Fearing the unfamiliar. Sound familiar? Yes, we do seem to default to fear when something different is presented to us. Well, not quite in the way we might guess. When presented with a novel situation, the first part of our brain to respond is the instinctual part, the part that was the only brain available to the dinosaurs. Fear is inherent to the first sub-second response from our brain.
The dino brain, at its simplest, entertains only two options: Flight or fight—the “2 F” brain. Basic survival. Fear filled. The “upgrade” includes two more choices, but only if the first two are at least a little bit optional. The two new choices are to consider if this is an opportunity to get food, or to consider if this is an opportunity to propagate the species. Now we have flight, fight, food, and “frocreate”–the four Fs of the dino brain.
We all still have, and use, the dino brain in the first fractions of a second when facing the next situation. If what is next is familiar, we more quickly relax to consider higher order choices. If unfamiliar, fear of the unknown remains and we resist moving beyond flight or fight options. When in the 2F brain, adrenalin flows, muscles fill with energizing blood flow, the heart rate increases and any body function not essential to fight or flight is virtually shut down. Healing and growth are stopped. Some might call this a state of stress.
The brain is not fully formed in our bodies until we are well into our twenties. The brain is programmable and it learns. The interesting note is that it is the child and teen and very young adult interpretations of the world that program the brain. All of what we believe that we know is built on our earliest experiences, when we have the least real knowledge of anything. The immature brain interprets life along the way and tells the evolving brain what things mean and how to react to them. By the time we are in our late twenties we believe that we “know” how life works and what to do. That seeming knowledge has developed, unfortunately, with little credence given to the wisdom of a more experienced and wiser brain.
Yes, we do fear the unfamiliar, at least for the first seconds. That is normal. Staying with the pattern of fear is not exactly a formula for a happy life, though. Now that we have a brain that is fully grown, how might we re-program it with more and better options in reacting to what the world brings us moment to moment?
The first step is to understand the foregoing. We are running on a program that is immature, uneducated and written from the perspective of very little power–child, teen, young adult. That program is built on an ancient base of flight or fight, which is a simplistic fear response.
The second step is to bring yourself to watch those initial thoughts that leap forth from your dino brain. Wait two seconds. Just let them evaporate. Then exhale, smile and consider some of the many other options that you can possibly imagine. As observer, notice your reaction: “There go the dino thoughts, I am feeling xyz. I notice there really isn’t a lion in front of me, I wonder what this is that is in front of me.” Get curious. Laugh. This mutes the potency of the automatic response that we all have. Some manage to get to the laugh stage more easily than to others. Practice is the doorway to remaining calm in the face of the unknown. Note: The really cool stuff is out there in the unknown. So, let us begin.