For the 12th episode of Wider Worldview on Fireside, Color & Curiosity founder & CCO Megan Zink interviewed Dr. Margaret Rutherford – psychologist, author, blogger, podcaster and educator. She’s been practicing for over 26 years, her work has been featured in Huffpost, Psychology Today, the Gottman Relationship blog, StigmaFighters, Better After 50, Lewis Howes’ podcast and many other outlets. Read on for tips on overcoming the fear of the unknown and doing new/scary things – like travel!

Wider Worldview is a new live podcast hosted by Color & Curiosity founder Megan Zink that explores the power of travel – how it can change the world: spark new ideas, foster different perspectives, catalyst curiosity and lifelong learning. Join her for interviews with entrepreneurs, educators and explorers and get inspired to tap into travel as an experiential learning and empathy building tool.

Head over to this link to catch the full audio recording with Dr. Margaret Rutherford – but in the meantime, here’s a snippet of the conversation. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford on Fireside Wider Worldview with Megan Zink

So Dr. M, you have a wealth of knowledge on the human psychology, the human brain – why do you think humans fear the unknown?

Well, let’s face it, back when we were trying to just survive as against the dinosaurs, if you felt like you could predict what was about to happen, then there was a sense of comfort. And our amygdala, the part of the brain that says ‘danger’ and alerts us to danger, picks up on what is not normal – what is out of our everyday norms and what we know is safe. Having an amygdala that functioned back then was like, ‘oh – this is going to keep me alive.’ And we still feel like that.

What happens with anxiety – especially seeing or hearing things we haven’t come into contact with before – something that is alien to us – can be very frightening. And we may go into fight or flight mode – but there are actually two others – there is fight, flight, freeze, or fold. And so a lot of times if we’re facing something that is not known – whether it’s friendly, unfriendly, dangerous or not – we will go into one of those modes of stress response.

The SelfWork podcast by Dr. Margaret Rutherford - Megan Zink interview on Wider Worldview on Color & Curiosity
Photo courtesy of Dr. Margaret Rutherfordcheck out the show here.

I’m going to overgeneralize here, but I feel like as humans, we just have this aversion to trying new things. It’s much easier to be stuck in a rut than try something new – or travel – or do scary things that are unknown.

I think it depends on the world you live in – there’s probably a wide spectrum – there are people who are very drawn to trying out things they’ve never done or generally want a lot of adrenaline in their world and then there are those – whether due to the pandemic, or their personalities or character traits, or grew up in homes that didn’t provide safety and security, and they have made an adaption to stick to safety. There are so many factors – familial, cultural – even regional factors that are important.

You have to start small, and build your sense of confidence. I’m a huge fan of visualization – seeing yourself and then setting out tangible goals of how you’re going to get there.

We’re just different people in that way and I guess, in your aspect of travel, [the people who don’t want to try new things] would be the people that would want to go to the same place every year they sink a bunch of tradition into it, they know what they’re going to get they’re going to go to that same clambake or they’re going to, you know, hike the same mountain or do the things they did last year, and to them, that is what satisfies them. And then other people are going to say, ‘no, we want to go someplace new.’ I don’t necessarily think there’s a superior and inferior way [to think about it], it’s just we’re wired differently, and what we find brings us fulfillment.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford psychologist on doing scary things like travel on the Wider Worldview podcast on Fireside
Photo courtesy of Dr. Margaret Rutherford.

Thank you for opening up my perspectives – we’re multi-faceted creatures and we have a lot of complexities and there’s a lot of different things going on under the surface attributing to those decisions. And I love that you brought up curiosity because I think it’s a very important skill.

On Fireside you have a show called What You Can Do About It – perhaps there are people listening who want to do things and they’re open to the idea, but how can they get from that tricky brain space of, ‘oh, I’d love to do something like that’ to actually doing it? Do you have any tips for encouraging curiosity and open-mindedness?

I’m a big one for just accepting where you are – you have to figure out why you want to do something. So I suggest they imagine themselves – who they would be – if they did. And if you know where you’re headed, it’s like any other goal you set. And you decide maybe, ‘I want to have five countries on my passport,’ and then, what’s the next step? So what’s that very first step? It can be a small one. You have to start small, and build your sense of confidence. And maybe even find other people in your life with the same issue. You want to be able to move slowly and carefully, but move ahead. I’m a huge fan of visualization – seeing yourself and then setting out very tangible goals of how you’re going to get there.

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