Dear Brain, please shut up.
Imagine all of the things we would actually do if we used these words more often!
To get a bit technical, there is actually a part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) whose job it is to whisper in our ear and tell us not to do things. This brain center has a very important job: to keep us safe.
Early in human life, it was responsible for noticing real dangers, such as predator animals or crevasses or wildfire, and causing us to hold back or move away from such perilous threats.
Now that our natural world is not such a dangerous place, this part of the brain latches on to other “potential threats” such as embarrassment or shame, trying to help us avoid those emotional pitfalls.
That explains why, for most people, giving a speech invokes the same physical fear response as say, crossing over a raging river on a fallen log. The prefrontal cortex is sensing huge potential danger in the public-speaking situation, even if not justly so. It’s just trying to do its job.
What we do know is that moving forward requires risk. Progress and growth involves quieting that part of the brain that’s saying—oh, don’t do that!
If early humans had always run away from fire, we humans of today wouldn’t know how a deliciously cooked meal tastes. If the French Impressionists had shied away from the criticism of the Salon, we wouldn’t have Monet and van Gogh today. If Elvis had listened to the early opinions about his musical style, where would music be today?
I always wonder if this is one of the unique traits that sets humans apart from all the other animals—our ability to either hush our prefrontal cortex or act in spite of it.
So the next time you find yourself facing a risk, decide whether or not it would be a good time to tell your brain to just shut up. Recognize that your highly effective prefrontal cortex is trying to do its job and then relieve it of its duty.
Shut up, brain. I’ve got this!