Suppose a young man, James Littleton, is accused of being lazy, and it’s his day in court. The prosecution and defense are each going to have their turn to present their case, and then the jury will reach a verdict.
But guess what? The prosecution has no chance of winning a conviction. That’s because laziness is only a perception: Someone else deems that another person has not demonstrated the same level of work ethic or commitment to (whatever) the accuser believes is “appropriate.”
However, perception and fact are not the same. Not only are there varying interpretations as to what constitutes enough work (so that someone is not viewed as “lazy”), but there are other variables that aren’t even likely considered when people pass such judgment.
Namely, people with incomplete lower brain development are always working much, much harder than what the rest of us can know. That’s because we can’t see how their brains are working overtime to compensate for one or more missing automatic brain functions.
People’s motivation to perform is also often linked to what they believe to be important. Here, it may be as simple as someone doesn’t share the same degree of interest as the person “accusing” him or her of being lazy and, therefore, puts forth less effort.
Or, perhaps the accuser doesn’t know how to motivate others to do more. For example, there are some people who are never satisfied with any outcome (they’re always critical—no matter what work has already been completed). In such case, those who interact with these individuals often conclude, “Why bother to even show any effort?”
Yet, people keep tagging others as “lazy” as though none of these variables ever come into play.
That’s why the case against James Littleton has no merit. The prosecution cannot prove (let alone beyond a shadow of a doubt) that he—or anyone else—is guilty of being lazy. We simply cannot convict others based on our own perceptions.
Note that this line of thinking applies to other accusations, as well. For example, annoying is just as much of a perception as lazy. Yes, some people may act in a way that’s not in sync with others’ expectations or desires—but that doesn’t mean those people are annoying.
Interestingly, there are those who continue to tangle perceptions with fact and insist that people truly are lazy, annoying, manipulative (the list goes on). So why might that be?
Well, when we label people with such undesirable terms, we cleverly shift the spotlight away from ourselves and now inadvertently shine it on everyone else. In other words, we believe it’s up to the other person to change. However, so long as we’re waiting for someone else to transform, we’re not likely to move forward.
So, since our perceptions are intricately linked to our actions, we may need to first ask ourselves: Are we making accusations about others . . . that would never hold up in court?
And if we’re the ones being accused, we may want to remind ourselves of the big difference between perception and fact—and that other people’s opinions do not really render us guilty of anything. In fact, we can throw their case out of court any time we choose.
Fear is an emotion, triggered by a perceived threat. But since our brain is wired to respond to danger, a cascade of physiological reactions also takes place in the body. Such changes are intended to help us fight or flee the threat.
So what actually happens? Well, our hypothalamus initiates a fight-or-flight response by activating our sympathetic nervous system. It also alerts our pituitary gland to trigger the adrenal-cortical system.
Once the sympathetic nervous system is activated, our body becomes very tense and alert. Once the adrenal-cortical system is triggered, it releases about 30 different hormones to prepare the body to handle the threat.
As a result of these two systems in action, our heart rate, blood pressure, red blood cells, perspiration, and glucose all increase. Our veins constrict. Our muscles tense. The pupils of our eyes dilate. Nonessential systems (to the threat) such as digestion and the immune system shut down.
Now, having this kind of automatic, innate response to a threat is great . . . if true danger is really imminent.
But unfortunately, the brain does not automatically distinguish between the fear triggered from seeing a coiled rattlesnake or hearing an intruder breaking into our home from the fear triggered by thinking it’s the principal calling (once again) to complain about our child or that we’re going to mess up the presentation in front of the management team. Yep, it’s the same physiological chain reaction for anything we fear.
Of course, since the last two examples are more reflective of what’s likely to pop up in our daily lives than the first two, we start to think: Just how many times a day is our body in this reactive fear state? And, if so, then how might this affect our overall physical health, as well as our cognitive abilities?
Well, it turns out that repeated fear reactions often result in high levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol affect sleep, memory, metabolism, bones, muscles, blood sugar, blood pressure, and digestion, Additionally, too much cortisol decreases the rate that lymphocytes multiply, which then leaves the body deficient in immune cells and more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses.
Yikes—the long-term effects of being fearful may actually warrant more concern that whatever triggered such responses in the first place.
But guess what? We don’t have to have a fear-trigger brain that perceives daily life as one big, continual threat. Sure, we want to rely on this incredible response for times of true danger, but those times are going to be rare, not daily occurrences.
So here are some suggestions to put the brakes on knee-jerk fear-based reactions, as well as a long-term suggestion that makes it much easier for the brain to react to only true danger.
1. Live in the present.
Fear is always related to something we only think is going to happen in the future. Yet, we often react in the present (become fearful) as though we’re suddenly clairvoyant and know what’s going to happen.
So, considering there are 168 hours in a week, calculate how many of those hours you spent last week preoccupied with whatever you feared. Then calculate how much time during the week your fear actually materialized. Do you think you’ll discover that you spent far more time anticipating the worst-case scenario than the actual time spent dealing with the fear—if it even happened at all? (And if so, you clearly survived—or you wouldn’t be reading this blog post!)
2. Pause and breathe.
As simple as it sounds, just pausing and taking a few deep breaths are often enough to circumvent the whole physiological response to fear. That’s because in those few seconds you pause, your brain gets a chance to determine whether there’s truly a threat—and if not, it can send a message to the part of the brain called the amygdala that says, “Nope. No danger. No need to activate the fight-or-flight response.”
3. Replace a fearful thought with a grateful one.
Honestly, it’s impossible to be grateful and fearful at the same time.
4. Go exercise.
Instead of dwelling on a fearful thought, go for a run or walk. Turn on the music and dance. Lift some weights.
5. Give yourself some proprioceptive stimuli.
Proprioceptive movements, such as pushing, pulling, pressing, and squeezing (think how we instinctively grab and squeeze someone’s hand when we’re frightened) are actually calming. Similarly, the kind of proprioceptive stimuli we receive while engaging in a pillow fight or hitting a punching bag or getting a deep pressure massage—are also helpful in reducing stress.
6. Develop lower centers of the brain.
There’s no getting around it: If our lower centers of the brain are not fully developed, we greatly increase our chances of being in fight-or-flight mode much of our lives. Consequently, we suffer both the related physiological effects of such reactions, in addition to other problems that are related to incomplete lower brain development.
Yes, it would be great if the brain had an automatic sensor that always verified genuine threats (and therefore, only set off that physiological chain reaction in times of true danger). But still, that doesn’t mean we have to throw our hands in the air and concede to a life of fear. We truly can opt to extinguish daily fear from our lives.
After all, is dwelling on what might happen in the future—noting that what we dread may never even materialize—worth all the toil and adverse physiological effects on our body that accompany fear? Maybe that sobering thought is enough to change how we think and respond.