- Mental barriers like cognitive bias or defense mechanisms are an often overlooked but crucial-to-overcome roadblock in your self-realization journey.
- Negative thoughts and fear can hold us back from reaching our full potential and pursuing our passions.
- These negative thoughts and emotions can be suppressed into our subconscious, but they can resurface if we reach our capacity for suppression or if they are triggered.
- By practicing mindfulness meditation (with our step-by-step-guide) and applying insights from CBT, we can gain insights into our deepest desires and fears that hold us back.
- To overcome these fears and move towards our goals with confidence, it’s important to examine and determine whether they are rational or irrational.
- By acknowledging and facing our fears then, we can break free from the prison of our own subconscious, embrace novelty and live a more fascinating life.
Experiencing new things is key to transforming a boring into a fascinating life. In this article, we explore how the natural flow of life tends to replace curiosity with wariness which opens the door for monotony to creep in. By understanding this process and the discussed counter-strategies, you’ll leave this article equipped to live your life to the fullest – like a child.
Specifically, you’ll learn how mindfulness techniques can help you take control of your thoughts and feelings and thus steer your behavior in directions more conducive to your aspirations.
The Invisible Chains of Fear and Limiting Beliefs
“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”— Nigel Marsh
As we age, we easily lose the sense of wonder and excitement we had as children. We can find ourselves going about our daily business feeling unfulfilled and lacking motivation – even after achieving personal or professional success. So, what has changed?
We adopted a “safety culture” that prioritizes avoiding risk and discomfort over new experiences and challenges. We may associate novel things with the risk of failure or uncertainty, often due to bad experiences. So, we back off from what’s new and cling to what’s familiar as it feels better.
New ideas and desires get discarded because they are “too crazy” or “wouldn’t work anyway” or – if they survive the first wave of negative biases – we escalate into “analysis paralysis” until the opportunity is gone. Then we can at least tell ourselves it wasn’t our fault, right? And gradually our inner child’s voice fades out – no more crazy ideas – how comfortable, how boring…
It’s key to understand though that our inner child (and desires etc.) never really “dies”: It’s sitting there, sobbing quietly, behind thick walls of fear and doubts deep in our subconscious, waiting to be freed and (re-)ignited. Let’s now dive a bit deeper into how this “suppressive machinery” of our mind works and see if there’s a way out. Spoiler alert, there is.
Understanding the Psychological Machinery Holding You Back
There are several factors at play seducing us to trade our adventurous spirit for a safety culture. One of these can, in fact, be rational thinking and wisdom: Sometimes our “crazy ideas” are indeed simply crazy. There’s nothing wrong with not burning our fingers (again). However, it doesn’t stop there (otherwise this article wouldn’t be needed).
Another factor is our tendency to take the “path of least resistance” (which is not bad per se). The problem lies in its interplay with our cognitive biases (i.e. automated subconscious mental shortcuts we use to make quick decisions in complex situations), and defense-mechanisms (i.e. our tendency to suppress negative thoughts and feelings to feel better) which, in sum, work like an almost insurmountable bastion against novelty.
One of these biases, the “confirmation bias”, is our tendency to interpret new ideas in a way that is consistent with our preconceived notions: We systematically reject anything that doesn’t fit our worldview in split-seconds. This “worldview” – our dominant beliefs incl. unhelpful ones like “X doesn’t work anyway” (even if it does) – acts like a bouncer which unfamiliar ideas typically won’t get past as they don’t “make the cut” of comfiness.
If we leave these mechanisms of “motivated blindness and suppression” unchecked, they escalate badly. This mechanism works in the short term because it’s the “path of least resistance” and helps alleviate the painful “cognitive dissonance” caused by conflicting thoughts, negative feelings or “crazy ideas”.
However, when the problems we suppress finally become reality or when we reach our “suppression capacity” we can get hit off-guard or burn out. And, again, by killing all “supposedly crazy” ideas the moment they arise, we’re missing so many shots to imbue our lives with some magic.
We need to find ways to deal with these subconscious processes in a more sustainable way. This requires some “deep digging” because behavioral science (i.e. CBT) shows there’s a logical chain between thoughts, feelings, and actions: If we want to change our behavior – e.g., live a more adventurous life – we must start by adopting conducive thought patterns – e.g., shifting from “learned helplessness” to “self-efficacy” (in a realistic way). These, in turn, enable to more conducive emotional patterns (hope, confidence etc.) to drive the desired behavioral pattern.
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”— George Addair
A Practical Guide to Overcoming Our Mental Hurdles
We must address the problem on two levels: Firstly, we need to gain insights into our dominant worldview or beliefs, i.e. the “bouncer” which new ideas need to get past: By identifying and correcting the misbeliefs, and thus improving the chances of “good ideas” to survive, we can address the problem at its root.
Secondly, as a “rescue mission” for our desires that already fell victim to our confirmation bias or suppressive forces, we need to dig them up, and give them (especially the rational desires and fears) a fair chance to guide us. An important distinction to make here is between beliefs and fears that are rational – i.e. which keep us safe like our instinctive reaction to a car speeding at us – and irrational ones – i.e. those holding us back unreasonably like unrealistic beauty ideals fueled by social media. This is critical as those different patterns require different treatments after we surfaced them.
One way for the “digging” is mindfulness meditation: This simple yet powerful tool can help you identify your deeper desires and fears as well as underlying beliefs, so you can then start taking steps towards overcoming them.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do all of that – please also don’t hesitate to use one of the many guided mediation resources out there for step 1 (e.g., I liked using the app InsightTimer):
Step 1: Practice regular mindfulness meditation (simplified instructions).
- Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus e.g., on your breath in the present moment.
- Allow your suppressed thoughts and desires to gradually pop up without judging them.
- Write down as much as you can remember after the session.
Step 2: Examine your fears and beliefs and determine if they are rational or irrational.
- For each thought or feeling you identified, drill down with the “5 Whys technique”, i.e. keep asking “why?” until you drilled down to its root cause.
- Ask yourself for each fear: “Is this fear based on a real danger (fact) or a perceived threat (fiction)?” and “Is this fear helping me or hindering me?”
Step 3: Address your rational fears proactively.
- “Appreciate” your rational fears and devise a plan to overcome their cause, e.g., get out of the metaphorical car’s way.
- Seek help from friends or professionals if needed.
Step 4: Reframe and challenge your irrational fears.
- Question the evidence for the fear (i.e., “Is it based on fact or fiction?”).
- Test your hypotheses: Sometimes you must take a “leap of faith” to figure it out.
- Seek alternative perspectives on the issue and consider getting professional help.
Confronting our fears or acting upon our desires leads to greater confidence with each repetition – it’s like a muscle. If you regularly practice mindfulness and face your fears, you’ll gradually break down the barriers holding you back and develop a view of the world and your possibilities and limitations in that context which is more aligned with reality. Additionally, with all those new experiences, your spirit of adventure and wonder returns.
Conquering Ourselves: Putting it All Together
In conclusion, it is vital to remember that we must face and overcome our fears to live our life to the fullest. This process can be challenging, but it’s worth it. By meditating regularly and letting (and observing non-judgmentally) our minds wander, we can gain insight into our deepest desires and the fears or beliefs that hold us “captive”. With this understanding we can work liberate ourselves and gradually break the monotony and embark on our journey with a new (or old?) sense of excitement.
In future articles, we will also dive deeper into some of the discussed concepts of today such as cognitive biases – so stay tuned for more! And please, don’t forget to share your own insights, experiences, and feedback in the comments. Let’s support each other on this journey of self-discovery and growth.
Recommended Reading for the Go-Getters
Find some further inspiration and guidance in these relevant resources:
- “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle: This book offers insights into mindfulness and the benefits of living in the present moment, which can be the key to overcoming negative thoughts and fears that get in the way of our goals.
- “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman: This book explores heuristics and biases and can help us improve our general decision-making skills, i.e., to “think better” in all our decisions aloft the social ladder.
- “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz: This book offers practical tools for improving our relationships with ourselves and others, including how to free ourselves from destructive thought patterns and beliefs.
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson: In this entertaining book, Mark Manson discusses the importance of prioritizing and learning to let go of things that don’t matter to focus on what does.
- “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander: This book is about the power of possibility and how we can use it to change our mindset and seize new opportunities for growth.