Generally speaking, humans don’t like being uncomfortable. However, this blog encourages you to practice being uncomfortable. As a result, you may be able to re-program your brain to achieve goals you thought unattainable.
Programming Your Own Limits
Alex Honnold is a real-life superman. Or is he?
He is unequivocally the greatest free solo mountain climber in history. Free solo climbing is fingers, chalk, rock. That’s it. In 2017, Honnold free solo climbed El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park, considered by some to be the greatest physical achievement by any human. Ever. The 2,900′ route Honnold traversed often takes a team of professional climbers with full gear two or three days to summit.
Honnold did it with no ropes, all alone, in three hours and fifty-six minutes.
This Is Super-Hero Stuff
Of his exploits, Honnold has said, “My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fall within the realm of the possible.”
It turns out there’s some scientific basis for that statement. Honnold was tested by neuroscientists a few years ago to measure his fear response mechanism – that fight or flight part of your amygdala, the pre-historic lizard brain, that reacts below your conscious control. Alex had no measurable fear response.
“Of course! ” you might exclaim. “Clearly, he has no fear if he climbs 3,000′ without a rope!”
Not so fast. Zero fear response at the subconscious level of the lizard brain is typically only found in instances of profound mental illness or brain damage. By all accounts, Honnold is suffering neither. Why then, does he register no fear response?
Scientists are not sure, but they think maybe he’s actually programmed it out of himself. The fear response appears distributed across a typical bell curve. Some people are jumpy, and some are chill. The neuroscientists that studied Honnold presume he was on the “chill” end of the spectrum to begin with, and that through more than twenty years of constantly testing his limits, he’s literally programmed fear response out of his system. He may have re-written the code in his lizard brain. He does not experience fear because there is nothing in his subconscious reacting to the stimuli.
practice being uncomfortable
As it happens, not only is there a neurological explanation behind Honnold’s incredible mental and physical strength, there might be biological proof behind the “coding” process. Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, writes, “There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do – talking, thinking, reading, imagining – is more effective in building a skill than executing the action, firing the impulse down the nerve fiber, fixing errors, honing the circuit.” What Coyle is describing is the process by which myelin, the insulation wrapping our brain circuits, is applied. It appears that the circuits with the most insulation are the ones that get fired the most and therefore are the ones that function the fastest. Externally this begins to look like what we call variously skill, talent, or even genius.
you can re-program your brain
Writer and brain coach Jim Kwik has said, “Don’t fight for your limitations because you get to keep them.” It’s entirely possible that if you’re firing the neurons telling your lizard brain that you can’t do something, you’re adding more and more insulation to that neural path. In effect, you might be making the “I can’t” circuit the fastest, most efficient one in your brain.
The good news is that the process works on any neural pathway that is fired repeatedly. That means you have the ability to re-program your own brain!
It means, in the end, either consciously or unconsciously, you are steadily programming yourself, all day, every day, to be exactly who you are.
There is only fear if you practice being afraid. There is defeat if you practice defeat. You also have the nearly limitless ability if you program your brain to achieve goals. You get to decide whether to push the bubble of your comfort zone or not.
There is a mountain out there. Stand in the valley, or climb it.