Fear, Evolution and Human Nature
Reconnecting recently with an old friend by phone, we spoke about the subject of fear. The idea fear was actually hard-wired a leftover remnant of natural selection and evolution, the idea was in an article she read, fear was a natural part of human nature, natural selection had weeded out human beings long ago who did not have the right amount of fear. The idea fear was passed down from generation to generation to preserve the fittest of us and to protect the species from extinction.
Personally, having a background in sales I frequently projected, and mapped out strategy, reviewing possibilities and responses to several most likely scenarios.
In business this is a great advantage during strategic planning. Thinking of every eventuality, analyzing available data, market trends and mining conventional wisdom or other informed opinions to make predictions and plans for the future of your business.
This is exactly what you want in business, the ability to expand on these educated guesses, then properly prepare an appropriate response. The devil however is in the details, the problem with advanced strategic planning is it is hard to separate today and the present reality from tomorrow in your strategy, you don’t only think about the future of your company, you contemplate personal circumstances in light of the assumptions and think about consequences if the projections come true.
When you project success and anticipate a win, you may be brimming with confidence and optimism, full of good cheer. When you settle on a prediction one way or another, weather you like it or not, your mood sometimes begins to match your expectations. Feelings are not facts and your emotions can be deceiving. If you feel failure may be the logical outcome you might feel insecure or full of self doubt. I’m not a psychologist but I suspect this is pretty normal.
The problem with taking stock in your predictions when you’re engaged in an important relationship in business is that your fear may start to effect your feeling, and those feeling could cause you to broadcast these doubts to the rest of the world. In a difficult negotiation or contract dispute you want to negotiate from a strong position. You can’t walk in the room with a long face and a look of dread or desperation. Your competitors and customers will sense that weakness and take the upper hand. You must demonstrate confidence to inspire others to follow you and for customers have faith that you can deliver on your promises. You should be cautiously optimistic in team development meetings and positively influence the sales process. Your marshaling your troops to support your effort and you need them to give it all they have.
I thought about this topic’s effects on relationship building and sales development and came to the conclusion I wanted to make sure that I was doing every thing possible to maintain the proper perspective when engaged in strategy sessions. This negative side of projecting must be avoided. Undue worry and negative projections can create a self imposed limitation in a professional situation. The same holds true for personal relationships as well. If I have some unrealistic fear that has me worried or concerned it may effect how much I am listening and engaged with the people around me. Some of those people are very important. Like my wife and children, my colleagues at work or people in my community.
….this is the question that came to me as we discussed the topic. Am I negatively effected by feelings of worry or concern I may generate when I am planning something I suspect might not go as I plan it to? More importantly does this fear and worry cause me to give less than my full attention to my work, my colleagues, my friends or my family?
As we discussed this topic the necessity of realistic fear and healthy concern for dangerous or unsafe things was very clear. You cannot live very long if you aren’t afraid of anything. We recognized it was important to maintain balance when thinking strategically to be rational and concerned and not emotional irrational and worried.
The reasoning is clear, to insulate your strategic advantages for planning an operating at your peak, but most importantly to avoid the sense of dread that can accompany fearing future negative events. I know the future is outside my control to accomplish my Strategic goal of avoiding undue projection and worries I needed a strategy. To force myself to activate my rational mind and my will to make a strategic plan for better performance, and for a happier more balanced life.
…this plan seemed so simple, frankly I didn’t think that irrational fears or worries had that much sway over my emotions…keep it simple, don’t worry about the future, you can’t control it…
The decision not to worry about uncertain outcomes and future events without cause turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would. I was not the pull the covers up to my chin and cry the sky is falling, Chicken Little, type, I am the variety that might recognize statistical possibilities, trends or opinions and have doubt, those doubts may occupy my thinking too frequently. Which required making a deliberate and conscious decision, replace my emotional reaction, with more facts, better logic and less conjecture, and identify when the outcome is so uncertain that it is totally out of my control.
…It’s harder than I had suspected to assert your will over your emotion and force your mind to swim against the tide of evolution and human nature…
To stop myself from fearing uncertain events in the future strategies I needed to tell myself the same thing over and over and over again…“I can’t change the future, so I can’t waste time worrying about it.”
New element of my evolving plan:
…refuse to give permission to indulge in projection that wasted time, or made me miserable. I caught myself falling into my old habits sometimes. I would then apply this new part of the strategy and rescind my mental permission to stop the progression that lead to the bad aspects of unhealthy projections…
If I was going to be truly “present” and actively listening to colleagues, family and friends I needed to make this kind of change sustainable. If I failed in my strategy I needed to restart my day, then and there, and try again, being more authentic and more present for the people in my life. Paying full attention to them in the moment with my whole mind body and spirit. This attention translated to more enjoyment of these moments and that was the underlying goal.
The more I thought about this idea, the more it made sense and the easier it became. If I noticed myself getting off track by projecting, I would restart my day, and reduce my strategy down to a few words and say this…
“No influence over outcome, no need to worry”
I realized even if I knew of some certain bad future outcome that I could rely on, worrying about that did not change that outcome or make things better. In this instance I could ruin my day for nothing, then adding insult to injury, sometimes find myself holding the emotional bag. Not only did the stuff I worried about not happen, but to compound matters, sometimes something great and unexpected would happen. This would cause an emotional boomerang effect. First I would be happy with the unexpected good news, then invariably it caused reflection on the wasted time and regret would replace the surprise and still rain on the parade of good news.
…as I realized the good effect of being worried less was positive so I decided to be more proactive, take more steps to change my thinking.
I developed another step, in the evolution of this new strategy, be more discriminating about information that was influencing my thinking and information I was using to make predictions in my life and in strategic plans…
I needed to be “in the moment” and “present” more often to get greater enjoyment out of life, not necessarily overflowing with optimism every minute , but living in the hear-and-now, more authentic and true to myself and true to those around me. What I mean is actively listening, paying closer attention with my full mind in order to make a more valuable contributions to the relationships in my life – taking part in that present moment with authenticity, with my full attention and full mind and experience these moments with my colleagues, friends and family with more depth.
…The next step in the evolution of my planning was to think about how I would go about changing the data I willingly took into my thinking on a daily basis…
…try to create a better data set to draw from, to make better decisions, planning the future…
The next step was to clear away extraneous info that influenced my mood, interfered with my judgment, or generally wasted my time. Cataloging things that occupied my time, Facebook, political discussion, arguments, TV, internet trolling to kill time, people who took more than they gave or who often made me frustrated. I decided to apply this logic every place I could. I routinely applied this logic at work to do good strategic planning, clean data gives you better facts and analysis and helps you make better decisions, good data in – good data out.
This would be my new strategy for sustaining this new way of thinking. I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna. I have normal concerns, and worry occasionally, but when I reduced the amount of negative information I allowed into my thinking, on purpose, I noticed less emotional and irrational info influencing my thinking. I had less to cloud the rational thinking and pull me off track.
I started to filter my own “data stream” more carefully, what I watched on TV, who my friends were on social media, who I followed on social media, or who I chose to speak to regularly, music I listened to, who I associated with at work and in my life and what conversations I chose to have. I cut free anyone and anything that I could I felt was not supporting my goals.
Some of those people have come back into my life again, some will not. I limited the kind of news and editorials I read and other media I consume. If I have a choice to read fiction or non fiction, I would choose the later – avoiding more biased news on the left and the right. Limiting my speech on controversial subjects. I have found I am enjoying my life more.
..I worry less and care more. I have better perspective and judgment, I am more calm in general, have more time to think, am frustrated less and make more informed decisions that I base assumptions on during planning.
…The natural consequence of this new way of thinking is I am less jammed up about projecting about the future because I’m in the “present” more of my day…
Today a colleague from work looked concerned the first thing in the morning I contemplated saying something but decided it was none of my business. I went about my business, but the truth was it was fear, in that moment, I was afraid she would feel intruded upon, or worse, she would say “what the heck are you talking about, I’m fine” then I would really look foolish. I recognized this was the same kind of thing as the strategic fears ruining my day.
I saw her later the same day and decided to stop what I was doing and ask her “are you OK?” She immediately seemed relieved – told me she was a bit overwrought, she was in need of encouragement. I put my arm on her shoulder and gave her a word of encouragement. I could sense her burden lifted in that moment, a little bit, she had a listening ear and empathetic heart, reaching out authentically with a small gesture. Human nature recognizes sincerity and earnestness, she knew I was concerned for her and my concern was appreciated. It is human nature after all, when someone cares for us, we notice this.
The amazing thing about this small exchange was my own burden seemed to be lighter too. The great paradox of living in the present more authentically and giving of yourself more was, the more I gave of myself with my full mind and intention, the more I got back. The more I shut out negativity, the more room in my mind and heart there was for positive things I want to focus on and would rather spend my time on.
…The more I give of myself to the people around me, the more the people around me reciprocate, weather I ask them to or not, which makes life more enjoyable, more full of joy, who doesn’t want that?…
The more you do for others in their time of need the more your own needs become relevant to those around you – this thought experiment offered much needed perspective, as a bonus, the world seems like a better place to live in – If I can remember to be more present and authentic – it’s better for me and everyone else I come into contact with.