Why the Thought of Your Greatness Propels You Backward
A therapeutic quick-fix pilots you forward through your invisible wall of fear.
Posted March 16, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
You will never get to where you are supposed to be by admiring yourself in the mirror of the past. The world has moved on. Whatever you did way back when, no one remembers anyway—because unlike you, the world does not get stuck in your yesteryear glory. You must get back to the future where exciting business awaits you. Psychologists refer to this mental shifting as teleology; living life on purpose, directed towards a future goal.
Scared? Nervous? Well, of course, you are. But retreating to your comfort zone of days gone by only provides temporary relief with reasonable satisfaction, at best. It's selfish-comfort. And it applies to all who aspire to live on a higher plane by utilizing their gifts and talents in service to the world; however, they settle into inaction—never getting the undone done because of fear. Inevitably, selfish-comfort turns to angst, and you soon discover that taking the easy way isn't such an easy way.
What is it with you? Seen one too many extraordinary talents? Does their genius defeat you? In those moments of self-doubt, try to remember that extraordinarily brilliant people, with whom you draw social comparisons, are just that—people, doing their own thing in their own time. Consider artists Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and the like. They never heard themselves called geniuses. That all came later. Take yourself off the hook and give your brand of extraordinary a chance.
Consider the lesson you're teaching yourself. You desire a more fulfilling life by doing the thing you've never dared but remain at the precipice because of fear. Essentially you're teaching yourself how to live with psychological paralysis. You've set about honing your craft as a playing-small-at-life practitioner.
Downplaying your gifts/talents given to you at birth (which, by the way, you own free and clear) leads you into a perpetual state of self-rejection because you're operating in the world as less than who you were meant to be. Expert David Gal, 2006, refers to this as psychological inertia or inertia of rest. It suggests that you are reluctant to change, choosing to stick to the inferior options provided in your comfort zone, despite disconfirming information (Pitz & Reinhold, 1968). This skewed thinking leaves you feeling immobile—as if taking one step in any direction results in ... boom! Combustion! And so it goes; your psychological paralysis continues.
Seeking physiological safety is necessary for our survival. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow places it as the foundation for all human needs. One cannot advance on the Maslowian Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid with food, shelter, or clothing insecurities. From a neuropsychological perspective, our human makeup demands we seek safety in the face of threat. The structure in the brain responsible for this is known as the amygdala. It's involved in emotions and fear-learning and responses. This quasi-cortical structure (also linked to the nervous system) coordinates physiological responses to threats based on cognitive information – the most well-known example being the fight-or-flight response. Perhaps, many of you take off in flight at the thought of confronting your future. What could be scarier than your greatness? Right? But the amygdala was not designed to protect you from the threat of your brilliance.
Solution: Cognitive Restructuring
Confront your wall of fear head-on. It will give you the courage to walk straight through it! Your weapon to help you brave that power-walk is Cognitive Restructuring, a technique taken from a page out of cognitive therapy's playbook that can help people ID, tackle, and reconstruct stress-induced thought patterns and beliefs. By removing the unhelpful thinking and dysfunctional beliefs that distort your cognition, you gain a clear understanding of what truly petrifies you. Thought leader Marianne Williamson offers this simple yet profound truth: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us..."
It's time you relearn your original role awarded to you at birth, unlearn the ineffective one, and embrace your innate brilliance. Tenaciously holding on to fear masquerading as safety and comfort is the real threat to living life without limits. Forging ahead despite your fear ends your perpetual state of self-inflicted horror that has terrorized your intra-psychic neighborhood. You are never safe until you are free—psychologically.
Psychologists who want to help their patients create alternative ways of looking at their situation may use a technique known as reframing. The great thing about this exercise is that it gets you out of your amygdala and returns you to your prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, insight, impulse control, and rational thinking occur. Now, you can defeat your defeatist attitude of inertia.
Think the world won't receive your unique gift? You're wrong. People clamor for authenticity. You think folks don't want what you have to offer? Uh-uh. They're craving something new: your brand of genius. Don't preface. Get right to it.
Finally, reflecting on the past can be appropriately nostalgic—but where are you headed now? Enough, Already! Go! Be bold! Beautiful.
Gal, D. (2006). A Psychological Law of Inertia and the Illusion of Loss Aversion. Judgment Decision-Making 1, 23-32.
Gropper, M. (2015, June 23). Overcoming your psychological inertia. Retrieved from https://www.jpost.com/magazine/overcoming-your-psychological-inertia-40…
Pitz, G. F., and Reinhold, H. (1968). Payoff effects in Sequential Decision-Making. J. Exp. Psychology. 77, 249-257. Doi: 10.1037/h0025802