Written and contributed by Stephen Gibb
Around nine months ago, my daughter Willow developed a fear of elevators. Each time we walked towards one, Willow would become hyper-vigilant. Her breath would quicken, and she would cling tightly to me. If I resisted, Willow would begin to cry and become incredibly distressed.
Willow and I live on the top floor of an apartment block. It was upsetting to see her in distress every time we would leave or return home together. My reassurances that elevators held nothing to fear didn’t help. And, while I did my best to convince her, infants don’t care about calming breathing techniques or cognitive reframing when in floods of tears. These tools are, however, very beneficial for adults — more on that later.
On one swelteringly hot day, when the elevator was out of order, Willow and I were forced to climb down and then back up four flights of stairs. Willow complained of sore legs and tiredness every step of the way (other than when I was carrying her of course), which made what happened next even more surprising.
Every day afterwards, Willow asked to use the stairs rather than the elevator, even volunteering to climb all four flights unassisted. Willow had found a way to avoid the uncomfortable feelings brought on by the elevator and was undeterred by the extra effort, discomfort and inconvenience involved.
I, however, wasn’t a fan of Willows labour-intensive plan. I believed she would outgrow her fear and, in what now seems like an act of torture, subjected her to many more stressful rides in the elevator. That was until I understood the underlying cause of her distress.
Fear primarily refers to an experience in which we are faced with an immediate or expected threat to our life or wellbeing. This is called a rational or appropriate fear and is typical and even helpful in dangerous situations. It serves a protective purpose, activating the automatic “fight-or-flight” response to keep us safe.
Another category of fear exists, namely irrational or inappropriate fear. These are fears of something that poses little or no actual danger. Although irrational fears can become so severe that they interfere with everyday life. When they do, they’re called phobias. When confronted with the thing feared, the terror is automatic and overwhelming. The experience can be so nerve-wracking that you will go to great lengths to avoid it — inconveniencing yourself or even changing your lifestyle. This is what was happening to Willow.
As it turns out, Willow didn’t feel threatened by the elevator at all. In fact, the elevator was only a trigger for Willows phobia and experience of anxiety. Willow was anxious about the elevator doors separating her from her dad, and the potential of becoming lost.
Anxiety is a natural part of life and, at normal levels, helps us to function at our best. It’s what motivates us to plan for the future. In this sense, it’s a good thing. It’s that nagging feeling that encourages us to study for that test practice harder for that game or be at our very best in that presentation. However, some people experience such intense anxiety that it is no longer helpful or useful. They may become so overwhelmed and distracted by anxiety that they fail their test, fumble the ball, or spend the whole presentation stumbling over their words and staring at the floor. Anxiety can be incredibly challenging to control and at its worst completely debilitating.
The difference between fear and anxiety is exceptionally nuanced. The perceived threats (physical or imagined) are processed in the same parts of our brain and cause us to experience many similar symptoms and feelings when they occur. However, being able to spot the difference is critical in being able to handle the situation and alleviate the discomfort.
Because Willow never feared the elevator, my attempts to convince her that it was safe were destined to fail. When Willow offered to take the stairs, it wasn’t to avoid using the elevator, it was to dodge the stimulus of the anxiety associated with becoming lost. Willow had stumbled upon a way to suppress the anxiety through avoidance. However, she wasn’t addressing the underlying phobia, meaning there could be numerous other triggers that could cause distress in the future.
Stress, the bodies response to fear and anxiety, is a rapidly increasing challenge of modern society. From an evolutionarily perspective, stress was designed to help us focus on the present moment and by preparing the body to move. It was intended for short irregular applications to help us escape from something or capture something else. Today, however, many of us live in a state of perpetual stress, or, to give it its clinical name, chronic stress. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. It can cause high blood pressure, the formation of artery-clogging deposits, changes in the brain that may lead to depression and addiction and even obesity.
It appears that benign irrational fears can, in fact, be as life-threatening as their rational equivalents. It is critical, therefore, to take steps to lessen stress in life to maintain a clean bill of health.
I am adept at findings ways to relieve the discomfort of stress, and like Willow, will accept sacrifices to do so. These can be as trivial as leaving the house early to avoid busy public transport or as significant as giving up a personal ambition for fear of failure. Regretfully, this behaviour has deprived me of our meaningful opportunities to learn, grow and lead a liberated more vibrant life.
Most people know when something in their life isn’t working. However, they lack the tools to understand what’s wrong and what remedial steps to take. Fear, or more specifically, anxiety, can be a great indicator of what’s not working. It can also be the catalyst and impetus to step outside of our comfort zone to address the root cause and develop as an individual.
The way I permanently address anxiety and alleviate stress is to eliminate the uncertainty associated with the underlying fear. For Willow, that is a work in progress. I’ve been teaching her what to do if we become separated, not just by the elevator but anywhere. However, the solution to becoming lost goes beyond just knowing how to find each other again. It includes reassuring Willow that I am there for her, that she can rely on me and when she is a little older, that she’ll be capable of independence. This is a tougher nut to crack, but we will get there.
Working through uncertainty is a cognitive process of gathering information that invalidates your fear or increases your comprehension of the imagined situation and how to handle it. Providing your brain with the understanding, you can overcome the fear serves to turn down the volume on the anxiety. The more certainty you can develop around fear, the quieter the anxiety and the resultant stress becomes.
Managing uncertainty can take time, and unsurprisingly, anxiety and stress doesn’t disappear while we are trying to develop certainty. It’s beneficial, therefore, to have some tools that can help release the pressure when it all gets too much. The tools below were shared by Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman from Stanford University on a recent Thrive Global post. They act on the core nervous system to shift us from “fight-or-flight” into the “rest-and-digest” state, and in doing so, calm us down.
1. Use Panoramic Vision
The focus of the eyes is closely linked to felt levels of stress. Engaging panoramic vision (looking straight ahead and allowing the peripheral vision to expand), can positively impact stress levels.
When feeling stressed or experiencing a build-up of anxiety. Lifting the gaze away from the screen and looking ahead can have a profoundly positive affect. Or better still, increase the impact by getting outside into nature and viewing the horizon; bonus points for a sunrise or sunset.
2. Exhale Emphasised Breathing/Physiological Sighs
One of the most common things people say when someone is stressed is to take a deep breath. However, studies show that it’s actually the exhale that plays the most significant role in the calming the nervous system. Inhale focused breathing (any breathing technique in which the inhale is longer) increases agitation and stress in the body; which can be valuable under certain circumstances. Exhale emphasised breathing, where the exhale is longer, allows the nervous system to be reset to base levels.
Completing two to five rounds of a physiological sigh — double inhale (breath in, pause, breath in again) and long sigh out the mouth — will be impactful in lowering stress levels.
3. Take Action
Often times when stress arises, the last thing I feel like is doing is moving. I have even found myself in a state of paralysis in exceptional circumstances. Other times I have attempted to suppress the overwhelming feeling of stress because I’m not sure how to handle it. These reactions are counterintuitive to our physiology.
Rising levels of stress are the nervous systems way of encouraging forward movement to take action towards confronting a challenge or problem. Doing so provides the rewarded of a release of dopamine — a feel-good chemical in the brain that is part of the body’s reward system. This dopamine hit suppressed the internal chemicals responsible for the feeling of stress and strengthens the “take action” circuit of the brain. Making it easier to take action the next time stress takes hold.
I can achieve a similar outcome by taking action on something wholly disassociated from the source of the stress. Just succeeding at making a cup of coffee, putting on a load of washing on or making the bed can also stimulate a release of dopamine in moments of heightened distress.
So, what can we learn from Willow, a three-year-old little girl with a fear of becoming lost?
1. All fear, including anxiety-inducing irrational fear, can be life-threatening. What life-threatening anxiety and suffering are you choosing to live with?
2. It’s easier for us to find avoidant workarounds rather than facing our fears. What are the workarounds masking your fears, and inhibiting your growth opportunities?
3. Irrational fear and the resultant feeling of anxiety can be overcome by eliminating uncertainty. What steps will you take to bring certainty to the context of an existing fear?
Just before I published this article, I spoke to some close friends. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing by putting a story about my beloved daughter on the internet. One piece of feedback was so thought-provoking; I thought it worth sharing.
“…maybe change this line, because it is only when it comes to lifts, the line below implies she has it in all situations?
So, what can we learn from Willow, a three-year-old girl with a fear of becoming lost?
I don’t know if you want to label her. All kids look for their parents”
The same concern had crossed my mind. Willows situation is primarily concerning elevators, but there have been other instances too, and most kids do worry about becoming lost. But, I think this is an excellent illustration of a large part of the problem. We are societally scared to label and confront our fears. Instead, we put on a brave face, muddle through and die a little more inside each day.
I don’t want that for my daughter or for anyone else. It is my hope that the research I did to write this will allow me to help Willow overcome her fear and that in reading it, others will be inspired to do the same.
I am often astounded by the number of people who feel stuck, frustrated or challenged by life's uncertainties. I can even become a little perplexed as to why so many of my fellow humans are still ignorant to their own potential and resourcefulness.
I have come to understand that how teachable a person is plays a big part in their ability to progress and move though life's challenges.
Years ago I was introduced o a concept called the "Teachability Index" and I'd love to share it with you as it may just shine a light as to why you may not be progressing as you would like.
Why 'Teachability' Matters
If you're not teachable or coachable you won't receive the full benefits from any development interventions you invest in. Not being teachable reduces your ability to really maximize the potential lying dormant with in you.
Regardless of whether you are a great teacher yourself, an expert or even highly intellectual you'll never reap the rewards from life if you are not teachable. In fact thinking you already know something is a very dangerous mindset that has the potential to stop you living a fulfilled life. Those living a fulfilled life have open minds and understand there is always more to learn.
To be teachable you have to accept how much you don't know. Do you know that you don't know what you don't know? Think about that question for a while and let it sink in.
Being teachable means you listen and absorb information without challenging it by disagreeing. You're not going to blindly follow it either. You're going to believe what is presented as the truth – but you are going to question it until you understand why it's true or possibly not true – you must be teachable!
Understanding teachability opens the doors to a world of information, knowledge and possibilities. So how teachable are you? There is a great way to find out by calculating your own Teachability Index.
The Teachability Index will help you determine how teachable you really are.
Calculating Your Teachability Index
There are two variables you need to consider when it comes to teachability.
The First Variable
The first variable is determined by asking yourself "What is my willingness to learn? “And then scaling it from one to ten. This will determine how high your willingness to learn the information is.
You can apply this index across any area of life and in any form of study. You must have a high teachability index otherwise you're wasting your time. You can't read something once and think you know everything, if you do think this is the way to learn you will easily become unteachable.
On a scale of one to ten what's your willingness to learn new information?
To help you determine your scale, answering some of these questions may help.
• What are you willing to do?
• How much time are you willing to invest?
• How much money are you willing to invest?
• How much effort are you willing to put in?
• What are you willing to give up?
In most cases people think they have a high willingness to learn but they don't. The real question is – What are you willing to give up to learn this information?
What's your favorite thing to do? Perhaps it's watching an enite Netflix series in one sitting, maybe you like to sleep in, what about the time you spend on social media… are you willing to dramatically reduce the time you spend doing your favorite thing, or give it up completely so you can immerse yourself in new content, information and activities.
The Second Variable
The second variable is even tougher than the first. It’s determining how willing you are to accept change.
If you are not happy with where you're at right now it’s obvious that something has to change. The reason the second variable is tougher than the first is because you have done things a certain way and you have thought a certain way up until this point (potentially a very long time). Your actions and thoughts continually create the results you are getting. They are patterns that you have formed in your subconscious mind and it’s these patterns that you're going to have to change to fully maximize who you are. So, really you need to ask yourself: What is my willingness to change the way I think, the way I feel about things and what I habitually do?
What is your willingness to change?
You may think you’re 10/10 and say convincingly to yourself… "I’m going to learn this information, but change... no, I don’t want to change anything in my life”.
Willingness to Learn X Willingness to accept change = Teachability Index
If you’re willingness to learn is a ten, and your willingness to accept change is a zero. Ten multiplied by zero equals zero (10 x 0 = 0). You have a ZERO teachability index, you are not teachable. You must have both a high willingness to learn and a high willingness to accept change to have a high teachability index.
If you have a high teachability index you would be thinking and saying things like:
If this sounds like you, then you would score a ten in willingness to learn.
If you would also be saying and thinking things like:
If this sounds like you then you would score a ten in willingness to accept change.
Therefore ten multiplied by ten equals one-hundred (10 x 10 =100) – You are the perfect student. Your attitude toward growth and learning will reap rewards in a short period of time. You will quickly notice positive changes in your results because you will learn and understand new information better than most.
Why Most People Fail
Most People Fail Because They Refuse to Be...
Most people don't fully maximize who they are or they fail in their endeavours due to a low willingness to learn, even if they do have a high willingness to learn, they often have a low willingness to accept change. These people keep doing the same things over and over again and they refuse to change their thinking, beliefs and habits.
Those unhelpful, unhealthy and unproductive habits that have been a part of your life for so long have established very strong, ingrained, neural pathways in the brain and are lodged in the subconscious. Most people find it hard to change because they lack the knowledge and deep understanding of how to form new neural pathways that will create new patterns and programs at the subconscious level.
You must understand that a low teachability index is a major cause of failure.
Not everyone will score 100 all of the time, there maybe some things you are not willing to change, things you won’t be willing to do and times when you may not feel like learning. Regardless it’s recommended that you check-in regularly to see what your Teachability Index score is.
A simple way to check in with yourself in a situation where yof find yourslef, distracted, disengaged, disagreeing, bored, or saying things like "I know" ask yourself 'Am I being teachable?"
Calculate Your Score
Be completely honest with yourself and give yourself a score out of ten for the two Teachability Index variables.
There is no right or wrong answer with your final score.
Knowing your Teachability Index score builds self-awareness and is a powerful tool for change. If you feel your score is too low… ask yourself: “What can I do to raise my score, what will it take and am I committed to doing what it takes”
Now that you know how teachable you are ask yourself – “Am I happy with my current results?”
You know that there are certain things in your life that could be better, listen to that deep innate calling inside of you that’s searching for more… not always more material possessions, it may simply be more of the good things in life, more time, more love, more happiness, more confidence, more growth or greater fulfillment.
With a high teachability index, a high level of self-awareness and an understanding of human potential you will be poised and ready to maximize who you are and confidently self author your life.
An Important note:
To truly optimise who you are you must understand that your teachability index is never stagnant. You must continually consider how teachable you are because it will change from moment to moment depending on your priorities and the knowledge you have. You will always go up and down in teachability, it's like a sponge there's only so much you can take in before you become full and are no longer teachable.
Being teachable means that you can't learn a new concept right now and say "I've got it” – being teachable actually means you're never going to get it… And here's the reason why… it’s because you will always be “getting it”.
The best thing you can do is notice the times when you say “I know” or “I read a book on this or that topic” or “I have this or that qualification” or "I've done this before" because as soon as you say or think things like this, you automatically close your mind, you are no longer teachable and you block access to your untapped potential.
Think of the times when someone has been explaining something to you and your immediately respond with “I know, I got this, I know, no need to go on I’ve heard it before”. When you react like this in that moment you are not open to the possibility of learning something new, or hearing a different perspective on a concept. You are not teachable and you can not maximize who you are.
Contributor: Georgia Ellis
Georgia is the founder of Blue Chip Minds. She is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses to unlock their hidden potential, achieve personal mastery, increase productivity, tune into flow and thrive now and well into the future.
Georgia curates content and provides education and application on what science is discovering about the human experience. She draws on the latest findings in: positive psychology, flow science, neurobiology, quantum theory, emotional intelligence, epigenetics and neuroscience. Georgia has worked with organisations in sectors including; banking and finance, entertainment, medical, logistics, technology, education, procurement, event management, health & fitness, manufacturing and retail.
Her programs and services have been provided to people in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, United Arab Emirates, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Belgium and Canada.
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