You know the feeling . . . the nervousness, the cold sweats, the clammy hands, maybe even an eye twitch . . . when you have to making one of THOSE decisions. Maybe it’s approaching someone you find intimidating. Perhaps it’s a presentation in front of your boss and peers. Maybe it’s committing to a new job when there’s the possibility of something better coming along. (You can probably think of 50 other variations of this.) Then there’s all the other thoughts of worry, failure, even catastrophe that can flood your mind.

Believe it or not, your brain is looking after your best interests when it does this to you, although it doesn’t feel like it at the time. You see, the brain can’t tell the difference between physical threats, like a ball coming at your head, and emotional threats, like the rejection you might feel after approaching a stranger. So, anytime it senses uncertainty, your brain jumps into action by doing two things.

First, it introduces two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, into your nervous system. These stress-producing chemicals boost your attention and make you aware of potential danger.  Second, the brain uses pattern recognition to fill your mind with thoughts about similar situations where the outcome was uncomfortable. If you’ve been rejected by one or more strangers in the past, it will bring forth the most relevant memory. If you’re thinking of joining an intermural team, it reminds you of the time the teacher laughed when you dropped the football in middle school. Allow these thoughts to dominate your thinking can discourage you from trying anything outside of your comfort zone.

So how do effective decision makers deal with these feelings and thoughts? They acknowledge them. In some cases, they even laugh, just to keep them in perspective. These individuals have learned these worries and emotions can’t be eradicated. But it is possible to manage them. In addition, they fix their focus on the outcome or reward for taking the risk. Approaching the stranger may result in the sale or a new friendship. Joining the intramural team will result in new relationships, provide some fun and keep you healthy. Finally, the seek the support of others to encourage them. There’s nothing like a trusted friend or colleague to lean on when you feel like you’re facing an uncomfortable situation. So, where are you on the journey to becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable?

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