Three neuroscience-based tips to change your mindset and use Fear as a Fuel

One of the biggest deadlines of your career is looming over you like the shadow of the grim reaper, and all you can do is think: “I’m going to fail!”

So what do you do?

Your ability to confidently change your mindset can completely alter the course of your career and personal life. If you shift from a threat-mindset (fearing things as danger to your existence) to an opportunity-mindset (anticipating challenges that help you grow and learn) your happiness and likelihood of success will skyrocket.

Most people are frightened by failure; however successful people learn to use that fear as fuel. Perpetual under-performers continuously succumb to one of the most common forms of fear: procrastination. Yes, procrastination is a fear. Procrastinators see big opportunities as threats, and so they flee in one form or another. Socrates famously wondered why if you judge an action to be the best, you will do anything but that action.

After interviewing more than three-dozen of the world’s top neuroscientists for my upcoming book Fear is Fuel, the Surprising Power to Find Purpose, Passion and Performance, science has proven that it’s our wiring that determines our mindset. The good news is that there is something called neuroplasticity, which allows us to change our brain’s wiring at any age. No matter what we were like in the past, we can change. You can change. I can change. Even your pain-in-the-ass boss can change.

Fear is Fuel Book MIT Neuroscienc

Now back to answering Socrates’ questions. The reason we procrastinate, neuroscientists now know, is due to the two-million-year-old piece of software we run on our lizard brain. That part of our brain only cares about passing our genes on to the next generation – procreation and survival. These instincts or immediate reactions begin with an F… fight, flight, freeze, food or f*ck make up our survival actions. Satiating what we want to do right now is the principle job of the amygdala and limbic system. It’s why we procrastinate and why it’s hard to delay gratification.

The adult-supervision part of our brain is called the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). The PFC can make multi-level decisions into the future. In other words “If I do A, either B or C will happen.” “If I do X, then W, Y or C could happen.” The pre-frontal cortex is the newest part of our brain and it’s also closely related to our courage center. The PFC is newer and less powerful, so it takes practice to override the limbic system to change that mindset rut you’re stuck in. But it is definitely possible.

Here are three ways to take the power from the limbic system also known as your lizard brain:

Reframe what you have to do as an exciting and fun challenge

Challenge yourself to do a little work on your project, knowing that if you just make an effort, you’ll be better off than worrying and procrastinating.

Sweeney Fear is Fuel Paragliding Alps speaker

We only decide two ways (as I outlined in my Fear is Fuel book) out of fear or out of opportunity. Make sure you focus on the positive opportunity and how your life will get better by crushing your project. Choose to take advantage of it and grow. Tell yourself you are choosing opportunity even if it feels scary.

Wolf down a shit sandwich

It takes about six minutes to eat even a bad sandwich – so now it’s chowtime. Pick the worst task or the thing you are dreading most about the project and do that for the first six minutes of the day, or each hour. Stay focused for six uninterrupted minutes. This forces you to take a bite out of the project in a way you can manage and quickly see the end of. I used this at my companies with sales teams all the time. If they were afraid of cold calling, I’d have them do the first six minutes of every hour that they were at their desk making calls. It works like a charm, just have some Listerine around for when you’re done.

Face you fear and ask for help

Announce your project to people you work or live with and let them know your schedule. Tell them what you are afraid of – it will fail, you’ll be late, the client won’t like it, etc. Ask them to hold you to deadlines and to remind you that you can do a great job. Talk to yourself and say “I won’t let them down.” Performing difficult tasks is much easier if we are motivated by the ones we love.

Another great tactic that I outline in the book is called the pre-meditation of evil. It’s a Stoic Philosophy that can change your perspective on any situation, but it takes more time to explain and implement. Check it out in Chapter 6, there’s some great techniques from the US Olympic Training Center as well.



Fear is Fuel best-selling book



If you liked this article you’ll love the book Fear is Fuel – please buy it and leave me a great review on Amazon! Don’t forget to enter the pre-order contest and win a chance to go for a one-on-one bike ride with Lance Armstrong or an adventure weekend with me facing your fears!

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