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  • Writer's pictureshiv kumar

Paranoia and Success

What would you think if I told you that the secret to success is paranoia?

If you’re the tolerant, patient, and curious type, you’d probably think “let’s see where this goes”.

If you’re the blunt and direct type, you might wonder “what the heck is Shiv smoking these days?”!!

I was recently in a conversation with a professor of neuroscience research. Now, if you’re wondering how I managed to be in such august company…well, that is the magic of online technology. Anyone can meet anyone these days, with a little bit of perseverance and stalking! 😊

We spoke about fears and how they hold us back.


Discussing the origin of fears dating back to the early humans brought us to the topic of how being paranoid and suspicious about everything unfamiliar helped our ancestors survive and thrive. So, there you have it - paranoia is indeed the secret to success…not just that of an individual but an entire species!

Imagine if our ancestors had been ready to eat berries they’d never seen before and the brain hadn’t screamed “Poison, you might die!!!”, or if they attempted to make friends with an unfamiliar creature and the inner voice hadn’t gone “Run, this one might want to eat you!!!”.

Without these alarm bells sounded by their brains, they wouldn’t have gotten very far. Humans would just have been added to the long list of extinct creatures.

In the paranoia versus curiosity stakes, paranoia won hands down. After all, back in those times, it was all about “fight or flight”, not negotiation or friendship!

But how relevant is extreme fear when faced with unfamiliarity in today’s times?


If you walked into your living room, and your partner had arranged some lovely roses on the table for you as a surprise and there was a snake on the carpet, which would you notice first – the roses or the snake? The answer is obvious because our brain is still on the lookout for threats.

Threats are noticed before pleasure or novelty. That’s the main reason why negative thinking is so prevalent. We are hard-wired to focus on the negatives rather than positives as part of our evolutional design…a pretty good design when you consider the success of its objective – the survival of our species.

How is this wonderfully effective design affecting our lives today though?

During the early years of human civilization, our ancestors faced threats to their lives over 50% of the time. Today, we face physical threats less than 5% of the time. But our brain? It continues to perceive anything unfamiliar as a threat, whether it be a rational fear like facing a knife-wielding intruder in your home or an irrational fear like the fear of dying in a plane crash every time you board an aircraft!


Rational FEAR that threatens our physical safety can be expressed as the acronym - “Forget Everything And Run”.

The reptilian part of our brain fires up the “fight or flight” response through an adrenaline burst which has great survival value when we’re faced with a rational fear.

Irrational FEAR is often expressed by the acronym – “Future Events Appearing Real”.

When our brain fires up the same “fight or flight” response upon facing irrational fears such as public speaking, being interviewed, writing an exam, being on a first date, etc., it leaves the brain in a heightened state of arousal more often than it should be thereby leading to prolonged stress. The damaging effects of prolonged stress are very well-known.


Like many other organs of the human body, our brains have also evolved over time in terms of size and intelligence. But one aspect remains unchanged – its main function being to keep us safe and so it gets into survival mode every time it encounters anything unfamiliar. That’s why leaving our comfort zone seems so difficult.

How can we learn to use this built-in alarm system effectively so that it works when needed but doesn’t stop us from taking action by giving us unnecessary false alarms?


If you can take control of your brain through conscious action, you can tap into its massive potential.

· Whenever your brain tells you to Be afraid, be very afraid” as you are on the verge of trying something new, take a step back and evaluate the risk rationally.

· Ask yourself “Does taking this action threaten my physical safety?” “Is this going to be a major catastrophe?” “What is the worst that can happen?”.

· Learn from any similar situations that you might have experienced in the past. “What worked well and what didn’t?” “What can I do better this time?”.

· Be realistic and don’t expect to become fearless overnight. In fact, author Susan Jeffers’ suggestion is to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. You don’t have to wait till you overcome your fears. Take small action steps even while you’re afraid.

Once you’re comfortable with moving towards action even as your brain is trying to stop you, maybe your new acronym for FEAR could be – “Feel Everything And Recover”!

If you would like to know more about fear and its implications on our lives, you can check out my podcast episode

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