“You will never find happiness until you conquer your own doubt. “
-From a Yogi Tea bag

Now, be honest: When you crack open that fortune cookie doesn’t part of you think, “This is going to be it, the answer for everything?” The makers of these cookies figured that out years ago, and they started printing lottery numbers along with the fortunes.

Similarly, each time I open up a bag of Yogi Tea (a brand of organic tea that I drink regularly), I’m kind of expecting a bit of daily magic from the quote attached to each bag. The quote at the top of this message is an example of those tea-bag aphorisms.

I want to back up about 50,000 years. What was a day like for our cave-dwelling ancestors? What was a life like? The average lifespan was probably around 30 years. Their days were occupied with providing for the basic needs – food, clothing, and shelter. They, like us, had a built-in surveillance system—the automatic brain (AB)—that had its antennae up 24/7 watching for anything that could be dangerous, threatening, or put them in a vulnerable position. It was always on high alert, and in some ways this constant state of stress may help to explain their short lifespan.

If you’re familiar with my book and other writings, you may think I’m obsessed with this concept of the automatic brain. My teenage son asked me the other day in a skeptical tone, “Dad, is everything the automatic brain?” Well, even though we no longer live in caves, this robust brain is essentially identical to the one that has occupied our cranium for untold thousands of years. It had its antennae up 24/7 back then, and it’s the same now. The dangers, threats, and vulnerabilities of today are different (and each of our individual dangers is different, too), but the reaction is the same as it was hundreds of centuries ago—fight or flight.

The dangers of today, though, reside in what I call the Big Three: Money, Relationships, and Health. Threats in any of these areas will make us fight or flee aggressively (for reasons I discuss in my book). The Big Three open up the flood gates for many other dangers, and our AB is there pushing us to fight and flee them all.

Were our cave-dwelling ancestors happy? Were they even capable of this emotion? I think not, because they did not possess our higher mind, which came much later. But we are capable of happiness. And just as danger for everyone is different, so is happiness. In our pursuit of happiness, we encounter danger on a daily basis. Often the physical reaction to “dangers” does this. For example, I think most drivers who have ever seen the flashing lights of a police car in their rearview mirror know the physical sensation of fight or flight. You know that feeling, too, if you have been called upon, unexpectedly, to say something intelligent to a large crowd.

The physical sensations of fight or flight direct our focus toward the danger and away from ourselves. If things are going well and a doozy of a thought pops into our head or situation implying danger suddenly arises, we worry about our ability to cope with the “dangerous” landscape of life. Whether real or imagined, the “danger” causes immediate physical reactions. To move back on the road to happiness and belief in oneself, it is essential to calm the turbulence of an activated AB. Danger triggers this brain to send out electrical and chemical impulses (adrenaline, for one) that prepare you to fight or flee. Your muscles contract and twitch, your breath becomes rapid and shallow, your body assumes either an aggressive or passive posture, and your face may look angry or sad—all in preparation to fight or flee.

To get control of these powerful physical sensations, it is important to realize that the AB’s activity will usually last no more than a few minutes. Then start with your breath. The breath of self-doubt and danger is the breath of the AB—fast and shallow. The mindful breath, the breath of self-belief, is slow and deep. Last August, when I made the decision to produce Brain Drain (doing everything myself, from securing copyrights to hiring a printer, an artist, etc…), I began to have trouble taking deep, satisfying breaths. And deep breaths being a hallmark of my relaxation strategies, this presented a bit of a problem.

There were “dangers” on many levels to do what I set out to do, so the predictable AB response was to cause rapid and shallow breaths to prepare me to fight or flee the danger. Soon I realized that every time I tried to take a deep breath, my AB tried to put me back in a fear-oriented, self-doubt mode. I tried focusing on something unrelated—or nothing at all—before trying to take a deep breath. When you have trouble taking deep, relaxing breaths, it is because the AB is working in the opposite direction—getting you to fight or flee the “danger” of self-confidence. Assert yourself by drawing breath in slowly through the nose, holding for a second, and letting the air out, slow and steady. As you draw breath in, focus on a spot in front of you (if you are driving, use a letter or number on a license plate or sign) for the whole time.

Next, soften your body language. It is okay to stand tall, but not in an aggressive manner. Since the AB causes a tightening and shortening of your muscles, work to lengthen them. Relax your face. Picture yourself smiling. Arrogance and the posture of fight engender a false confidence and help to ensure that happiness will elude you. Likewise, if you are slumped over and appear ready to flee, straighten up and look in a mirror. Put on a goofy face and make yourself laugh. Walk around with a smile for a while and see what happens. It’s really hard to feel miserable when you’re smiling. And although you might reply that it is hard to smile when you feel miserable, I can tell you that it’s just a matter of beating back your false-protector (the AB) and choosing to smile.

Conquering self-doubt is a battle we all can win. By understanding that we all have an automatic brain that tries to protect us from ourselves, by creating self-doubt, we begin to realize that the uncharted territory of self-confidence is not so dangerous after all. Fostering self-confidence means getting your body to do the opposite of what the AB directs. In time, you will see a glimmer of light which will grow into a bright glow—a glow that is the belief in your ability to be happy.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Brain Drain - the definitive guide to connecting mind, body, and spirit.
With his book, private practice, internet radio show, public appearances, weekly message and newsletter, hundreds of articles, and Coach MD, Dr. Glassman can show you what he has shown thousands of others: how to live a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.
Get started now with a free weekly message and chapters from Brain Drain at www.CharlesGlassmanMD.com