Momentum Podcast: 860
Entrepreneurs and 'Fight, Flight, Fawn or Freeze'
by Alex Charfen
This podcast talks about how the fight or flight response, which has been expanded to fight, flight, freeze or fawn, can impact entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are physiologically sensitive, momentum-based beings who are highly reactive to constraint. Constraint can show up physiologically when we respond to difficult situations.
While this survival mechanism can help entrepreneurs face their fears and succeed, it can also lead to burnout and feeling stuck. Entrepreneurs can get stuck in one of these four responses and remain there, leading them to build a company they don't want to be in.
Each of the four responses can show up in an entrepreneur's language and behavior. In this podcast, you will learn how to deal with these responses and how there is no one thing that can fix everything.
Full Audio Transcript
This is the Momentum podcast.
When I look at one of the major reasons I feel like I've been successful as an entrepreneur, as a parent, as a husband, as a coach. I think it's my study of psychology, my study of human behavior. And I don't study psychology and human behavior like the average person does. I look at psychology and human behavior almost exclusively through the lens of how does this affect me as an entrepreneur? How does this affect other entrepreneurs? How does it affect the entrepreneurial personality type? The evolutionary hunter that I've obsessed about for most of my career. And in this podcast, I want to share with you the fight or flight fine or freeze nervous system reactivity that we go into as entrepreneurs and how it specifically affects you in running your business and changing the world.
I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum podcast made for Empire Builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Should we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will? We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future. And instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world, because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution. And we always will be.
You've probably heard of the fight or flight response. I think almost everybody sort of fight or flight. It's this nervous system, sympathetic nervous system response. It's a survival mechanism that when we are under threat, we tend to either fight, like fight against that threat or flight, run away from that threat. Well, that was the framework that was used for a long time in psychology. But it's been expanded to fight flight fine or freeze. There's actually more than just these four. There's another one. But this is the one that really makes sense to me. And this is one that really makes sense to me, this framework, this four part framework of fight flight final phrase really makes sense to me for entrepreneurs.
So when I look at what we do as entrepreneurs and who we are as entrepreneurs, I want to make something clear. I think that this survival mechanism or fight, flight, fawn, or freeze actually creates some of our success. It creates our ability to do things that other people won't do. It creates our ability to put up with the vulnerability and pressure of being an entrepreneur. It helps us get through things that we are having trouble with. But if we allow the majority of our lives to be spent in one of these four categories, we will most likely end up in a place we don't want to be. I've seen this over and over again. You've heard me say this on the podcast that oftentimes as entrepreneurs we think we're building this castle of a business, this castle of an organization. We just don't realize we're building ourselves into the dungeon. And oftentimes the reason we do that, oftentimes the reason we build the company that we turn around and look at and say, ‘Man, I don't even want to be here’. Oftentimes, the reason we put ourselves in situations where we're like, ‘Why did I even agree to this?’ Oftentimes when we are in a place where we're not getting what we want to get done, I believe it's because we are in this sympathetic nervous system response, which means we're in a survival mechanism response as a response to threat, a perceived threat. Maybe there's not any real threat there, but we're feeling that threat. And that's what affects so much of what we do as entrepreneurs. So I want to break these four different areas down and show you how they apply to you as an entrepreneur running a business. And I think you'll probably find one or more of these relatable. I know I do. So let's take a look at these four.
So first, let's start with flight. Sorry, fight. So fight is a sympathetic nervous system response. It is an adrenal response. You know, we, our body releases adrenaline and noradrenaline. It's a response of literally getting ready to fight. You know, some of the physical characteristics are our eyes narrow, you know, our skin gets warmer, our body literally prepares for conflict. And when we look at this in the response to a business, irritability, anger, aggression, frustration with the people around us being needing to work all the time, feeling like we must work all the time. Like if we're not working all the time, we're not doing it right. These are all a response to the fight response in a business when we can't listen to the people around us, when we're frustrated constantly with the people around us. Recently, a friend of mine who runs an incredibly successful business reached out and he said, “Alex, I have this recurring thing happening and I know you've been through some of this and you help with entrepreneurs with it. Here's what's happening. I find myself waking up every night or every other night at 3 a.m. My mind starts racing. I immediately start focusing either on my company or one person in the company, and I'm overwhelmed with anger and frustration and irritation that they're not doing the right thing or we're not doing the right thing". He said, “Can you help?” And I told him, “You know, I think what's happening here is your nervous system is stuck in a survival response called fight, and that's why it's preparing you for battle and waking you up at 3 a.m. and overclocking all of your organs and your adrenal system and your thyroid system so that you can't even get get a good night's sleep”. And if you've never experienced the 3 a.m. waking up phenomena, congratulations. I mean, I was there for years. I used to wake up somewhere between three and 4 a.m. and most days I was so accelerated and frustrated and had all this energy coming out of me that I couldn't even go back to sleep. And it made it so it was impossible for me to relax and impossible for me to calm down. And it was incredibly frustrating. And so for us as entrepreneurs, if you find yourself in a place where you're always frustrated, where you're irritable, where you're angry, where you're easily triggered, you're probably in a fight response. And by the way, by the end of this podcast, I'm going to share with you some strategies that I've used to get out of this, and I'm going to do some deeper dives in future podcasts on each strategy to help you regulate your nervous system so that you start working from a place of intention and creating what you want, dare I say, manifesting what you want in the world instead of being driven by this survival mechanism that will often allow us to get a lot done, but with a low level of intention, with the lower level of understanding and sometimes ends up painting us into a corner. So don't go anywhere. But I want to go through the other three areas of this response.
So the second one is flight. Flight is when we're feeling anxiety, fear, panic. We're avoiding things. There's chronic worry. And even perfectionism is part of flight, you know, having to be perfect, having to make sure that we're not going into that flight response. You know, the way this comes out in our business, the way that I see it in entrepreneurs is regardless of how successful we are, we always feel like we could lose it all in any given day. Regardless of how good things are going. We find the thing that's going wrong and go try and fix that thing. Regardless of how well our team is doing. When we find a small mistake or an issue, it completely sets us off and throws us sideways, puts us in a to maybe a fight response or into a place where we are worried and anxious and frustrated and and feel like we have to go make everything 100% perfect and we can't let go of small mistakes. Again, the reason why I'm personalizing this and saying we are not entrepreneurs is because I've been in every one of these. I know that feeling. I know the feeling of seeing a process in my company or hearing an issue with a customer or hearing of a problem that we had and thinking, ‘’Oh my God, it's all going to implode’. This is all going to go away if I don't fix every single thing right now, if I don't get everybody on my team anxious and worried about the same things I'm anxious or worried about, we are going to fail. I can feel it coming. It's eminent. The whole world is going to implode. That is that flight feeling, that feeling of being needing to fix everything, needing to run away from the threat and needing to make sure that we don't allow the threat. And if you're an entrepreneur and you felt that, I do not want you to feel alone, because again, we all have.
And I've been saying fight flight, fawn, or freeze, but I'm gonna go to freeze next. So freeze is, instead of fawn, I'm going to do fawn last. So freeze is the feeling of being stuck, immobilized, sometimes even spacing out and losing time, either disassociating or finding a way to disassociate. And feeling depressed and sometimes even feeling shame. As an entrepreneur, I felt all of these things. I felt stuck. I felt like I know what I need to get done, but for some reason I'm just not getting it done. I felt like I've been immobilized. There's been days where I've sat at my desk and thought it was 15 minutes that I was there and I was there for 2 hours and I didn't really accomplish anything. And there's definitely been times where I've been completely depressed and ashamed, ashamed of not doing better, ashamed of not putting more out there, ashamed of how I felt about myself. Those feelings are anything but empowering as an entrepreneur. And when you look at those behaviors in our business, when I say we're disassociating or finding a way to disassociate, the thing that immediately comes to mind is social media sitting on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and just infinitely scrolling. That's not just infinitely scrolling. That's just not wasting time on social media. That's disassociation. Unless you're doing it for a reason, unless you're doing it for research, unless it's active for you, unless you're looking at things, unless there's a purpose, which, by the way, is probably like 1% of the time of everybody who does it, or a way less than 1% of the time. What we're doing is we're using it as a tool for disassociation. We're using it as a tool to deal with that freeze trauma response to that freeze response to a threat. And it can keep us from doing what we need to do. It can keep us in an endless loop of procrastination. It can keep us stuck. So if you're there, if you felt those things again, I don't want you to feel alone. There's a way out of this. It's not a light switch. It's not an instant fix. But you can definitely move things in the right direction.
And the last of these four responses is fawn. Now, fawn is a confusing one. So depending on what you read and who you read it from, some people see this as a continuum. We go from fight, and if fight is not an option, then fight. And a fight is not an option, we freeze. And freeze, if we freeze for long enough, then we just kind of give up and fawn. I don't really see it like that. I think that when I look at entrepreneurs in the one-on-one coaching that I've done, the consulting I've done, the groups that I've run, the memberships that I've run, I think of all of us kind of default to one of these four. A lot of us default to fight, a lot of us default to flight, some of us default to freeze and kind of getting stuck. And then this last one fawn is a lot more prominent thing, you think. In fact, when I look at the operator personality type, the organizational personality type, I think fawn is one of the defaults, one of the common defaults for someone who's more of an operator, more of an organizational personality type. And so fawn is just kind of giving up, giving in. It's like becoming very nice all of a sudden. Like trying to be as agreeable as you possibly can. People pleasing, avoiding conflict, prioritizing other's needs over your own, difficulty saying no, having tons of trouble setting boundaries. And for that operator personality type or an operator type visionary that results in doing other people's work for them, jumping in and rescuing people, making sure everybody feels good, whether they're doing the right things or they're accountable to the work or not. And I think, again, when I look at entrepreneurs, all of us experience all four of these. We just default primarily to one. This is my opinion. I can't give you, you know, references for it because I've done tons of research on this and this is like my summary, my conclusion of how it affects us as entrepreneurs.
And the text message that I got this week about my friend who's getting up at 3:00 in the morning isn't the only message I get like that. I've received thousands of messages like that throughout my career. You know, I feel like I'm stuck and I just feel like I'm not going anywhere. You hear it in an entrepreneur's language. I mean, you know, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. That's that freeze place. I hear from people, you know, so common that someone would tell me, “Alex, my business just hit $3 million. I've got more money in the bank than I ever have. I've got financial security like I never thought I would have, but I'm panicked and I have this chronic state of worry and frustration and anxiety, and I feel like I could lose it all”. That's us defaulting to that flight response. And I hear entrepreneurs tell me, “You know, Alex, I feel like I can't hold my team accountable because every time they have a problem, I feel like I have to jump in and do it for them and I have to make them feel okay. And I don't want them to be upset and I want them to feel good about what they're working on. And then it turns into this place where then they start acting entitled and I can't hold them accountable”. That's that fawn response. You know, I think, again, we all default at different times into these. And I've heard it in the language of entrepreneurs for so long. And when I started studying this, it's like everything fell into place. This is why we have these behaviors. This is why I get these questions. This is why I see these repeated behaviors, these behaviors that keep people stuck, these behaviors that keep people in loops, these behaviors that keep us from moving forward.
And so I'll share with you what I shared with my friend. That when he reached out, my text message back said something like, “Hey, I've been there. You know, I've been in places where for months I woke up in the middle of the night every night, every other night, sometimes three or four nights in a row. And it affected everything, you know. And when somebody reaches out and says, I'm anxious and I'm worrying, I feel like I could lose it all.” I tell him I've been there, too. And when somebody says, you know, I feel like I'm trying to please others and I'm trying to make everybody else happy and I am exhausted, I've been there too. And my answer back is that there is no light switch that is going to fix this. As entrepreneurs, I know how it is. I know you're like this because I'm like this. I want to find the one thing that's going to fix everything. And when it comes to this survival mechanism, when it comes to this survival mechanism that is looking for a threat in the world, that activates our nervous system in a way where it releases chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline, and then this entire cascade of other chemicals and other hormones. There is no immediate fix. There is no quick resolution to this. What I've found and this is what I shared with my friend, is that there's a series of processes and a series of strategies that have significantly helped me reduce this response. I've never been able to eliminate it, but I've gone from experiencing it a lot of the time to very little of the time. And that series of strategies is strategies to help me lower the reactivity of my nervous system. And for me, those are the things that I do on a day to day basis to get in my body, to calm things down, to create awareness, to stop mental chatter, and really to overall create momentum. And here's what I shared with my friend.
For me, it's about having a clear written morning routine. For me, meditation and breathwork help a tremendous amount. You know, just sitting for as little as 3 to 10 minutes meditating can calm things down a ton. Having a clear morning routine that is spelled out so every day starts the same way and I know I'm fully supported by the time I sit down for work. And I'm not, I don't have any strategies or issues with things that are blowing out my adrenal system has been a life changer. Doing cold plunges and using an infrared sauna have both helped a ton. Sitting in a sauna at 150 degrees is uncomfortable, but by sitting there and purposely stepping into discomfort, I'm detoxing my body. I'm calming the nervous system. There's a little bit of a cardiovascular effect, and I find that I feel much better for about 24 hours. Getting out of that sauna and getting into a 50 degree or a cold air cold plunge. Again, it's stepping into discomfort. It is some short term stress. But what happens is by allowing myself to get into that discomfort, there's this hormetic response, this positive response to stress, where afterwards dopamine is released and my nervous system calms down and I'm able to do hard things throughout the day because that's one of the hardest things that I do every single day. And there's more. For me, it's strategies like making sure I'm completely hydrated through a process and through a structure that I built that I'll share with you in a future podcast. And making sure I'm eating the right foods. I'm staying away from stimulating foods like artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, processed sugars, processed carbohydrates, processed foods in general has all helped contribute to calming down my nervous system. And then getting really extraordinary sleep at night. Improving my sleep has had a massive effect on calming down my nervous system and intentionally working out and moving my body. You know, when I say intentionally, I think back to 15, 20 years ago when I used to work out and I would put the angriest music I could on in my gym and I would turn it on really loud and I would get a ton of adrenaline and a ton of what I felt like was momentum. But it was really like almost triggering a fight or flight response. And then I'd work out in the most punishing and challenging way that I possibly could. You know, these days I go into workouts with intention. I know what I'm going to be doing. I understand the workout. I focus on every single repetition. I focus on the last few repetitions every time I'm lifting weights, because that's where the real work is. And I make way more progress today than I ever did back then, when I was using the gym as another place to beat myself up. And when I combine these strategies, what I find is I'm in my body. I'm much more present and much more aware. I can coach people easier. I see the opportunities for myself and my family easier, and I create way more momentum in the world with a lot less frustration and pain and anxiety and feeling like I'm not good enough.
And so in the next few podcasts, maybe more than a few, I'm going to take you through some of these strategies in detail to help you calm your nervous system, get into your body, become more present, become more aware, make better decisions, and stop living in a fight or flight fawn, or a freeze survival response and start living at an incredibly high level of intention. So you create the life, the business and the relationships you want, because that's what really changes things for us as entrepreneurs. If this was important to you and you want to get started now and tackle one of the things that I said was most important in hydration, I think hydration is one of those habits that changes everything. I created a program called the Ten Day Natural Thirst Challenge. It includes the strategy of hyper hydration. I looked myself up on a private browser the other day because I often look at Google just to see what's there. And if you type in Alex Charfen, one of the pre-probably populated responses is hyper hydration. That's how well I've become known for helping people learn how to drink water. If you'd like to go through this ten day challenge, you can go to getthirstynow.com. It will help you start to stabilize your nervous system as you are waiting for the next few podcasts to release some of these strategies to help you get out of stress behavior, get into attention and create the life you want. Go to getthirstynow.com and take a look out. Subscribe so that you get the next few podcasts on how you as an entrepreneur can calm your nervous system and get way more done and have the life you want. I'll talk to you soon.