Houston, Our Brain is the Problem

Houston, Our Brain is the Problem

I am sure you saw the media coverage last week of the 50-year anniversary of the moon landing.

As I read the different accounts, I was struck at how impossible and monumental their task really was and how high the risks and consequences were for failure. I even read one account that noted the speech that President Nixon had prepared in case the unimaginable happened and the astronauts never came home.

Really, they had no business being up there in the first place. The Apollo mission computer was no more complex than a basic calculator. One article in Computer Weekly, noted that the computer worked by simple verb-noun commands. The astronauts would type the action and the instrument they needed to take the particular action, like “aim telescope.” In order to do this simple function, the computer need 64 kilobytes of memory. Which means that the Apollo mission to the moon was facilitated by a computer as powerful as an ordinary USB drive, sitting in the bottom of my daughter’s backpack.

The contrast between what they had to do and the planning, coordinating, computation, and luck it would take is staggering. Joe Carter recently wrote this about the mission’s chance for failure:

Armstrong wasn’t convinced the team would be able to land their lunar module, and put the odd of success at only 50-50. “There are so many unknowns on that descent from lunar orbit down to the surface that had not been demonstrated yet by testing and there was a big chance that there was something in there we didn’t understand properly and we had to abort and come back to Earth without landing,” said Armstrong. His concerns were not unwarranted since mishaps were likely.

For most of us, when we consider failing at one of our goals, it rarely includes being stranded 239,800 miles from home on a large, cold rock in the middle of space. It rarely includes the threat of actual death or the real possibility of leaving our families behind.

It only feels like that.

Our brains so often convince us not to try for fear of failure or rejection or humiliation, which only boil down to a primal fear of death. Our brains are convinced that whatever it is—public speaking, launching our new venture, applying for a new position, employing a new marketing strategy—anything outside of our comfort zone, will lead to certain death.

But unlike the Apollo mission, our failures will really only mean acquiring new information that will help us in our next attempt. The mistake is in thinking that the fear is trying to tell us something important. It never is. The fear is just there, a given part of the human experience. The sooner we stop making it mean anything about what we should and shouldn’t try, the faster we can get on with creating what we want in our lives.

In my book, Unqualified Success, I compared fear to that old car game I used to play with my siblings on long road trips. It’s a memory game, where you say, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking apples.” The next persons repeats what you’re taking and adds their own item to the list, using the next letter in the alphabet, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking boots and apples.”

The game continues with each person adding one more thing to the list while remembering all the other things, until someone forgets one of the items and they’re out. Did you play this in the back of a station wagon like me?

I like to use this idea when it comes to reaching my goals. Whenever I set a new goal, fear shows up. But I don’t ever let it mean I shouldn’t go after my goal. I simply think something like:

• “I’m writing a book and I’m taking fear” or
• “I’m launching a software company and I’m taking fear” or
• “I’m pacing my brother in a 100-miler this year and I’m taking fear”

The idea is that fear is always going to be there. It’s part of the deal. It is your constant and predictable travel companion on the road to any and every goal you want to achieve.  Rather than spending all your energy resisting it, just recognize it as a necessary part of the human experience, especially when you are taking your life to a new level.

Going somewhere? Fear’s going too.

Armstrong and Aldrin had a healthy dose of fear as they flew into the stratosphere and tried to land a lunar module on the moon. But they did it anyway.

I’m suggesting that you might be surprised at what you can accomplish if you took the same strategy: Feel the fear. And then do the work anyway.

What about you? What have you achieved by feeling your fear, but not listening to it?