9 Secrets of Courage From Extreme Fear

Courage: it’s not just for heroes. Fear is an emotion we all deal with, and how we handle it is everything. How we grapple with our anxieties determines what kind of life we’ll lead — whether shackled by anxiety and dread, or empowered to conquer new challenges. Yet we spend most of our time trying to avoid fear, so we muddle along, rarely getting much better at the art of mastering it. That’s a shame, because with a little effort we can find the courage to push beyond our comfort zone and tackle new worlds.

In my book Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger — out this month in paperback — I explore the neurological underpinnings of the brain’s fear response to better understand how to take charge of this formidable emotion, shedding light on the science with stories of people who have faced terrible threats and managed to come through intact.

Can we learn from such brave souls and train ourselves to be more courageous? The evidence says yes. Here are nine techniques for steeling yourself for the challenges ahead. Continue reading 9 Secrets of Courage From Extreme Fear

Controlling the Flow of Time

When I conduct an interview for a story, I record it on a digital recorder and transcribe it using transcription software connected to a foot pedal. The program interface has a slider that changes the rate of playback without altering the pitch, so I can whiz through the boring or irrelevant bits and slow down to hear the important stuff. Often I think: Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a similar slider in our brains, so that we travel at Mach speed through the drudgery and stretch out the champagne-in-the-hot-tub moments indefinitely?

Well, in a way, we do have just such mental machinery. And if we’re clever, we can consciously manipulate it to make time go slower or faster at will. Continue reading Controlling the Flow of Time

Snowfall as a Way to Visualize Death

Looking out my window last night at this winter’s umpteenth flurry, something about the fading light and the softness of the oblivion as the little flakes settled into the sidewalk and instantly melted turned my thoughts to mortality. I wondered, how does this snowfall compare to the overall death rate of the human race?

With a little searching around, I found an estimate of the overall death rate of the world’s human population: 155,000 a day, or 6548 per hour. I guesstimated that about 2 flakes were falling per square foot per second, or about 120 per minute, or 7200 per hour.

That means that as I look out my window, I can imagine that for every flake settling onto a flagstone in my back garden, some person somewhere is passing away.

Why Would You Jump Out of a Perfectly Good Airplane?

One of my constant themes is that our fears, left unchallenged, hedge in our lives and prevent us from becoming the fullest expressions of ourselves. But what if we go the other way entirely, and not only embrace the things we fear, but fear itself?

I recently got a note from a reader, Jason Tyne, who wrote: “Since reading your book, I continue to be fascinated by the idea of fear but at least I have some perspective on it. Recently (and inspired by your book) I took my own jump out of an airplane and it was amazing…in fact I just blogged that it was my number one recommendation for EVERYONE to do in 2011.” I followed the link to Jason’s website and found a very entertaining account of an experience very much like what I had when I jumped out of an airplane for the first time. It really is bizarre, if you’ve never done anything like this before, how an alternate personality or parallel mind seems to wake from its slumber and start wrestling with you for control of your body. As Jason puts it, “I was sane all the way up to the moment that I stepped out of an airplane at 10,000 feet; it was the very next moment that I lost my mind.” He describes his inner dialogue like this: Continue reading Why Would You Jump Out of a Perfectly Good Airplane?

MIND TRAPS: How Smart People Went so Wrong on Autism

The great irony of the internet is that while it opens each individual to a universe of information, it also unleashes a flood of misinformation. For every groundbreaking new scientific finding which gets disseminated, there’s a bogus diet theory, an unfounded medical scare, a viral hoax. When it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff, we’re largely on our own.

The perils of getting sucked into internet nonsense were vividly illustrated by erstwhile Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, whose long journey down a particularly tortuous rabbit hole of misinformation began with a Google search of the word “autism.” She told Oprah Winfrey how the process began after she diagnosed her young son as having the condition:

McCarthy: First thing I did-Google. I put in autism. And I started my research.
Winfrey: Thank God for Google.
McCarthy: I’m telling you.
Winfrey: Thank God for Google.
McCarthy: The University of Google is where I got my degree from…. And I put in autism and something came up that changed my life that led me on this road to recovery, which said autism-it was in the corner of the screen-is reversible and treatable. And I said, What?! That has to be an ad for a hocus pocus thing, because if autism is reversible and treatable, well, then it would be on Oprah.

The above dialogue is from the new book The Panic Virus, by Seth Mnookin, who goes on to describe the course of action that McCarthy took in response to her remarkable discovery: Continue reading MIND TRAPS: How Smart People Went so Wrong on Autism