July 6, 2023 - Exasperated by your Brain’s Protective Mechanism?

Exasperated by your Brain’s Protective Mechanism? Have a “Conversation” with It… and Here Is How!

Have you ever thought of, and got excited about, doing something different – to your day-to-day life, to your work, to what people around you (both at work and in your social circle) normally did? – Something that would take you into the unknown, uncertain, uncomfortable, without any role model around you, maybe even without any roadmaps and guardrails? Most of us have… even if it wasn’t a “grandiose” idea!

I’m curious… What thoughts came up to you very shortly after thinking of doing that “something different”?

Were they thoughts like:

  • Put the brakes on!
  • This is such a stupid idea!
  • I’m not good enough for that… let’s forget about it!
  • What will others think of me?

Why those thoughts?

Well, there often is a feeling of fear and lack of self-confidence when considering doing something we’re not used to because of:

  • The uncertainty and discomfort brought by an unknown situation;
  • The risk of not feeling accepted by others if not conforming to the social environment;
  • The risk of failure…

And our mind has a way to protect us from these situations… It’s a protective mechanism that pretty much switches itself on without us realizing it… Plenty has already been written on this topic, so I won’t write more about it!

But what I really want to discuss here are reflections and actions we can take when we find ourselves in these situations, so we can purposefully decide whether we really want to do this “something different”, or not!

So, how to go about dealing with this protective mechanism – in a simple way?

1st - Give that “Protective Mechanism” a Name

I’m calling mine my “internal contradiction” voice…

My “internal contradiction” shows up as the reasonable, logic-based, mature voice in my head.

It tells me to consider my responsibilities, my financial and professional security, my family and friends…

It tells me to take a hard look at what I’ve REALLY achieved (downplaying it, of course! – like: I didn’t go to the best university, I wasn’t in the top 5, I didn’t…), at what I REALLY know (I don’t know as much as…), at how much courage I REALLY have (look at all the times I didn’t dare taking an opportunity!)…

It tries to contradict what my vision, my dreams, my heart, are telling me to try, to experiment with, to be curious about… by telling me that they are definitively taking me on the wrong, illogic, dangerous, lonely path of doing something different

I’m curious:

  • What’s the name you could give to this voice in your head?
  • How does it show up for you? What does it try to do?

2nd - Review that “Something Different”

I find that having a very good understanding of WHY I want to do this “something different” and that this WHY is really mine (and not someone else’s like a family member, a manager…) is key to having a well-balanced argument with my "internal contradiction" later on!

Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

  • What’s important to ME about that “something different”?
  • What will I GAIN from this experience – whether it works out as planned, not quite, or not at all?
  • What will I MISS OUT on if I don’t even try to do something about it?
  • How will it CHANGE my life, even if I only achieve part of what I’m hoping for?
  • What’s my WHY?
  • HOW MUCH do I want this “something different”: am I ready to be very, very uncomfortable - until what point?
  • What do I NEED to get this “something different” going? This is not about creating a list of absolutely everything that I’d need. This is about getting some ideas of how much work this represents, how much investment (not just financially, but also time and energy-wise) is required, and how much I can start doing right now…


Expect to get back to these questions and your answers several times, and give yourself the time to process these in as much depth as you can – like a young child that keeps asking "But why?" again, and again, and again…

Whenever I can, I discuss these questions and my answers with a few people from my personal Board of Directors… but the trick is to discuss these with the right person: someone who understands that this is about YOU (not about them), who you trust, who won’t judge you… and this is something I need to do more often!!!

3rd - Review the Potential Obstacles

Looking ahead also involves considering obstacles, challenges, mountains to climb, oceans to cross, detours to take…

Starting with making a list of whatever comes to mind…

Then taking some time to consider each of the items on that list:

  • Are they REAL obstacles, or just something that my “internal contradiction” wants me to believe in?
  • What’s under my CONTROL and what isn't?
  • What can I do about what’s under my control?
  • And what can I do about what’s not under my control?
  • Is it under somebody else’s control – can I speak to this person?
  • Can I avoid it, maybe by changing what it is I want to do (at least for now)?
  • And what else?

This is an area I need to improve on… It can be a bottomless hole if we’re not careful… and therefore there’s the temptation to not look deep enough…

How deep we go into this review is very personal, and depends on how much preparation we feel we need before making a decision… But let’s not make it a reason for not trying this “something different” we so want!

4th - Think Back about your Past “Jumps into the Unknown”

This is one of my favorite parts of dealing with my "internal contradiction”: looking back at all my “jumps into the unknown”, however “small” they may be! – moving geographically, learning a profession, leaving what and who I knew behind, trying something new and unusual… For all of us, there is so much we’ve actually achieved, moving into unknown spaces and situations – even if, often, we don’t see these as “achievements”!

A few years ago, I actually started to create a “my successes” list (and that list includes everything I tried to do - because I decided to view “trying” as “success” for the purpose of this list!), in which I put everything that meant something to me (“successful” or not!) – including moving away from home to study, new jobs, travel, learning something, etc. And I update this list weekly (sometimes I don't add anything, but at least I check!), and I like to review it monthly, or whenever I need a "booster"!

When dealing with my “internal contradiction”, I search for past “jumps” that somehow are related to the “jump” I’m now considering with this “something different” and I ask myself:

  • What did I learn from these past experiences (whether they worked out as planned, not quite, or not at all)?
  • What could I have done better then, and how could I do it better now?
  • How could I apply these past experiences, and the related learnings, to my present situation?

5th – Have the Conversation…

If you’ve followed the steps above, you now have:

  • Your WHY;
  • A good idea of your potential obstacles and how to deal with them;
  • Refreshed your mind with all your past “jumps into the unknown”; and
  • Know how to "build up" on top of these past "jumps" to move into this "something different" you're now considering.

And now is the time to have a proper conversation with your protective mechanism (in my case, my “internal contradiction”) - with fact-based arguments readily available in favor of going for this “something different”, to fight against the generally very persuasive arguments of your protective mechanism!

In my opinion, the “winner” of this conversation depends on which of the 2 options below weights the most for you:

How badly do you want this “something different”


How much do you want to stay in your comfortable and familiar environment?


These 5 steps are the ones I do my best to follow whenever I consider doing something that is really outside of my comfort zone and familiar environment.

But it’s often not as easy as it seems! My “internal contradiction” voice is very strong, especially if I’m tired, going through a “down” period… But I do my best to have this fact-based argued conversation before deciding to not even try…

Sometimes, it takes me a while to even get to that stage.

Sometimes, I conclude that I don’t want that “something different” badly enough… knowing that I may come back to it in the future…

Sometimes, I realized that my “why” is just not strong enough, or may not even really be mine…

But, whatever the conclusion, I know I haven't succumbed to my "internal contradiction" without putting up a good fight!!!

That’s it for me. What about you?

  • What did you get out of this article?
  • Are you getting inspired on how to deal with your own protective mechanism?
  • What can you do with this information?
  • Do you have other techniques? If so, please share!!!