No one likes to feel bad...or sad, or afraid or anxious or uncertain, or so many other uncomfortable feelings. And what do you do when you start thinking unproductive thoughts? Sure, you can tell yourself to “just stop thinking about them!” But what happens when your mind seems to, well, have a mind of its own? In today’s episode, Tony tackles a chapter in Russ Harris’ book The Confidence Gap https://amzn.to/2z0SjW1 called “The Fear Trap,” and answers the question “what is fear?” And what we can do when strong emotions cause us to turn to unhealthy substances (drugs, alcohol, compulsive sexual behaviors, gambling) go into autopilot mode (at the mercy of our emotions), avoidance mode (do whatever we can to avoid unpleasant feelings), distraction, thinking strategies (just don’t worry about it, think happy thoughts!) or opting out of situations entirely?
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EP 204-How to stop running from thought- fear trap-2020-05-19
[00:00:00] Coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch, we're going deep into your mind, we're talking about your thoughts and even more fear. So what are we actually afraid of and what do we do when we're afraid of a thought or a feeling or an emotion? Do we avoid it? Do we kind of just opt out of life or do we distract? Sure, we do. That's kind of what we're built to do. It's human nature. But today we're going to talk about how to get out of that fear trap. That and plenty more coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch.
[00:00:35] Hey, everybody, this is a very quick advertisement, and I know I'm a podcast listener, you can get a little fast forward button probably on your podcast player, 15 seconds, 30 seconds. But bear with me. I'll try to make this quick. As a therapist myself, I obviously recommend that everybody give therapy a try, because when people ask me, do I need therapy, I don't even have to talk to you. The answer is yes, I need therapy. Everyone could use a sounding board. Everybody can use an objective third party. Everybody could kind of dig deep a little bit and find out what are things that they've been holding back on. One of the things that they feel like they should be able to get over or shouldn't be worrying about shouldn't shouldn't. Nobody wants to be shot on, but we're all hanging on to things that would be helpful to process. And there's even things that we thought we'd achieve by now or things that we really want to achieve so that we won't have these regrets in life. And so if there are people listening right now that might be noticing that their anxiety and depression may be getting a tiny bit worse, especially with what's going on in the world right now, let's get to it.
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[00:02:38] Plus, you can schedule these weekly video phone sessions, whatever it is, so you won't have to sit in an uncomfortable waiting room, as with traditional therapy. Although every time I do this ad, I do want to say that my waiting room is quite lovely, better, helpful, assess your needs and match you with your own licensed professional therapist. Oftentimes you can start communicating in under 24 hours and the better health outcome assessment. The intake alone is brilliant and they also work with with all kinds of things, acceptance and commitment therapy. One of my favorite techniques, emotionally focused therapy. They work with anxiety, with OCD, with depression. So do yourself a favor. Go to better help dotcoms, less virtual couch. You'll receive ten percent off your first month services. And I can't lie, obviously, if you're going to better help that virtual couch. And this is the Virtual Couch podcast, it's going to help me out a little bit, too. So go check it out. You'll receive ten percent off your first month services. What are you waiting for? Just go check it out. Better help dot com slash virtual couch. Try it today. Hey, everybody, thank you for tuning in episode two hundred and four, The Virtual Couch.
[00:03:55] I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified my Vltava coach, writer, speaker, husband, father for ultramarathon runner and creator of the Path Back and online pornography recovery program that is helping people like you reclaim their lives from the harmful effects of pornography. If you or anybody that you know wants to put that behind you once and for all and trust me, it can be done in a strength based hold the shame, become the person you always wanted to be way. Then please head over to path back recovery dotcom. And there you'll find a short e-book that describes five common mistakes that people make when trying to overcome pornography. Again, that's Pat Back Recovery Dotcom. And please send in your questions. Any marriage related questions, comments, anything to contact that, Tonyoverbay.com? I want to use those on a future episode of The Virtual Couch. My free parenting program is still out there. It is that TonyOverbay.com courses and it is parenting positively even in the not so positive of times. So jump on, grab that it's free and go check out Instagram it virtual couch. I'm on Tick-Tock it virtual couch and Facebook. Tony Overbay, licensed marriage and family therapist. All right. There is enough of all of that.
[00:05:04] Ok, so today I want to do a little bit of a deep dive into thoughts and my my muse, my guide today is Russ Harris's book The Confidence Gap, which is a wonderful book on acceptance and commitment therapy, which again, I will be referring to as act moving forward today and hopefully for all time. So he talks about thoughts and what our thoughts, thoughts are. Words and pictures inside of our head and psychologists term for that is for a thought is a cognition. So thoughts, cognitions. And so there are a lot of different categories of thoughts. And I want you to kind of just sit back and think about this. The categories of thoughts include things like memories or images, fantasies, beliefs, ideas, attitudes, assumptions, values, goals, plans, visions, dreams, desires, predictions, judgments and so on. And so Russ Harris goes on to say that no matter how complex our thoughts may be, they are all constructed from two basic building blocks. We have words and we have images. So he suggests that you do this for yourself when it just take a second if you're driving or on a treadmill, I wouldn't recommend this. But if you just kind of stop for a moment, close your eyes and simply notice what your mind is doing. And I'll give you a second here to do that. OK, so what is your mind doing? You should notice that there either some words which you kind of hear like a voice or see in writing or some pictures or a combination of both.
[00:06:28] And I love how he says if your mind goes blank, just wait. And it won't take long before your mind says something like, I'm not even having any thoughts, which is a thought. So so he said, try that for a minute, you know, just sit back and just kind of watch what thoughts come to your mind and you can hit pause on this podcast episode or whatever you want to do. But if you really have a moment, just pause, hit, pause and just watch what your mind does for a good minute. So he says, oh, go ahead and pause and we're back. So what did you notice? He asked, what did your mind have to say or what did it show you? And if you notice sensations or feelings in your body as opposed to words and pictures, he said, I would I would not call those thoughts. I call them sensations or feelings. And he says that will you know, he talks about those later in the book, The Confidence Gap. But your mind is no doubt very good at generating words and pictures. So Rustler's goes on to say, consider for a moment, how many thoughts does your mind create in the space of just one day? I mean, this is the part that's kind of mind blowing. It's hundreds upon thousands, if not millions, and it never runs out or it's all you. And he says it's basically the mind is always doing a show and tell.
[00:07:32] It's always got something to say or something to show us. And he said, no doubt you've noticed that your mind has a tendency to be negative and I want you to pay close attention to this. He said he went over this in Chapter one of the confidence gap. But it's perfectly natural and it's normal. The human mind is quick to judge and criticize, compare, point out what's not good enough and tell us what needs to be improved. And although our culture bombards us with messages about the importance of positive thinking, the simple fact is that the human mind has evolved to think negatively. And whether you're reading his book, The Confidence Gap is a wonderful book called The Happiness Trap. Those are some of the favorite. Those are some of the things that I connected with the most when I was learning about act for the first time, where he talks about that. The brain, if you go back to our ancestors, then in essence, what the brain was doing was you were constantly looking out for danger. Your mind was scanning the environment. It was trying to anticipate or spot anything that could possibly hurt you. So your number one job was to not get killed. So your mind essentially developed into a don't get killed device. And so he talked about that, he says hundreds of thousands of years ago, if your mind wasn't good at doing this job, you didn't live very long.
[00:08:40] You were killed, whether it was wolves or bears, saber tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, avalanches, volcanoes, rival tribes, jealous neighbors, there were no shortage. Doctor here says painful ways that die or people that were there to inflict that punishment. So if there ever was an early human who went through life in a fearless and carefree manner, only noticing all the good things around and thinking positively that nothing would ever go wrong, they probably would've been eaten or trampled or murdered pretty quickly, so long before they'd had a chance to reproduce. So he says that basically, if we look at that, that you and I evolved from people that were always on the lookout, always alert for danger, always prepare for the worst. So our modern brains are always trying to anticipate what could hurt us or harm us or what's always trying to predict what might go wrong. So he said no wonder that we have so many doubts and worries and concerns and fears of failure that this is not a sign of a weak or defective mind. It is actually normal. It's a natural byproduct of our minds evolving, of our minds continually looking out for the I really don't want to die. So and again, that's where I'm going to say bless your mind's heart for wanting to keep you alive and keep you in the ballgame. So that's why he said even if you diligently practice positive thinking every single day of your life, you can't stop your mind from generating negative thoughts.
[00:09:53] So that is OK. You are OK. You are a human being. And he said most people are surprised to hear this. After all, our society bombards us with messages about the importance of positive thinking. And I mean, I am a I am an optimist, an eternal optimist. So I to think positively. But what I love about act is it kind of teaches you this concept that when you think about things that might go negative or your you know what? If all of these fears and I've been doing a lot, if you can't tell over the last few weeks on anxiety and how the brain works with that, then that's normal. And so we're OK. And he says that unfortunately, what a lot of books and articles and courses on positive thinking often fail to mention is that although we can learn to think a bit more positively, we can't stop the negative thoughts from arising. And one of the things that comes up in my office over and over and over again, and I'm not being dramatic, is that when I'm working with somebody and even when these act principles resonate, when they gel, when people feel like, wow, that makes so much sense that I'm not broken, I'm human because of all the experiences that I brought to the table at this point. Even when they hear that, they say, OK, but you're going to give me tools so I can stop the negative thoughts. So I won't think those anymore right now, like, oh, my goodness, no.
[00:11:02] I mean, that's not going to help you understand where they come from and understand that you're human. And as a matter of fact, what I'm going to do is help you learn how to recognize them, not give them as big of a platform or as much attention to even acknowledge them, diffuse from them. Invite your feelings to come along. For the ride, as you do something more positive, and that's one of the big keys and I love this at Harris says anything that you've read in self-help books about erasing all mental tapes or deleting old programs or eliminating negative core beliefs. And this is the I think he's from Australia and New Zealand. He says that is stuff and nonsense. So he said the latest discoveries in the world of neuroscience make it very clear that the brain does not eliminate or eradicate old neural pathways. Rather, it lays down new ones on top of the old ones. The more that you use these new neural pathways, the more habitual your patterns of thinking will become. And those old neural pathways won't disappear. But those old patterns of thinking, they may not vanish. But you are going to develop new neural pathways and new patterns of thinking that you will learn how to diffuse from the old ones and turn toward the new ones. He said it's a bit like cutting a new path through a forest. The more that new pathway is used, the more established it becomes.
[00:12:12] But the old pathway doesn't cease to exist. If it gets used less often, the grass may grow over it to some degree, but it's still there and it can easily be reclaimed if you start walking over it again and again and again. But he said the problem with this analogy is that it's easy to stop using an old pathway in a forest. But he says it's a billion times harder to stop using an old pathway in your brain. So we said, here's another analogy that might be better when you practice new types of thinking. He said It's like learning to speak a new language. No matter how fluent you become in the new language, your old language doesn't disappear. No matter how well you learn to speak Spanish, you won't lose the ability to speak English. So let me go back to something. He's talking about the brain and he's talking about these new neural pathways. And here's where I love being able to pull from a lot of different evidence based sources. When I go back to Charles Doohickeys book The Power of Habit, where he talks about the basal ganglia, the habit centre of the brain, and again, fun fact. Squirrels and fish basically are all basal ganglia. They're all habitual. They're all just that present in the moment, trying not to get killed. But the more of this grey matter we have, the more of this corpus callosum that that connects the left and the right hemispheres of the brain.
[00:13:19] The more of that we have, the more of these kind of thought processes we have going. And again, the brain, bless its heart, wants to live forever. It can't blame it, so it wants to survive. And by doing so, it thinks that it needs to use as little electrical activity as possible. The thing is, it doesn't really realise that it's not going to there is no finite amount of electrical activity for the brain. So I appreciate what it's trying to do. It's trying to run on low power mode constantly, but that isn't necessarily best for us at all times. Where I'm going with this is that when we tie our shoe a bunch, when we back out of the driveway, when we do things habitually, those things get filed away in our basal ganglia and this habit centre because it takes less, less electrical activity to pull from the habit centre of the brain. Now, what we learned as well and what Ross Harris talks about here is that even our habitual thought processes lay down neural pathways. Even our habitual thought processes are filed away into this basal ganglia, this habit centre of the brain. So even when we kind of are starting to think that we want to do something new, our brain is quick to pull from the basal ganglia and say, I don't think it's going to work or this is what happened last time because your brain says, OK, we've eliminated that threat.
[00:14:32] We can go back to kind of relaxing. We can go back to chill mode because it believes that chill mode is going to make it lasts a lot longer. OK, but today where I want to go next is talking about fear. In Harris's book, The Confidence Gap Chapter 14, he talks about something called The Fear Trap. And so I'm going to read a little bit here that he says At the age of 19, Albert Ellis was terrified of rejection by women. So, of course, at that point, his wife, Albert Ellis, had no idea that he would one day become one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. It didn't even figure into, of course, his wildest of dreams, but what he did dream about was getting over his fear. So what did he do about it? For a month, Ellis visited the New York Botanical Gardens every day and forced himself to talk to every attractive woman that he encountered. Fearful though he was. Somehow he managed to open his mouth and get the words out. And by the end of the month, he had asked over 100 women for a date. So did he live happily ever after? No, not one single women. The woman one of those women said yes. But Ellis did not see this as a failure. On the contrary, he regarded it as a great success. Why? Because by this point, he had completely overcome his fear of rejection.
[00:15:37] He had learned that fear was nothing more nor less than an unpleasant feeling that it couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted. So he said it was a profound insight that freedom to live a lifetime of adventure. So I love this next analogy, Dr Harris says. Imagine you've grown up in a weird community and you've been taught that sheep are the most dangerous animals on the planet, that they have these huge razor sharp teeth and they can tear you to shreds. And they love nothing more than to kill any human beings and that they can leap higher than a three storey house, he said. Supposedly you completely believe this. And one day you're out walking through the countryside. When you suddenly catch sight of sheep, they're staring at you from behind a small wooden fence. How would you feel? You would be nervous. You would be anxious, you would be terrified, so he said this may seem like a far fetched fantasy, but he said it's rather the way that we've all been raised to think about fear. So from a young age, Harris says, we've been educated to believe that fear is bad, that fear is a sign of weakness, that it's unnatural and that successful people don't have it, and that it holds us back in life and that we need to reduce it or get rid of it. And we all too readily believe this stuff because, A, he says the brainwashing starts when we're naive little kids and B, because fear feels so unpleasant.
[00:16:51] So therefore it makes sense that it would be bad for us. So as a result, we've learned to fear our own fear. We've become anxious about our anxiety, he said. We've got nervous about our nervousness. And he says anybody spot the vicious cycle. So what is fear? Harris goes on to say that if you consult a few dictionaries or textbooks, you usually find fear to find something like a feeling of agitation or apprehension and response to a real or imagined threat. And he said that throughout the book, The Confidence Gap, he's been using the word fear very loosely, kind of as a catch all phrase that covers all of its relatives anxiety, nerves, panic, stress, self-doubt, insecurity. So on all of those, he's lumped into this concept of fear. And so he said he wants to talk about the physical aspects of fear. And this is one of the things that I really enjoy about, again, about act in general. He said that let's talk about the part, the feelings in our body, the sweaty hands, the racing heart, the jelly legs, the butterflies in our stomach, the lump in her throat, the dry mouse and the dry mouth, the dry mouth. I mean, there might be mice that are dry. I'm not going to rule that out. The tense neck, fidgety feet and so on.
[00:17:56] And he said so obviously thoughts start to play such an important role in creating and maintaining our fears that the best way to deal with those is through diffusion. So in other words, when our mind conjures up a scary thought or an image or a memory, that this is the part that if you're a client of mine or if you listen to a lot of podcasts that I will talk about, you know, notice it, you can note it, you can name it, and you neutralize it and actually use different mindfulness skills to deal with these feelings and sensations. They're called expansion. And expansion is one where you make room for those feelings. That's what I said earlier, where you invite those feelings to go along and come along with you for a ride. You don't try to run away from them. You don't try to avoid them because they're there and they're going to be there. And the more you fight them, that psychological reactance kicks in, that instant negative reaction of being told what to do. We even tell our brains, don't think that thought. And our own brain says, I can do whatever I want. You know, I can think these thoughts if I want. So so he said, let's typically let's look at we typically react the fear. He said most of us aren't too good at handling painful emotions like anger or fear or sadness or guilt.
[00:19:02] So we typically have two ways that we respond to them. And he says we've got autopilot mode and avoidance mode and these are going to sound very familiar. In autopilot mode. We are at the mercy of our emotions, he says. It's as if we're robots, emotions, emotions control our every move. This is what I was talking about a little bit in my episode called The Elephant in the Rider Where the Elephant Is the Emotion. Right. And the writer at times just feels like you're sitting atop this six ton elephant and it's going wherever the heck it wants. So he said that that emotions feel like they can control our every move. Anger shows up. Suddenly we're lashing out. We're yelling abuse, we're stomping our feet. He said fear shows up and we run or we withdraw. We hide from our challenges. So when you're on autopilot, you're not really thinking about where you are or what you're doing. And you're definitely not tapping into what your core values are. Your beliefs are. You're just in reacting mode. You're in, you know, you are just reacting. He said your emotions are running the show. They're jerking you around as if you were a puppet on a string.
[00:19:56] And unfortunately, this creates the illusion that strong emotions are dangerous because that then feeds the myth that we can't act the way we want unless we can control the way we feel. This is where that thoughts, you know, we have to control our emotions. And so the feeling that we must control our emotions at all times are we are going to be completely out of control of our behaviors. He also talks about the next one is avoidance mode. And boy, learn the concept of experiential avoidance avoidance, meaning I will do all of these other things before I will feel my feelings. When I start to feel my feelings and think about this, this one comes up in procrastination a lot. You know, if you have a deadline that's looming, think of all of the amazing, wonderful things that you all of a sudden want to get done before you get to the project that is is the cause of the most of your anxiety. So he said you don't have to be a top psychologist to figure out the humans like to feel good. None of us enjoy unpleasant feelings.
[00:20:50] And he said, let's face it, under most circumstances, fear is a very unpleasant thing. And he says that he says most circumstances because he said at times we may hand over good money in order to have this very feeling. For example, if we watch a scary movie or we read a thriller or we take a ride on a roller coaster. So sometimes we are handing over money to feel these unpleasant feelings. And I, for one, am definitely guilty of that because I enjoy roller coasters and then a handful of bungee jumps, that sort of thing.
[00:21:15] But he said, you know, given that fear usually feels on. Pleasanter than our society also teaches us that it's bad, it's only natural that we try and avoid or get rid of this fear and and again, this is that concept and act they call experiential avoidance and avoidance mode. We do whatever we can to get rid of or avoid unpleasant feelings and common tactics that we use include distraction, thinking strategies and substance abuse. You know, in my role of working with a lot of addicts, especially in the world of porn or pornography addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, that is one of the easiest compulsive behaviors to turn to for experiential avoidance or people turn to food or gambling or anything to avoid feeling bad. So he said distraction. We try hard to distract ourselves from our feelings again through books, movies, computer games, TV, socializing, all of those things rather than focusing on problems or opting out, he said. Challenging situations give rise to uncomfortable feeling. So in order to avoid those feelings, we opt out of challenging situations, will quit early, will withdraw, will procrastinate, will escape or will completely stay away from people or places or events or things that we find challenging. This is a lot of times that path of least resistance. I don't know how many of you have been invited to a party or invited to go somewhere and you just think it's just a lot easier not to go. So that's one of that's the idea of opting out thinking strategies. This is one that's pretty fascinating and this is one that I want to get to a little bit later on today in this podcast. So when we have unpleasant feelings, we often try to think our way out of them. I've heard this before, described as thinking our way out of a thinking problem. If you look at it that way, you can see how that game's going to kind of be rigged.
[00:22:51] So we ask you, we said more of the common thinking strategy we use. We blame others. That's a huge one. We don't take accountability for our own actions. So we blame others or we analyze why we feel a certain way of thinking about something more pleasant, or we even deny that we're we're feeling in pain or that we aren't feeling good. We turn to positive thinking or optimistic thinking or positive affirmations. We challenge our negative thoughts. We fantasize about the future. We plan revenge, he says. We plan to escape. We beat ourselves up. We tell ourselves we shouldn't be feeling this way. We tell ourselves to snap out of it. I hear oftentimes people just say and rub a little dirt in it. Toughen up. It's no big deal. You know, we tell ourselves it's it's not fair. Wondering why me imagining, you know, if only this was happening or that was happening. We go, oh, we rehash the past, all of those things. And then he also talks about substance abuse that people often turn to put substances in their bodies and attempt to get rid of unpleasant feelings and replace them with more pleasant ones, he said. Which of the following do people use? Painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, drinks such as tea or coffee, herbal or neuropathic remedies, prescription medications, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other illicit drugs, foods such as chocolate pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, chips. So he said, So what's the problem? At times we all are going to avoid or we're going to work in this avoidance or autopilot mode. And this this isn't always the problem, but the more habitual it becomes, the more time we spend in these modes, the more problems we create.
[00:24:12] So, for example, Dr. Harris goes on to say, the more that he goes through his day on autopilot, the less control he has. So when fear and anxiety pop up, they dictate his choices. He said, I don't stop to consciously reflect on my options. I do whatever the fear tells me to do. He said. If Albert Ellis, who we talked to a few minutes ago, had been operating on autopilot, he never would have spoken to those women when he was challenging himself. He would have let fear dictate his actions. He would have steered clear of such challenging situations. So what about avoidance mode? Any of those methods of avoiding feeling pain, distraction, acting out thinking strategy, substance abuse creates problems. I think you can kind of see how that would work if we use them sparingly or wisely. Those methods are fine. I mean, we again, we're human, but if we use them to excess, then there's going to be undesirable consequences. So finally, he said, let's consider distraction. He said the more I invest my time and energy and doing things to distract myself from my feelings, the less time and energy I have to invest in things that make life rich and full and meaningful. And man, I can speak to this. Not only, he says, to mention that some distractions, such as gambling or shopping, have big financial costs. Others, such as partying hard or working hard, can have big health costs over time. And he said again, what about that one of opting out? The more you use that strategy for avoiding fear, the smaller his life gets.
[00:25:28] And think about that, the more you opt out, the less you're living, the less interaction you have with people, the less exploration you have. Even if I'm looking in the world of people that are trying to, you know, date more or get a new job or by opting out of social situations or social contracts, you are limiting your pool of people to to interact with your pool of people that might possibly hire you. So opting out is not you know, it's not a positive strategy. So the more he does that, he says, the more you get stuck in a rut. You miss out on all sorts of opportunities. And then I love this. He addresses procrastination. He said one form of opting out is procrastination, putting things off until later. He said, while this can be fine at times if you do it too much. Important issues don't get dealt dealt with, problems don't get resolved. And to do list grows bigger and bigger, which surprisingly or not surprisingly, generates anxiety. So when we overly rely on thinking strategies, there are a ton of costs, a particularly big one is we spend a lot of time on their heads instead of engaging in our lives here, that when, again, we can spend a lot of times in our heads, I always say we burn a lot of mental calories trying to figure out the past or worry about the future.
[00:26:35] And those things kind of keep us away from the present. So if we spend more time in her head where we are spending less time engaging in our lives so others depend on strategy, use the blaming. Others leads to relationship conflicts. Fantasizing about the future can lead to being very discontent with the present. Beating ourselves up just makes us miserable and positive. Thinking and challenging thoughts leads to frustration and disappointment when they don't last, when they don't lead to the desired effects. And of course, then if we over rely on substance abuse, those can cost our physical health because that can vary everything from drug addiction to lung cancer, lung cancer to obesity and so on. So but arguably, the biggest cost of all of this is the more we avoid our fear. And that's why we're talking about fear. We're talking about thoughts. The more we avoid our fear, the bigger it grows and the more influence it has over our actions. So we get stuck in this trap. He calls it the fear trap. And the greater our efforts to get rid of the fear, the greater our fear becomes.
[00:27:31] And so the greater our fear becomes. Then the more it plays havoc on our lives, the more negatively it affects our lives and the more we're stuck in this fear trap. So I'm going to wrap this up a little bit. Russum says he's talking again about the fear trap. He says, have you ever heard the saying that you got to get back on the horse? And he makes the note that he's never fallen from a horse, but he's been told it's pretty scary. But immediately after a fall, most people would have fear of getting back on, especially if they were injured when they fell. But sooner the sooner you get back on the horse, you start riding again, the sooner you will regain your confidence. Now, that can be different for each and every person based on their experience with horses. But what happens if you don't remount the horse? You put it off week after week saying, I'll start again next week, I'll start again next week. The longer you start putting it off, the greater your fear grows. So he said that if you want to get back into horse riding, you'll at some point. And again, there's the key. If you want to get back to horse riding, if you have zero goal, if you have no value around riding a horse, then there's no need to go and put yourself through that kind of exposure. But if your goal is to get back on the horse, then you would want to have exposure.
[00:28:41] It's called exposure therapy. It's exposure basically means staying in contact with whatever you're afraid of until you get used to it. And again, I think one of the key things here is if that is something that is it is productive for you or something that is significant to you. And and once you are exposed, the more you are exposed there's graded exposure, then the more that you will come to a point where it doesn't hold as much fear, you can kind of get out of that fear trap, he said. You've probably seen documentaries where people overcome their phobias and let's say the subject is terrified of spiders, which, holy cow, I'm terrified of spiders. I didn't realise that until today. I look over and I see another spider on my wall. And there was a podcast episode a few weeks ago where one scurried across my desk. So I do feel like I'm living somewhat in the movie Arachnophobia, which is a fear of spiders or a phobia of spiders. But I digress. So to get somebody over their fear of spiders, here's what that exposure looks like. I mean, because right now, if somebody is very afraid of spiders, again, probably me, they might live their life doing whatever they can to avoid spiders. They may look at, you know, they even avoid looking at pictures of spiders. And they people would close their eyes if they see spiders in movies or people would even stop talking about spiders.
[00:29:53] There might be somebody that's listening to this right now that says, can he stop talking about spiders? But the problem is, the more you avoid anything to do with spiders, the more afraid that you become. So to get over this fear, a psychologist then exposes to someone to spiders in a gentle step by step program. First, they may look at pictures of spiders. They may watch videos of spiders. They may even look at a realistic toy spider. Then they may look at dead spiders in display cases. Then they may even look at living spiders crawling around inside of a glass jar. And eventually a person might even be able to hold a living spider in his hand. And he and Dr. Harris even says, of course, most people wouldn't go quite that far unless they plan to get into spider breeding or something. That is the key, by the way, to exposure therapy. If that is their goal, then that is what is necessary. Too often we assume that we must be exposed to anything and everything in order to, quote, be a man or live life or those sort of things. But if I'm hanging out with spiders, isn't your goal, your value-based goal, then that probably isn't something that is necessary. But back to this example, he says that this step by step approach is known as graded exposure.
[00:30:59] And you can see that the key here is it is the very opposite of avoidance. So then he says, but suppose what we fear is not something outside of us, like a horse or a spider or a mad man wielding an ax. Suppose what we fear is an emotion or a feeling or a sensation, then is. So long as we go through life trying hard to avoid that feeling surprise, we will never overcome our fear of it. So we're back around to the concept of experiential avoidance, which is a very, very profound thing in my practice, in my life of experience, avoidance, the ongoing effort to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Whenever we feel that we want to avoid that, we want to do something else, distract all of the techniques that we talked about today that we try to do where we opt out, we distract, we numb with substances. So he says experiential avoidance is like an emotional amplifier. It takes our fear and makes it bigger and bigger. And then this leads us to try harder and harder to avoid it, which makes it bigger and bigger and so on and so on. And thus, the more you know, the more experientially avoidant we are, the more firmly stuck we are in this fear trap.
[00:32:13] So what is the alternative? Do we just need to grit our teeth and put up with the fear and as Dr. Harris says, force ourselves to go through with it? I mean, I would not be the first one to recommend that because, again, unless we are trying to become spider breeders, then I don't necessarily recommend exposure to spiders, he said. There is another way of responding to fear that is radically different from almost everything that our society encourages us to do. We don't put up with it. We don't tolerate it. We don't suppress it or deny its existence. We don't distract ourselves from it. We don't try to talk ourselves out of it. We don't try to reduce it or eliminate it with self hypnosis or other techniques. He says that we don't try to make this our fear or anxieties or worries. We don't try to make them go away with medication or herbal remedies or food or alcohol. And we don't try to pretend that they're not there, which is the so-called fake it until you make it approach. So what do we do? All we need to do is and this is the next chapter of the confidence gap, you give it space.
[00:33:10] And I know that can sound a little bit like, wow, that was quite a build up to not really have a big payoff, but giving it space, inviting those feelings, emotions, thoughts to come along with you for the ride expansion, make room for them, stop trying to fight your you know, your brain with the. I shouldn't think this. I shouldn't feel this. What's wrong with me when you recognize that you are wanting to have this experiential avoidance, when you notice that you're trying to distract, then learn to kind of sit in that moment. Here's where our good old friend Mindfulness comes into play. Here's where learning how to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth and be present in a moment. No, you learn that those feelings will pass. This, too, shall pass, just like we have thought after thought after thought. With those thoughts can come feelings and emotions. And so we will learn how to confidently sit there and recognize and acknowledge the feeling because we are human and they are we're the only ones of us, the only version of us that is walking around on the planet. So if we have a feeling or a sensation or a thought, it's because we're human.
[00:34:13] Nothing wrong with this. And so what do we do with those thoughts, feelings and emotions? We don't try to run away from them. We don't try to suppress them. We just invite them along for the ride. So it sounds to me like that would be the next podcast that I do is talking more about this expansion ways to kind of give your feelings and emotions space. But I just hope I mean, I want this to come through in every podcast. I do that for too long. We've kind of played this game of the I'm broken. What's wrong with me? And I want you to start to change that narrative. The name of the game is, guess what? Nothing is wrong with you. And you're not broken. You're human, but you have had some experiences. They might have even been traumatic experiences. They might have had been attachment related experiences, abandonment issues, any of those kind of things. So you are going to feel because of those things that are happening, but then we can learn what to do with those feelings. We can learn not to run away from those feelings, not to distract from those feelings, not to hide from those feelings, but learn how to just kind of acknowledge them, even appreciate them at times, and then let them come along for the ride as you now diffuse from those feelings and turn toward a more value based goal or a more present life.
[00:35:26] And those things are what really start to turn this whole dial of change in your life and help you to be more empowered, more present. Just in the moment, I could go on and on, but I realize I'm starting to sound a bit cliched. But thank you for taking the time. If you have any of you have hung on till right now, feel free to shoot me an email, a quick note at contact that Tony Overbay dot com. And let me know if you have any questions on today's episode. I would be happy to answer those questions in a future episode because this stuff is life changing. And I hope that you can jump on board and and that it can change your life, too. All right. I don't say this enough, but I'm grateful for the wonderful the talented Aurora Florence, who I play off every every episode that I can with her song.
[00:36:10] It's wonderful because in life truly is wonderful. I will see you next time.