Are you standing naked in the middle of your company’s office covering your private parts with cupped hands? Maybe you’re looking in the mirror and your teeth start to fall out. Or the classic of falling through space and then…

You wake up.

Bad dreams aren’t fun, but new research suggests they have an important role in helping you deal with fear. It’s a function that philosophers thousands of years ago were on to and a technique that served me well in my World Cup racing days.

In my upcoming book, Fear is Fuel, I layout an easy-to-implement framework for what the Stoic philosophers from 300BC called the pre-meditation of evil. The idea is that if you imagine the worst possible outcomes of an important event, you can see how you’d react to that event. Your instincts would tell you what steps to take and learn how to react in that frightening situation. It turns out almost everyone’s brain does this on its own to a certain extent.

We can maximize the benefit of preparation if we follow the advice of a 2,000 year old famous leader and philosopher:

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation,” Seneca the Roman leader wrote “. . . nor do all things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned—and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.”

He’s talking about a realistic approach to dealing with the future. That was the style of visualization I learned at the US Olympic Training Center that prepared me for all race conditions. With a tip of the hat to “your brain knows best,” a new study from the University of Geneva proves that having bad dreams while you sleep prepares you to better deal with challenging situations when you are awake.

“We found that the longer someone felt fear in their dreams, the less the insula, cingulate and amygdala were activated when the same person looked at the negative pictures (shown when awake to invoke their fear response),” Sterpenich continues. “In addition, the activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is known to inhibit the amygdala in the event of fear, increased in proportion to the number of frightening dreams!”

In other words if their dreams exercise the parts of the brain that deal with fear, when they were awake those fear areas have less of an impact over their thinking. The good news is that you don’t have to sleep to exercise those parts of your brain, there’s another way.

If you don’t want to wait to have bad dreams and would rather put this to use on your terms, check out my book Fear is Fuel and if you pre-order the book I will send you the chapter on visualization. Just send an email with a screen shot of your purchase to my assistant with the subject Chapter 6 (assistant@pjsweeney.com). Contact Page.

Fear is Fuel is available for pre-order and there’s a great contest going on before the official launch day with more than $30,000 worth of prizes to give away so order your copy today!

 

3 Comments

  1. December 6, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    Good stuff! It’s cool to see a study validating a 2,000 year-old idea.

    • dev-Reply
      December 7, 2019 at 8:28 am

      So true – one of the things I found in studying neuroscience for six years is that half the old adages, maybe 70% have sound neuroscience behind them. That’s why they have stood the test of time. “Grin and Bear it” for instance – when we activate the 42 muscles in our face we reduce cortisol levels. Crazy but true.

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