How living a life of fear can change your brain’s neural circuitry to always see the glass half empty, even when it’s full.

If we could turn back time, I would go back to the day where I first got my license. I’m sure it was horrifying for my parents and literally anyone else driving on the road, but I will never forget how free I felt behind the wheel with zero limitations on where I could go or what I could do. No one could tell me what to do or where to be while I was driving, which gave me my first taste of true freedom as a teenager. 

But before all of this came to be, it all started out like a dream. A dream about driving my favorite car down my favorite street with my favorite music blaring from the speaker box in the back. At that time, my dream car was a yellow 1994 Ford Mustang GT, fully loaded, with all the hookups. I adored this car because my uncle was a die-hard Ford fan and he had a huge picture of this exact car hanging up in his shop, making it difficult to miss. This car seemed so exotic and sleek that I was convinced I was going to be the only person in town driving it… Until I realized I wasn’t. 

The car was everywhere… And I mean everywhere I looked. How could this be? 

Brain Games – The Baader-Meinhof Effect

We’ve all experienced a similar phenomenon before, most likely in a similar fashion with buying furniture, getting new shoes, or hustling for a shiny new toy. Once our brains fixate on a specific object, we start to notice it popping up everywhere we look. Why is this? 

It’s a classic phenomenon called the Baader-Meinhof Effect, where our brains play a simple “sensory trick” on us, creating an illusion in our environment causing us to believe our experience has shifted and changed based on our exposure to a specific stimulus. Case in point: My yellow 1994 Ford Mustang GT. Once I was exposed to the car, my brain was fixed on it, continuously seeking a confirmation bias throughout my day on finding the car and taking notice of how frequently I could find it. Were there actually more of these cars on the road as a result of my exposure? No, but good luck trying to tell that to a 16-year-old going through puberty. It seemed as though the car was everywhere I looked and I was the only one without it. 

To be frank, this same biased process occurs throughout our entire life, even if we’re completely aware of it. 

So how can we use this information to our advantage? First, we need to own it to shape the way we view our world. 

#1. Change The Camera Lens on Your Life From Negative to Positive

Positive affirmations and thoughts are very popular topics that continue to pop up all over the internet, which are now finally penetrating the HR and business community circles, but we must ask the question: Are they actually rooted in science? Absolutely. 

According to The Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can increase your life span, lower rates of depression and anxiety, improve your physical and mental well-being, and actually increase your immune function (How about that!?). Not only does positive thinking have a significant effect on your mental health, but it also appears to have an effect on your physical health and immune function… And I would argue if we were able to bottle up positive thinking into a medication or pill, it would be one of the biggest blockbuster pills on the market. 

As I’ve stated before in previous articles, this information is great, but knowledge is useless without application. Take the time to look at your life and reframe your experiences with a positive outlook. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and instability of the present pandemic that COVID-19 has caused, so take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are you grateful for? Truly think this one through. 
  2. How can you plan your day to include activities that make you feel appreciated? Go out and do it. 
  3. What are you looking forward to in the near future? Create a plan, then execute.
  4. Whom can you reconnect with? Reach out to them. 
  5. Is there someone in your life who you always enjoy speaking to? Use that phone you can’t keep your hands off of!

Although these are merely a few examples, they’re simple to implement, and best of all, they’re free! 

#2. Don’t Think, Just Do it, Whatever It Is!

Although this is always easier said than done, we’ve all been in a situation where we have suffered far more in theory than we have in reality. This sort of “paralysis by analysis” is rampant in our society, especially for those fellow perfectionists out there who think that everything has to be perfect in order to be shown to the public (It does… Right?). Spending endless amounts of time thinking about a potential scenario is essentially wasted time that could have been spent actually executing on the task. Does this mean that we should just jump right into a project or endeavor without thought? Obviously not, but so many of us spend far too long thinking and not enough time doing

Taking a quick note out of physics, Newton’s first law of motion states that “an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by another force.” Understanding this hard theory of science to explain how our world works, it makes sense to use motion to our advantage, as it is a significant driver of change and a vital component of the learning process. 

One of the easiest ways to overcome fear is to get yourself to physically move your body, because as Anat Baniel explains “Movement is the language of the brain.” It’s true, physical movement is one of the biggest drivers of brain function, which is why physical exercise has so many benefits and can have such a significant impact on our quality of life. Physical exercise not only makes us look and feel better, but it also promotes beneficial neuroplastic changes in the brain, improves blood flow throughout the body, and has the potential to be one of the most effective ways to combat depression and anxiety. 

We must leave this conversation with one last bit of advice for overcoming fear, which comes from the man, the myth, the legend, Zig Ziglar. When asked to describe what “FEAR” meant to him, he said: 

“F-E-A-R has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run OR Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.”

Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, so be sure to remember to keep your glass half full. 

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Click here for the original post.