The other day I listened to one of Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations on staying safe, and I realized that most of us do indeed struggle with fear, second-guessing our instincts when we should totally trust our gut and totally accepting it when it only reminds us that we are about to leave our comfort zone.
The primitive part of our brain cannot really distinguish between the creepy guy in the dark park and a stage with tons of people staring at us. This is something we need to be aware of so as not to take wrong decisions.
As regards the example of creepy guy, there’s only one right decision, and that’s to trust your gut and get out of the situation as quickly as possible. Better safe than sorry, always. No exception to that rule. It took me quite a few years to learn to trust my intuition, and I think there are primarily three points to overcome in getting there:
We often don’t believe we have good intuition.
That’s totally me. In a lot of potentially dangerous situations, it’s hard to consciously see the danger signs your subconscious has long picked up. I am a rather rational person, and I am not very comfortable with things I cannot explain. But I trained myself to go with the gut feeling when I moved to the U.S. because I realized that cultural markers of what established a dangerous situation don’t work that well when you move abroad.
We don’t really know how fear feels in our body.
To learn to trust my instincts, I had to go through the process of identifying exactly how fear feels in my body to be able to accept it as the warning sign it is. For me, it’s a very tight feeling around the solar plexus, I straighten up and my entire body goes tense as if to prepare for fight or flight. For you it may be different. Some people get sweaty palms or feel like they might get sick to their stomach or their heartbeat increases palpably. All of these are signs to not second-guess but listen to.
We want to be nice to others.
People-pleasing can get us into deep trouble. Being nice and helpful is a great thing—with one exception: If you feel the physical sensation you have identified as your fear response—that’s when it’s time to not worry about what others think of you. It’s hard, I know, because most of us have to go against all we’ve learned while growing up to ignore another person or simply say no and turn away. But it’s not our job to make everybody happy. Being alive and safe tops being nice and helpful by a lot.
So now that I’ve said this much about going with your gut feeling, I am reversing course to tell you when not to listen to it. It’s actually the logical conclusion of everything I’ve said before:
You can ignore your gut feeling if you are perfectly safe.
By that, I don’t mean you talking yourself into feeling safe, but actual physical safety. For instance, when you feel like getting sick before making an argument in a meeting or giving a presentation to a large audience, before calling a potential client or telling your boss that you are leaving to start your own company, then you are in no physical danger and it’s okay to override your fear response and do whatever it takes.
You are physically safe, but you have to leave your comfort zone to do it.
In these cases, our physical response is very similar to the creepy-guy situation and can be even stronger. But of course, we don’t want to let fear hold us back from doing something new and from growing as a person. So how can we overcome it in these situations?
First, acknowledge the fear.
To overcome a feeling, we have to give it our awareness, identify it as what it is, and name it: fear. Feel the physical sensation it comes with and breathe—in and out, as deeply as feels comfortable.
Second, assess the situation.
When you are aware of fear creeping up, make sure that you are physically safe. If you are, sit a bit with your feeling, which is probably fear of the unknown or fear of failure. Then remind yourself that leaving your comfort zone always comes with discomfort.
Third, take action.
When I reach this point, I like to thank my inner warning bell for alerting me and say or think: “Thank you, but I’ve got this. It’s safe.” And then I go ahead and do whatever I was planning to do, which is the only way to overcome the feeling of fear or discomfort.
If you want support in learning to take the leap and leave your comfort zone, let’s talk! You can send me a message or schedule a free 30-minute consult through my website to let me know what exactly you’re struggling with and we can explore how I can help you succeed.