Sometimes you need to Stop Listening to your Amygdala

The amygdala is a tiny, almond-shaped structure deep inside your brain. A typical human brain has a pair of amygdalae as part of the limbic system and these perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional reactions.

So why is an IT Project Manager writing about the Brain?

In the primitive era, the slower rational human brain had to be balanced out with a quicker autonomous emotional centre. This kept human curiosity in check and protected human beings from their predators (think lion, tigers, snakes etc). This autonomous part of the brain has just one purpose – our physical survival. This is why our innate emotions like fear are sooo automatic.

In the modern era, the predators of the past – aka wild animals – have been replaced with a new variety of predators – aka people. Physical survival has been replaced with psychological and social survival. So an emotional brain is not going to help all the time. We often need to often override our impulsive emotional brain’s commands and instead approach things rationally.

Some call it the heart vs the head. Others call it emotion vs reason. I call it the Amygdala vs the Neocortex (the joys of being born into a medicos family).

Face Your Fears

Fear can be a good thing sometimes. It can help you exercise caution. But sometimes, it can paralyse you and stop you in your tracks. So here are some tried and tested tips to face your fears.

1. Practice Courage

Do the things that scare you! Take baby steps until the fear has completely left you.

Are you scared of starting a new business venture? Start small, one step at a time. Only if you try, you are going to find out if your business idea is worth your time and effort.

Are you scared of drowning? Take swimming lessons. Or if you are like me, just take the leap of faith and go scuba diving.

Face Your Fears: Stop listening to your Amygdala
Face Your Fears: Stop listening to your Amygdala

Are you scared of lizards? Ok… don’t go anywhere near them. But you get the idea right?

Action builds courage! Get out, do it. Let your life be an adventure.

2. Introspect

Introspection – that word had no meaning to me until one day I was reading the bible and found the power behind the word. Introspection is nothing but reflecting on your thoughts and feelings. And what is the easy way to do it? In my opinion – Writing. If you are too lazy to write, then type. Still not into it? Do a voice or video recording.

When you are anxious, grab a piece of paper or open a note app in your phone and capture your thoughts. You can later reflect on them. Sometimes your fears are rational and justified. But if you want to conquer them you need to identify the underlying issues and address them.

You can also write about the times when you conquered your fears and succeeded. That time when you spoke before 100 people on a stage. Or that time when you published your first YouTube video. Or that time you first held a spider in your hand (Yuck! You did that? Really? They are baaad creatures, don’t let Spiderman fool you.)

Reflecting on your fears will let them lose their power over you.

3. Shift Your Focus

Fear is an illusion. If you don’t shift your focus it can become a steadily escalating sense of foreboding. The thing about fear is it makes you imagine the worst and then feeds on your imagination. We remind ourselves or imagine some frightening stories from our past or future. We then rerun them in our heads until we are terrified. You know where this is heading, right? When this happens, time to shift your focus. Look at the positives. Focus on why you want to do something you are scared of. Laugh at the times you failed.

Me, aged 4, as a nurse treating a doll
Me, aged 4, as a nurse treating a doll

I still remember being on a stage for the first time at a very young age. It surprises me how I still can remember that; I was hardly 5. But I am grateful to my parents who encouraged me and did a lot of handholding during my younger days to get me where I am. I still sometimes feel nervous when I stand up before an audience. But then I shift my focus. I make a mental list of my “success stories” or focus on the “why” instead of the “what”.

Let your past successes give you the courage. Laugh away your past failures. Most importantly, focus on why you are doing it (not the what).

If you enjoyed reading this article, check out some of my others about overcoming Procrastination and online distractions.



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