The Fear Diet
“Neurons that fire together wire together”
It occurred to me as I wrote the title for this blog that it could just as easily mean a diet based on fear – that is – buy into and repeat your fears to yourself as often as possible and hey presto watch the weight fall off as you worry yourself to thinness…
Which brings to our attention a couple of salient points 1. That mental exercise does burn up an amazing amount of energy – estimates are that the human brain is about 4% of body mass but consumes about 17% of energy 2. That once you get on that fear treadmill it’s hard to get off it – hence the quote above about neurons that fire together wire together.
From a neuroscience perspective there is always a battle for brain ‘real estate’ so for example if you break your arm and have it in a cast for 6 weeks then when you have the cast removed your arm feels pretty weird. This is because whilst your arm has been immobilised it hasn’t needed all that brain space so some other function takes over the brain territory. In other words – use it or lose it.
In his book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, Norman Doidge cites examples of new treatments for stroke victims where they actually restrict the use of the good side and force the patient to use the immobilised side. By stimulating the nerve endings it encourages the brain to allocate some ‘territory’ to that function.
So, what’s that got to do with fear?
Well, my theory is that just as physical functions take up brain territory so do behaviours. So if you have a learnt behavioural pattern that you continually repat then you are reinforcing the neural networks every time you run through the pattern.
Fear versus Courage really is a battle. A battle for brain territory.
Oh, and one more point to slip in there – focussed emotionally charged attention is the energy that feeds and reinforces these neural networks – doesn’t matter if it’s positive attention or negative attention.
So – focus on the fears and doubts and you reinforce the neural networks around them. Call yourself an idiot for doing that and you feed more emotional charge and reinforcement into the neural networks. Keep saying “No don’t do that!” and yep – more emotional charge and stronger neural networks.
More fear – more brain territory – less space for courageous self affirming behaviours.
Starve your fears! Put them on a diet!
Make a conscious choice – “I choose to put my fears on a diet”
Develop interruptive behaviours and thought patterns and as you find yourself slipping into fear based thinking or behaving then automatically press play on the interruptive behaviour.
For example, if you know that you often come home from work, flop down on the couch and then slowly feel yourself sinking into a depressive spiral then recognise the behavioural pattern. Coming home from work – opening apartment door and realising that you are alone (trigger 1) – flopping down on the couch etc
Interruptive behaviour could be – phoning a friend, going for a walk or a run, doing yoga, contemplating a jigsaw puzzle, reading a book… even better – keep some juggling balls handy and start learning how to juggle – engage your brain in another activity!
Anything that will interrupt the behavioural pattern and stop you from feeding your fears.
So, recognise the behavioural steps that lead you to where you don’t want to be and decide right now that when the first trigger point occurs – without thinking about it – start the prearranged behavioural pattern.
Another example – you are terrified of public speaking as I used to be…
The thought of getting up to speak gets you sweating. Then you can’t breathe. Then you start visualising everything going wrong and making a fool of yourself…
Starve your fear. Don’t allow any energy to go to it. A great interruptive behaviour and good warm up for public speaking is blowing up a balloon 10 times in a row – yeah try it…
Focusing on the balloon stops you focussing on the fear part of speaking.
Persistently focusing on starving your fears of energy and attention means that they will slowly lose their power over you and slowly lose their grip on precious brain territory.
Try it! Put your fears on a diet!