How to Slay Your Dragons

Article from Lassez Faire Magazine

Author – Chris Campbell

“You’re sitting at a Chinese restaurant and the waiter brings your fortune cookie.

You crack it open and pull out the little slip of paper.

There’s a picture of a little red dragon with menacing eyes. You flip it over.

It reads: “Change is coming.”

How do you feel?

If you’re one to believe in fortune cookie messages (and even if you’re not), it might feel a little ominous.

Especially with that little dragon… with its flaming eyes… staring you down.

However much you want change to come, if you’re honest with yourself, there’s a spurt of anxiety.

Why?

The answer is simple and hardwired into your brain: You fear loss far more than you value gain.

The Fear of Loss

That’s one thing Dan Kahneman gets at in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.

In the book, he shows how your perspective of reality is exaggerated at least double when you’re afraid of losing something.

But he didn’t tell the whole truth.

He knew this idea would be heavily scrutinized, so he played it safe.

In private, he admitted his data actually shows people inflate their fears by about five to seven times more than reality affords

It only proves how powerful this bias really is.

Even someone who’s acutely conscious that this bias exists will hide the extent of it for fear of loss (of respect, status, credibility, whatever it is).

The Dragon Within

The most ancient part of your brain, the Reptilian brain, is a survival machine.

Nothing else is more important.

Unchecked, and even checked, it acts autonomously.

Your limbic brain and neocortex, the “higher brains,” are still largely beholden to this Dragon within.

This Dragon is hardwired to make you and your environment predictable. That way, loss is impossible. (Or so it thinks.)

It’s wired to help you avoid emotions and insights that could shed light on why you can’t seem to “get it together.”

Because, if you saw them for what they were, you might change and grow.

And growth is the enemy of safety — it requires a certain level of unpredictability.

The Hero’s Journey

Here we invoke mythologist Joseph Campbell’s classic Hero’s Journey.

Campbell, through his life’s work, realized a single “monomyth” shows up in every era, culture, race and religion…

And that all of these myths and stories were passed on not because of superstitious fantasies — but because they contained within them life’s greatest (and universally human) lessons.

It’s the reason we love the Hero in stories, movies and myths. Because we understand his or her journey is actually our own.

One lesson that shows up everywhere: Growth requires mustering up the courage to take a Journey into the Unknown.

The hero reaches a point in his life where he must leave safe, comfortable domesticity and set off on an adventure to an unpredictable place. A strange place with no shortage of dragons to face and conquer.

[Your fortune cookie we mentioned earlier, in this framework, could be what Campbell called the “Call to Adventure.”]

This Journey, however, is the last thing the Reptile, that Dragon-breeder in your brain, wants.

It’s for this reason…

The dragon hides uncomfortable truths about yourself (the “Shadow”) to keep predictability intact. To stave off loss.

It compartmentalizes trauma, hides the way in which you might sabotage your success (even when it’s painfully obvious to everyone else), and shields you from certain innate gifts that might inject any complexity into your life.

For this reason, it’s obsessed with rituals. The ritualized life is the “safe” and predictable life.

It explains, in part, why someone would rather stay addicted to horrible, destructive habits (including, but not limited to, drugs) rather than change.

The addictions become rituals to keep life predictable.

It’s all a way to protect oneself from the biggest predator of all — Uncertainty.

Even when the addiction is clearly destroying his or her entire life, the fear of the unknown is greater.

Imagine the insanity of this.

The most insane thing, however, is we all do it.

The Road to Freedom

The road to true freedom is, fortunately, within your control.

But it requires you to exercise your uncertainty muscle.

It requires stepping into the Unknown. Letting go of the stories that make your life predictable.

Otherwise, you’re a hostage to what you think you know.

You’re a bubble boy — a slave to the story you tell yourself throughout the day.

One realization above all else changed the game for me:

Uncertainty is the bedrock of all fear.

It’s that simple.

Fears are just predictions (projections) of things not happening right now.

And, if Kahneman is to be believed, those fears are 99.9% of the time exaggerated. Bigly.

How to do it?

Here’s something I’m finding useful, through life’s concentric circles of the Hero’s Journey, to beat back the dragons.

1] Acceptance. 

The wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous applies here:

You can’t change a problem until you accept it exists.

Accepting…

A] uncertainty will always exist in your life

B] and so will your apprehensive of it and

C] there’s no escaping either of those things

This allows you to see through the Dragon’s projections.

It doesn’t help you push the fear away, but it does help you move forward with courage.

It might however conjure up anger, when you realize you’ve been living too small.

Accept that, too.

Use it as fuel to push further.

2] Name your Dragons.

Disassociating yourself from this fear of uncertainty is the second step:

Naming the dragons.

Imagine the fear of uncertainty is its own entity, something different from yourself.

What does it look like? How does it act?

Is it aggressive? Passive? Energetic? Lazy?

Give it a name. Make it something silly.

Like Pickles.

Ask it what it wants.

It might sound weird and hippy-flippy, but if you take this exercise seriously, you might learn a lot about your own fears.

Seeing your fears from a dissociated perspective…

Realizing your fears have been largely overblown…

It can be a bit unsettling at first.

That’s when, perhaps, depression and regret starts to set in.

Accept that, too.

More fuel.

Keep going.

3] Slay (And Tame) Your Dragons

In the Hero’s Journey, the hero must face the thing he fears the most and conquer it.

Only then will he receive the Elixir, that gift which takes him to the next level so he can get what he really wants out of life.

Uncertainty is scary. There’s no avoiding it. The courage to act in the face of fear, however, is what makes the Hero worthy of the name.

Start doing things that make you uncomfortable.

Take a dancing or singing lesson. (Especially if you’ve always said, “I’m not a singer…” or “I’m not a dancer…”)

Hire someone to help you learn a new language.

Start a meetup group in your area.

Begin that project you’ve thought about for years, but never really took seriously.

Travel.

Embrace failure.

Become that toddler trying to walk. You’re going to fall down. But, if you keep going, one step will turn into two… three… four…

Pretty soon, you’re running pantsless through the living room and nobody can stop you.

Dare to be proven wrong… to be exposed as a fraud. To be vulnerable.

Sir Ken Robinson put it this way: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

The only thing you have to lose, really, is your emotional attachment to past stories you tell about yourself.

(So long as, of course, the fear you confront isn’t foolish and irrational like “jumping out of a plane without a parachute.” Common sense applies.)

There’s no freedom in keeping life predictable and “safe.”

There’s nothing heroic about cowering in fear of the Dragons within.

Act with courage. Be the Hero.

Write a new story.”

Until tomorrow,

Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today

 

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