How to Control Your Fight-or-Flight Response and Make Courageous Decisions

The ability to engage with difficulties and stress in an empowering way is described as the biggest factor for success in life — more significant than your IQ, social networks, physical health, or socio-economic background.

When you encounter stressful situations, there are two basic ways your brain will respond: fight or flight. And whether you fight or flee can be boiled down to how you’ve been conditioned from past experiences. A negative pattern of response is known as “learned helplessness.” If you’ve given a terrible presentation at a business meeting, you’ll have a stress-induced flight response in similar future scenarios.

If left unchecked, this pattern of “learned” avoidant behaviors will lead to passive and poor decisions. The good news is, researchers have found that learned helplessness can be short-circuited depending your explanatory style or attribution style. After encountering a stressful situation, before a passive behavior is “learned,” you first have to interpret the experience — and that interpretation can be changed. Your fight-or-flight respond is visceral, until you learn to stop and ask, “Why?”

Your explanatory or attributional styles can be categorized in three ways:

1. Internal vs. External.

This is how you explain the cause of an event; where you attach the “responsibility.” Making it internal means you see yourself as the cause, rather than an external factor. Example: “I’m terrible at giving presentations” (internal), as opposed to “the material was challenging to explain” (external).

2. Stable vs. Unstable.

This is how you explain the lifespan an event; whether an experience has permanent effects, or is transient. Example: “I always forget names, I was born with a terrible memory” (stable), as opposed to “I didn’t get enough sleep last night, my memory is a little off this morning” (unstable).

3. Global vs. Specific. 

This is how you explain the context of an event; whether the situation is universal across all environments or unique to one environment. Example: “I don’t enjoy meeting people at conferences” (global), as opposed to “I didn’t enjoy meeting the people at that last conference” (specific).

What’s the Best Explanatory Style?

Explanatory styles can be divided simply into optimistic and pessimistic. So, a person who responds to challenges with pessimistic attributions will believe they were born “dumb;” that their lack of intelligence is permanent; and will never succeed in any job. This person responds with a “flight-response.”

Reframing the cause, the lifespan, and the context with an optimistic lens means this person believes they were born with great resilience; that their struggles are temporary and change happens over time; and they have the ability to succeed in any career, regardless of past failures. This person responds with a “fight-response.”

These reframing techniques can sound like wishful thinking or making excuses, but researchers have shown this growth-mindset strategy of changing how you interpret an event will change negative response patterns.

To create a pattern of courageous “fight” responses when you encounter a stressful or difficult situation, adjust your explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, at three key points: the cause (internal vs. external); the timeframe (stable vs. unstable); and the context (global vs. specific).

6 Responses to “How to Control Your Fight-or-Flight Response and Make Courageous Decisions”

  1. January 15, 2016

    santosh Reply

    That’s a great one my friend… Keep on writing…

  2. July 24, 2016

    paramvir Reply

    great insights.. keep writing. You doing great work, my friend.

  3. August 11, 2016

    suze Reply

    whenever i was faced with tasks that i didn’t know how to deal with..i panicked..i wanted to get away.It was always the flight response and never the stay on and fight response.However,since i hired a virtual assistant , i am less stressed while handling such situations because i know i have a VA(Habiliss) who will help me out.

  4. September 22, 2016

    Advaita shyam sunder Reply

    The way you explain the cause, lifespan and context of an event has an effect on your flight and fight response… thats an important point indeed 🙂 very interesting writeup 🙂

    Please go through my blog and give me feedback it will be valuable. I may be motivated and improve as a result.
    Regards
    Advaita.

  5. June 14, 2017

    AmmyBal Reply

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  6. June 16, 2017

    Joel Reply

    And we must change the way in which we believe something to be true. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows the way we act and react to situations has a direct correlation to what we believe.

    If we believe that we are a poor public speaker, with near certainty this is how we will act if we have to do it.

    We must challenge our own thoughts and rewire our beliefs before we can work on the things that put us in fight or flight mode. With these beliefs challenged and proven inaccurate we will have a better chance at rising above the things that hold us back.

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