Have you ever wondered why some people feel comfortable going for things that evoke a feelings of challenge, nervousness, or even anxiety within you?
Your reaction towards something, whether that’s confidence, excitement, nervousness, anxiousness, .. is imprinted in your nervous system. The same is true for the way you handle your initial reaction (e.g. giving yourself credit, judging yourself, …).
Your nervous system essentially is the blueprint for your current reality: Whatever it has learned to identify as safe / unsafe, will determine your nervous system’s, and thus your innate reaction to something.
Did you grow up in a household that encouraged you to speak up for yourself, let you know that your needs are safe to express, that your opinions matter? Did you see people follow their curiosity? Did you notice them trying new things even though they were scared? And were you encouraged to do the same? Were you encouraged to keep going even when you fell down? And on a practical level: Did you grow up eating veggies, moving your body, seeing people express their emotions in a healthy way?
Whatever you have learned is normal, will feel normal to you in a later stage of life, too. Whatever you have learned is dangerous, will feel dangerous to you. It’s the way your nervous system has learned to navigate the world. It’s what your nervous system is used to, and that’s what your nervous system will do it’s best to perpetuate. However your reality looked like – not only in your childhood but up until now – will determine your nervous system’s response to new opportunities, ideas, possibilities, chances.
Whenever you are looking at a new opportunity, e.g. a job, an important conversation, an exciting project, a speaking engagement – your body will tell you how well equipped it thinks you are. This reaction many times does not take into account how hard you worked for it, how well you prepared yourself, how much knowledge you have, etc. It might not even include the major passion you feel for this topic.
What happens for many people, is that they mis-interpret their nervous system’s reaction to a challenge as an indication of how well prepared, deserving, successful they will be. The meaning you give to your nervous system’s reaction can influence wether you’ll fail or win, not your nervous system’s reaction itself. This is a tricky one, because the sensations and emotions a person experiences through their nervous system’s reaction tend to bring up memories from past situations that have been similar. Often times leading to a spiral of negative thoughts about their ability to do something (or anything), their worthiness, how loved they are or will be, …
Your sweaty hands, pounding heart, increased breathing rate and red flush are not a reaction to the challenge you currently face. They are the reaction to an unresolved situation from the past – and don’t have any correlation to your innate qualities to make this challenge the best opportunity one could imagine.
Have you ever tried to talk yourself into a positive mindset when faced with a challenge? Yea, I did that, too. It worked a handful of times, and most of the time it didn’t. When the bodily sensations are big, battling “negative” thoughts with “positive” thoughts is doomed to fail.
Don’t get me wrong. Affirmations and positive self-talk are a powerful thing to do. The mind is able to shift realities within the blink of an eye. However, the thinking mind isn’t the only one in charge. The body reacts to our thoughts, surroundings, challenges in many more ways than we can consciously grasp, potentially leading to reactions that overwhelm us and make us act differently than we would ideally like. The problem is, that many of us were taught to think instead of feel, which essentially has us relying on only a fraction of our actual capacity.
Having a look at the bidirectional nature of the autonomic nervous system explains why: 20% of the autonomic nervous system’s communication travels from the brain to the body. 80% travels from the body to the brain. So if you ever were curious why your affirmations didn’t work – this could be a reason. (You can also read: How to craft affirmations that work)
Depending on how well your nervous system is able to balance itself after a stress response, you might be willing to take chances up to a certain stress level, while casting aside those that exceed your nervous system’s capacities. So, besides of taking a loving approach in your self-communication, the best possible thing you can do, is: balance yourself.
Ask yourself: How do you successfully recuperate from a stressful event? How do you successfully balance yourself from a sad event? You might think back to something that has happened recently, and find strategies that you naturally adopted in order to feel better before / during / after the situation. Helpful strategies can be: conscious belly breaths, movement, talking with a friend, cuddling with an animal, going out in nature, … . Even distracting yourself on your phone can be a way of bringing yourself towards balance – if practiced consciously. Bringing awareness to these strategies takes them from being applied unconsciously to your conscious mind, stacking your toolbox of self-regulation in a meaningful way.