Inside the Male Mind: From Worrier to Warrior

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Men's Health Magazine

by Paul John Scott

Posted date:  November 18, 2011


Avoiding your fears just gives them more power over you. Learn the five keys to facing them, and tap into a whole new kind of strength
By Paul John Scott, Photographs by Peter Hapak, Posted Date: November 18, 2011

I AM NEUROTIC. I realize that's a cliche—one of those labels the girl hurls at the guy during the breakup scene in a romantic comedy. But it actually means something specific about my brain—and your brain too, even if you're not neurotic. In fact, according to the brash new psychological theory to end all psychological theories, the neurotic brain holds the key to perhaps the single most powerful change a man can make to increase his odds of health, happiness, and success at work and in relationships.

What is this life-changing step? Facing your fears.

Hey, stick with me, because this isn't what you think it is. After all, we've all heard the same ripe script about facing your fears. All together now: Scared of failure? Climb back on that horse! Terrified of rejection? Stare down those demons! Frightened of getting postered in the paint? Start throwing elbows!

No, this is about facing something less obvious than fear, but more insidious. It's about facing the way you avoid fear and other negative emotions, or how you distract yourself from them, or how you comfort yourself in the face of them.

It's not unusual to feel some social anxiety at a big party. But do you dodge that anxiety by hitting the open bar four times in a half hour? Everybody feels work pressure. But do you vent that pressure by bad-mouthing and undermining the boss? Or avoid it by working at a job beneath your capabilities?

She's the love of your life, sure, but sometimes she's a little too intense, and you worry that it might all unravel. Working late? Having an affair? Pretending you're asleep? It all falls under the heading of "avoiding the problem."

Whatever uneasy feeling you may have isn't the point here. This is about your tendency and mine to build a game plan in order to avoid those emotions rather than live with them. It doesn't matter whether you are texting a booty call or praying on your knees—if you are doing anything to escape having a feeling you don't like, you will fear that feeling even more the next time around. And research shows that you will also lessen your chances of success in a host of measures of well-being, from health to work to relationships.

To tap this potential wellspring of life improvements, you need only commit to a five-step action plan. Simple, right? But since each of these steps has its origins in neuroticism, understanding them all requires the following tour (don't fear, it will be brief) through the minds of people with mental woes by the dumpster load. People like me. Smirk if you must, but follow along. You just might pick up a life skill that starts out feeling seriously strange and ends up feeling strangely serious.


Allow me to tell you about the wretched ways of my people, the neurotic brotherhood. We have high levels of (1) negative mood, (2) introversion, and (3) inhibition. You know those unguarded, fun-loving guys with easy smiles and jokes and pickup lines and cases of Red Bull running through their veins?

Yeah, I love those guys too. I'm pretty much the opposite.

It's not like we neurotics have bad attitudes on purpose. Our mental approach is a fixed trait. Imaging studies show that we have too much output from the mental boiler room that governs moods, and serious underperformance in the brain cubicles assigned to keep strong feelings in check. That makes us leery about things going wrong because we aren't looking forward to the intense feelings that follow.

But being neurotic has its good aspects, too. We are cautious. We don't try drugs, we drive defensively, and we don't fall for scams. (We don't fall for legit deals either.) Since we see the absurdity in our ways, we can be very funny, and since we always think we are about to die, we can find it very easy to be generous. But mostly, neuroticism makes us scramble to avoid awkward feelings, either with our actions, our thoughts, or both, and that's where my pain can help you.