Growth is hard.
Sometimes, it’s downright terrifying.
It requires us to take an honest look at ourselves, to abandon what we’ve known, and to suspend ourselves in uncertainty without knowing when we’ll ever find the next step.
It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also essential, because our brains and bodies are built to give preference to comfort, assimilation and familiarity.
What this is means is that we will remain what we have always been unless we consciously choose to become something else. Sure, everyone evolves and adapts over time, but if you aren’t intentional about it, you’ll end up the product of who and what is around you as opposed to an authentic expression of who you really are.
Growth is a required assignment.
The only question is when we do it, and how long it takes for us to realize that we often have to defy some of our instincts in order to create a better reality for ourselves.
Here are a few of those unconscious fears that prevent us from becoming all that we possibly can be, and how they might specifically be affecting you.
1. You don’t actually want to feel too much happiness.
In the same way that too much of a decadent dessert can overwhelm the taste buds and become unappealing, we reject intense emotional highs when we aren’t used to them.
Gay Hendricks calls hitting this your “upper limit.”
His theory is that people have a predisposed tolerance for happiness, and when our emotions exceed that limit, we begin to unconsciously self-sabotage in order to bring ourselves back to a more comfortable baseline.
Any change, no matter how positive, will be uncomfortable until it is also familiar.
Any time you’re looking to make a significant positive change in your life, a mindset shift must accompany it. If you don’t believe you deserve to feel good, you’ll limit your capacity for experiencing good things. If you’re simply not used to life being easy, you’ll make it hard just to anchor yourself back down to what you’re familiar with.
Overcoming this is not a matter of overwhelming your system with positivity.
It’s actually a process of grounding yourself, expressing gratitude, and shifting your belief system to reflect the idea that you are allowed to feel good, you are allowed to create goodness in your life, and you deserve the beautiful things that are blossoming — you don’t need to keep uprooting them.
2. You can’t really predict what’s going to make you happy.
The human mind cannot accurately predict what it hasn’t yet known.
When you imagine a potential outcome for your life, what you’re really envisioning is a solution to a past experience, a feeling you’ve had before and would like to maintain. What you cannot account for are the things that you wouldn’t think to ask for, because you don’t know that you want them.
Real growth requires genuine exploration, a period of trial and error. It requires you to first admit that you might not know what you want.
This uncertainty is an unnerving experience, so most people avoid it completely. They numb out their fear of the unknown with mind-consuming activities, failing to realize that without allowing oneself to simply accept the unknown, the answers will always remain at bay. Instead of trying to construct an experience of happiness, we can find it in the moment if we’re gearing our mindset to appreciating what we already have instead of planning how to acquire what we don’t.
Through this, we inch closer to what it is that actually makes us feel best, not what appears best or “should” be right from the outside looking in.
3. You believe that negative potential outcomes are more likely than the positive ones.
When you imagine all of the possible outcomes for your life, the negative options probably seem more real than the positive ones. This is because of negativity bias, which is where we are inclined to believe that bad things are more real than good things, simply because we’re more afraid of them.
Because one appears as a threat and the other doesn’t, our attention naturally gravitates toward what we feel we need to be more aware of. However, it has the opposite effect of self-defense. When we believe too much in our negativity biases, we end up resisting change, taking fewer chances, and overall adjusting to a less optimistic outlook on life.
Negativity bias limits us not because we aren’t able to be realistic, but because we don’t understand that positive outcomes are often more likely than worst case scenarios, they just aren’t as emotionally triggering.
4. You’re staying loyal to what you’ve put a lot of time into, even if it’s not what’s really right for you long-term.
You’re most inclined to stick to what you’ve invested the most in, even if it’s unviable long-term, and even if a better opportunity is presenting itself.
This is because of sinking cost fallacy.
What this bias prevents us from seeing is that the ship is sinking anyway, and every additional ounce of effort, time or resource that we put into it is yet another bit that we lose. We can’t salvage it just because we’ve spent so much time believing in it. Sometimes, even the things we’ve given everything to are just not what’s best for us long-term.
It’s hard to let go, but it’s harder not to.
5. You are giving precedence to whatever you believed first.
The brain tends to prioritize and overvalue whatever it is that we did, knew, saw or learned first.
This makes it hard for us to change course.
Your very first approach and assessment of your career prospects are anchoring what you believe is possible today. Your very first introduction to certain geographical areas or types of people is likely the same way.
Whatever you were exposed to first or believed in first is going to take precedence in your mind. It’s important that you’re aware of this, because when a better option presents itself, you have to be able to see it for what it is.
6. You’re making a long-term assessment based on a short-term experience.
When you declare that you’ll never find love because you just went through a breakup, or consider yourself fundamentally awful looking because you’re not loving your outfit today, or you’re sinking in the feeling that you’ll never find your way in life because you feel lost right now, what you’re doing is extrapolating.
Extrapolation is the projection of a single experience into a long-term assumption about life.
“This moment is not your life, this is a moment in your life.” — Ryan Holiday
What you’re not realizing is that just because you’re temporarily having a negative experience does not mean that it will define the rest of your life in the way that you fear it will.
What you’re really saying is that you can’t see a way out of your current circumstances because in some way, you don’t completely control them.
Instead of trying to form a definitive statement about how life is or isn’t or will or won’t be based on your temporary circumstances, try to see them for what they really are: an experience you’re having currently, that will eventually fade out, as all others do.
7. You’re using self-reflection as an escape mechanism, rather than a way to actually change your life.
When we begin something new in our lives, it’s almost always because we have a revelation about it, or ourselves.
We realize that we need to course-correct, we have an “aha!” moment about the people we want to be, we let go of what’s holding us back, we find courage, and we embark upon our new path.
This is often where people find themselves in a slump.
Because while many people think the process of releasing the past and embracing the future is scary, it’s also very freeing. So freeing, in fact, that the high of having epiphanies and life-changing realizations can sometimes eclipse the actual implementation of them.
The honest truth is that no matter what you choose to do or be in life, to do it well and long-term, everything will become boring and motonous at some point or another. That’s the honest reality of life. While you’ll undoubtedly feel more peace and fulfillment pursuing what’s really right for you, you’re going to have down days, you’re going to have periods of burnout, you’re going to have moments of second guessing yourself, and you’re absolutely going to realize that it’s often far more exciting and thrilling to decide to totally uproot and start again than it is to simply stick with the path day-in and day-out.
Because sticking with it? That’s where it gets hard, but that’s also where you find the breakthrough. That’s where you have to confront everything you were running from in the first place.
It’s possible that you already know what the right thing to do is, you just have to find the courage to do it.
Sometimes, the nudge is all we really need.