It’s the most basic instinct we have: be on guard in a new situation, with new people, or on the cusp of transition and change. It’s what allowed our ancestors to survive and reproduce to get our genes this far. It’s an effective strategy to stay alive.
There are varying levels of this guardedness. Some of us are so guarded that we avoid social situations altogether, or we stay in the same job for years despite having had a desire to leave it for a while. On the other extreme, some of us seem to have no guardedness at all. Perhaps we’re very comfortable in new situations, maybe even seeking them out for the thrill of it.
This neurobiological directive - to keep ourselves relatively safe - is like a veil or a filter. Some part of our nonconscious thinking is always measuring, calculating, and interpreting the sights and sounds coming in to help us minimize risk. As shown in the diagram below, the filter assesses everything we sense from "out there"; then, without us even noticing it most of the time, the filter passes along an approved version of reality that helps ensure our safety.
And the filter is two-way: it also measures, calculates, and considers any impulse or desire we feel from within to put something out there. Something we might say or do, if it puts us in too much risk, also gets filtered out before we can express it. That's where this feeling of wanting to say something or wanting to do something gets blocked and we find ourselves playing it safe in new situations, with new people, or in times of transition or change.
Minimizing risk is a good strategy. But it also gets in our way. Can you think of times when you would’ve rather spoken up or taken an action than play it too safe?
Mostly, we don’t need to play it as safe as we do. The risk isn’t nearly as risky as our instincts will have us believe. In fact, the rewards of acting in spite of our guardedness - connection, authentic expression, and love - are often worth the risk.
Here are two ways to break through the risk-limiting thoughts, judgments, and beliefs that are also typically self-limiting:
Do something different. Our “allowed options” that make it through our filter are really just habitual responses that we’ve formulated over the years of responding in the same way. Take a different action. Do something different.
Notice and shift the shape of your body. I don’t mean think about what you look like from the outside. I mean feel into your body. How we hold ourselves, set our posture, breathe, and so on - this is also part of our habitual response to the world outside. Notice the shape of your body, and then shift it to align more with how you want it shaped. Or just simply shift it. Stand in a different way, hold your head at a different tilt. Breaking physiological habits can open new avenues for being and acting.
We are creatures designed to survive, and minimizing risk is a really good survival strategy. However, most of our perceived risks are no where near as risky as we think they are. If you’re called to do it, break through your habitual responses to express yourself more authentically.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️
By the way, my workshop for adolescents and my workshop for adults are both beginning next week! Consider joining me and sharing with someone who may be interested! In each workshop, we'll develop a deeper understanding of our how we see the ourselves and the world so we can unlock authentic self-expression no matter the circumstances.