with the fear. So today this is exactly what you feel, don’t you? You don’t feel alive if you don’t take at least a little risk from time to time. It tells us that we have to step out our safest zone to find better place for us to thrive. Some even say that you never feel as alive as on the edge of death… And it sounds anything, but reasonably.

OK, so both – call of adventure and fear – are unconscious and shaped within millions of years of evolution. And although we feel fear, we also feel the need for taking risk, to find something better for us. So why we’re struggling so badly to overcome fear when eventually want to follow that call to adventure? Why it can’t be easier? Well… the fear works not only at the moment when a wild animal is about to eat you. It’s also there before you even go hunting to alert you that you should expect some danger out there. It tells you to consider all the threats you may encounter on your adventure not only to double think if you should go, but also to prepare a rescue plan in case of emergency. It is more useful to thinking how to survive when threat comes than thinking about the great price for your successful achievement. How much more? The research shown that we concentrate on threats about 4 times more than on the gains from taking risk. So the fear is set to keep your call to adventure in charge. This is the balance, which was proven through the ages of evolution to ensure the highest probability of passing your genes to the next generation. But how it applies to the modern world? How it works in societies shaped in big cities within at most few hundreds of years?

If you’re hired on a safe, stable job position, you do the same things every day, you are paid regularly, you get some benefits and nothing seems to be threatening both yourself and our company. You have enough not only to survive, but to live decent life. You should be quite happy if you’d think of it reasonably. Or, at least, you should be calm. Why would you risk? Why would you for example go and try to climb the highest mountains? Why would you dive into the ocean? Why would you leave your job and start your own business? If you want to pass your genes to another generation it makes no sense at all. You shouldn’t do it. But you do. After a while you start to be uncomfortable in your stable world – in your golden cage. The same call of adventure, which tells my 18 months old son to climb everything he physically can, stayed in you too. You want more. You want more money, more power, more prestige. You want to develop yourself. According to the Maslow’s theory of needs, first thing you need is to fulfill hunger, thirst, rest and other basic stuff absolutely necessary to stay alive. Than you have to get some shelter and ensure yourself that nothing serious threatens you. When you have it, you want some feelings of belonging – love and friendship. But when you have all of these, there comes the next need – the need of prestige and accomplishment. And finally, when you get some power, and see that you can do great things, then comes the ultimate need – the need of achieving our own potential. These last top 3 needs won’t let you stay comfortably in one place for a longer period of time. These are the forces that push normal people with normal jobs after their business hours to become alpinists climbing up to the tops of the highest mountains or divers to dive deep into the deepest ocean. And the same forces push businessmen further into the market success although they’ve already earned more than they will ever spend. And – as my kids prove every day – none of these are conscious.

So this is the whole picture. We have forces, which constantly push us to achieve more. We also have fear, which keep these forces in charge to protect us from ourselves. It is not easy to deal with them all to be successful and happy. In the end it is a matter of choice. Would you rather keep it safe and suffer from lack of fulfillment or you’ll pursue your dreams with constant disturbance of fear. But, as the fear so strong comparing to the feelings, which drive you forward, the choice is not enough. So if you really believe that you should take the risk, you need a lot of determination to start and continue following your path, because your mind will constantly try to save you from bad consequences of your choice. It will always give you many causes why you should stop in the middle of your way. And it will do it very strongly… So what you can do to overcome this? That’s a topic for another story…

For now just don’t underestimate the power of your fear. It will always be with you and you always will have to mindfully decide that you want to overcome it. So if you want to escape your golden cage, be prepared for many fights with yourself to keep you on the path. If you want to go and pursue your dreams, better be bloody serious about it.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay 

Categories: Self development