Survival Instincts 101: The Fainting Goat

“I think I can see our house!! Mum, look!”

I don’t hear her.

Because I’ve already passed out.

I love travelling. As far as I’m concerned, the holiday begins the moment we leave the house. Bleary-eyed, we tumble into the car and set off into the darkness. The streets are empty, bar for the odd taxi. The world is asleep, but we are awake.

I love the chaos of the airport. A Haribo star-mix of people, all with different backstories, off to different destinations. Time is elastic. There’s a nervous energy in the air.  A feeling of possibility and of adventure.

Pausing on the runway before take-off, engines rumbling, my stomach churns with accumulated adrenaline and the memory of flights gone by.  I’ve never been much a fan of the feeling of being pinned to my seat as the plane careers down the run-way, or the way in which my stomach turns in on itself as we lift off the ground. It tenses with the muscle memory.

And that’s when it happens. My brain checks in with my body, mistakes the unsettled feeling for malady, and decides it’s time to take charge. It puts me to sleep.

It’s really quite incredible.

I’m like one of those fainting goats.

Just like that: I’m out.

It doesn’t last long, just until we’re safely up in the air and at equilibrium. But now my brain recognises the experience, it happens pretty much every single time. It is conditioned to put me to sleep at take-off for my own protection. It’s a throwback to the fight, flight or freeze instinct that humans evolved in order to survive.

Amazing, isn’t it? In this instance, it does no harm. But that’s not always the case. You see, this instinct to protect is not unique to me. And it happens more often than most people realise.

It frequently shows up as resistance. Reasons or excuses why you couldn’t or shouldn’t take action.

  • Want to earn more? You can’t, because it would be rude to ask, or you don’t think you truly deserve it.
  • Want to drink less or lose weight? You can’t! Because you’re really stressed at the moment and the timing’s just not right.
  • Want to start a new business? You can’t! Because you don’t know-how, are not clear enough on the steps, or haven’t done enough market research.
  • Want to change jobs? You can’t, because you’re too old, too young, inexperienced, not good enough, or the market is stagnant.

It goes on and on. Your brain decides it’s safer to stay as you are, and comes up with whatever excuses it needs to, to ensure that you do so.  Then you look for evidence to support the claims, and build a dossier that reaffirms your suspicion.  You were right.  You feel justified.

And yet, just like that, you’ve clipped your own wings.  You’ve self-sabotaged. You’ve slammed the door on possibility.

It’s often why we don’t get what we want or truly reach our potential. It’s not that we haven’t got it in us, it’s just that we’re getting in our own way. You say what you want, and your brain talks you out of it because underneath everything, you’re afraid, and your brain wants to keep you safe.

But safe is boring. Stay safe, and you will never see how brightly you can shine.

We do have a choice in all of this.

We have the capacity to recognise when our brains are in smothering, overprotective mode, and choose to act a different way. To say to ourselves – thanks, but I’ve got this. And step outside of our comfort zone where we will find our growth and our freedom – even if it is a bit scary.

Is there something that you’ve been resisting that you could let go of? What if you were to press the manual override a bit more often? Just imagine how high YOU could fly…


Helen Barnes
Helen Barnes
Helen Barnes is a qualified Coach & Consultant, with 15 years’ experience in PR and Comms across the creative industries. Problem-solver, diplomat, strategist, and empath, she helps high-achieving creative professionals to navigate the challenges of work, re-evaluate their priorities, and to recalibrate their future so that it is more aligned with their purpose. Helen is passionate about supporting people in positions of responsibility within high-pressure environments; particularly those who are also trying to juggle work with family. Often they feel overwhelmed, alone in their struggles, frustrated, or disempowered. Helen helps them to see the wood for the trees, act on what is within their control and learn to be at peace with what is not.  Life is all about balance, and with the pressures of volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous workplaces, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what really matters.  Helen helps her clients to identify what’s not working in their lives; to adjust their mindset or to course-correct.  To re-discover their identity, and see their future with fresh eyes. She lives in London with her husband and two children, and writes about values-led leadership, the evolution of workplace culture, personal development, life, and family.

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