By Phillip Groom, author of ‘Heroic Quest – An Optimists Guide to Life’
There are several reactions to adrenalin that are well recognized, “Fight or Flight” being the most commonly understood. Adrenalin increases your awareness of the situation and depending on your physical tolerance and mental attitude, it can fill you with strength and courage, or it can fill you with doubt, fear and weakness.
Reactions to adrenalin can be totally crippling and overwhelming; when panic sets in they can result in Freezing or even Fainting. (Pretty handy that they all start with F.) This would probably mean running away, but if the situation is particularly extreme, it could result in you freezing “like a rabbit in the headlights” or even fainting! This is not as daft as it first sounds because being on the ground gives you nowhere else to fall and therefore minimises the damage, unless of course you were on the edge of a cliff, which would be particularly unfortunate, but not entirely unheard of.
Unfortunately, running away, freezing and fainting, although being useful mechanisms for avoiding death, do not take into account future social consequences, ego, or post-adrenalin feelings and emotions. The feelings of doubt, weakness and avoidance happen to everyone, even if it is for a millisecond. The difference is how we deal with them. Feeling fear due to natural adrenalin can be crippling, and can result in anxiety and panic. If we recognise the doubts and fears we have are normal then we can face them head on and deal with them.
My personal experiences have helped me understand and deal with the effects of adrenalin and the resulting emotions. Whenever I do something new that takes me way out of my comfort zone, such as committing to a job interview, doing a charity parachute jump, or get ready to speak in public, I get an initial squirt of adrenalin that always makes me doubt myself the second I have agreed to the deed. Anyone who has agreed to be a best man at a friend’s wedding will tell you that adrenalin will mess with your head from the second you agree until the moment the task is accomplished. That is why you will often hear a speech started with the classic “Being asked to be a best man is a little bit like being asked to make love to the queen; it is a tremendous honour, but you don’t really want to do it.
Animals have a single-minded natural instinct to survive. They don’t spend hours worrying about what other animals will think of them if they run away from the scary bear or angry lion, they simply run away to live another day. Humans have the gift of free will, and with it, the ability to imagine every possibility. We have the freedom to choose whether to focus on the negatives or positives. Whether you expect success or failure, failing something that is important to you can be devastating. The best way to deal with loss or failure is to be in a healthy, strong frame of mind, so you may as well take an optimistic outlook and enjoy the journey, that way you will be in better condition to handle it. Imagine the best and create a positive outlook. We are all blessed with imagination and, bizarrely, your brain can’t tell the difference between what has really happened and what you created in your imagination.
Some war veterans have suggested that “Optimism is the foundation of courage”, as Nicholas Murray Butler says. All soldiers feel fear during battle; it is absolutely normal. The soldiers who have been labelled as brave are often the ones who made the decision to either not think about the consequences of an action at all, or they went to great lengths to only see the best outcomes for their actions, e.g. “When we go over the top, if I refuse, I will be court marshalled and shot by my own side; if I die, all this madness will be over, and if I get injured, but not killed, they will send me home to be looked after by pretty nurses.”
“Pessimism has never won a battle.” ~ Dwight D Eisenhower
As we know, life unfortunately involves quite a bit of suffering. A solution and possible key to happiness is the ability to overcome suffering through focused optimism. I think that the purpose of life is to learn how to maintain optimism in the face of adversity, through constant practice and faith that it is all happening for a reason. I believe that single-minded optimism is the key to happiness. Most of us are not soldiers, but we need to train ourselves and practise being optimistic every day so that we can develop our own courage to face the challenges of daily life.
Mental attitude is like a lens to adrenalin. Like a kid focusing the sun’s rays with a magnifying glass to burn a piece of paper, optimism can focus the effects of adrenalin and produce intense and useful energy and power. Conversely, negative thoughts and pessimism magnify its effects, rendering you scared and powerless.
Adrenalin + Optimism + Action = Courage & Strength
Adrenalin + Pessimism + Inaction = Fear & Weakness
There are levels of optimism that need to be considered with care as most things too extreme can be dangerous. Relentless optimism is very powerful and has got many people through seemingly impossible situations, but it has its time and place. There is an excellent book called Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, which is a memoir by Steven Callahan about his survival in a life raft in the Atlantic ocean; a terrifying ordeal alone at sea in a damaged inflatable life raft. This feat of survival would definitely have required relentless optimism otherwise Steven would have just curled up and died of thirst within the first few days. However, there are types of “blind optimism” linked to survival in which nothing will stop the protagonist from trying to achieve his goal. A spawning salmon swimming upstream in flood waters will do so until utterly exhausted; a fanatical mountain climber may push himself to the absolute physical and mental limit trying to reach the summit at any cost.
“The feeling of fear (adrenalin) is as natural as the feelings of hunger and thirst. When you feel hungry, you don’t panic, you eat. When you feel thirsty you don’t panic, you drink. So if it is fear – you don’t panic, you do.” ~ Cus Damatio
Phil was born in South Wales in the U.K., where he currently lives with his wife and daughter. Graduating as a geologist, he initially worked on oil rigs in the USA and Dutch North Sea, but for the past 20 years he has had a successful career in the highly competitive world of pharmaceutical sales, working with health care professionals and government officials.
He has a talent for ‘gisting’, which is the ability to take complex ideas explain them quickly and simply.
His humorous, conversational approach makes it feel as though Phil is speaking to you directly, giving his writing a unique and accessible style.
He has travelled extensively, picking up gems of wisdom along the way and he says he will pretty much try anything once. This has resulted in many wild adventures including being the target for a circus knife thrower in Cairo! Heroic Quest is a collection of tools, tips, facts and quotes which form an amusing and easy to use guide to achieving lasting happiness and success.
‘Heroic Quest – An Optimists Guide to Life’ is available as an e book now from Amazon. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=heroic+quest&sprefix=heroic+quest%2Caps%2C193