Overcoming the Evolutionary Impulse of Fear – Why and How To Do This

Adiel Gorel
If you think back to your childhood, what is it that you remember? Sure there will be many good memories, but it is likely that the most visceral memories, the ones that evoke the sharpest emotions, are the unpleasant ones. My friend Chad Lefevre refers to the Negativity Bias to explain this phenomenon. We were speaking about a recent interview podcast I had with James Garrett, founder of Brain by Design.

Are we hardwired to behave the way we behave?

Think about the sort of life our hunter gatherer ancestors lived. There was danger at every step of life –– from predators , other humans and a host of other natural elements. It made sense to be fearful. In fact, that instinct to freeze or flee probably helped us survive as a species.
However, we now live in the safest times ever in the history of mankind where our environment protects us from natural dangers and systems protect us from injustice. And yet we react with fear even when there is no reason for that fear. We may be technologically in the 21st century but our operating system is still a very primitive 1.0 that never really got updated!
Our Negativity Bias is another example of hardwiring. This is also likely based on an evolutionary imperative where, for the sake of survival, we needed to learn from our mistakes and needed to learn those lessons well. So in ancient times, if we were bitten by a poisonous creature, knew where the feral cat hung out, or experienced extreme indigestion after a dodgy tuber, it made sense to remember those deeply unpleasant experiences. However, that evolutionary imperative – the survival instinct – no longer applies to modern life as we live it today.

Can we change our hardwiring?

We understand why we evolved to be fearful and why, as James Garrett puts it, negativity is like Velcro and positivity is like Teflon. Is it possible to change this hardwiring? Increasingly, research is pointing to the possibility of such change. Our nature shapes our experiences – we know that – but we are now examining the possibility that our experiences could also change our nature. In other words, by deliberate thought and action we could change the way we think, feel and act!
As my friend Chad puts it, “you get the life you tolerate.” But why should we continue to tolerate the things that make us unhealthy and unhappy? Our need to be seen and acknowledged is also a big evolutionary impulse –– surely that can help us overcome our fears?
We know that children who feel loved and supported and heard grow up to be balanced, healthy, confident and well-adjusted adults. If kids grow up feeling that their feelings are validated, they will feel that their feelings matter even as adults. So clearly, one’s experiences do in fact have the power to shape feelings.
Using some tools and methodologies, we can also change this hardwiring, as James Garrett’s research has revealed. He explains how to increase the sum of positivity in our lives to ‘rewire happiness’. All these are simple, very doable tools as you will discover in this episode.
In this interesting conversation, we also discuss the issue of laziness or what Chad calls being energy efficient. There is an evolutionary imperative at play here as well –– going into energy conservation mode helped us survive, and we now call this ‘laziness’. Maybe we can learn to overcome this hardwiring too? Be sure to watch it!
Adiel Gorel

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