The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


What Is 'Threat Lockdown'?

Threat Lockdown is a protective mode your mind and body enter to defend against an external threat.

When your mind perceives a potential threat your body immediately prepares to respond. Your body will come out of protective mode only once you're sure there's no longer a threat.

The key to dealing with it is to convince your mind that the threat no longer exists, either by convincing your mind that there never was a threat, or by convincing it that the threat has passed.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Threat Lockdown'

You're fast asleep when something goes bump in the night.

Almost immediately, you're alert- your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate to take in more light and detail, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood your bloodstream.

Your mind automatically identifies the likely source of the noise, escape routes, and potential defensive weapons. In the blink of an eye, you're ready to defend yourself against the threat, whatever it might be.

When your mind perceives a potential threat-real or imaginary-your body immediately prepares to respond.

This automatic physiological response is designed to help you do one of three things to eliminate the threat: fight, flee, or freeze.

As long as you're in "protection mode," it's difficult to do anything other than fixate on the threat.

Until you search the house, there's no way you'll be able to go back to sleep-your body will only come out of protective mode after you're sure there's no threat to face.

The subconscious choice to fight, flee, or freeze is largely dependent on your brain's automatic Mental Simulation of the situation.

If your brain predicts you can win if you fight, you'll fight. If your brain predicts you can "win" by getting away, you'll flee. If your brain predicts you can't get away, you'll freeze in the hope that the threat will pass you by.

Freezing makes your brain go into Threat Lockdown-protection mode-which makes it difficult to do anything other than fixate on the threat.

Threat Lockdown is a constructive response designed to help you defend yourself, but as with many ancient instincts, it often malfunctions in our modern environment.

The threats you face are far less acute today, but they are often chronic. In the olden days, when the threat was a predator or an angry tribal chief, the lockdown response was constructive, since it focused our energy on staying alive and/or part of the tribe.

Even though the thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis have little in common with our ancient ancestors, the hardware those thoughts are running on-our brains-are still largely the same, and are constantly on the lookout for very old threats in a very new environment.

As a result, we eat too much, exercise too little, and the instinctive behaviors of fighting like hell, freezing, or running away aren't very constructive when dealing with an angry boss or an overdue mortgage payment.

The recent turmoil in the stock market is an excellent example of Threat Lockdown in action. The stock market crash in late 2008 sparked a flurry of panic and hand-wringing, even among people who were in no danger of losing their homes or jobs.

The mere threat of bad things happening grinds businesses to a halt at the same time increased productivity is needed to keep the firm in good shape.

Instead of focusing on doing good work, employees spend most of their time and energy worrying about what the future holds and gossiping about who's next on the chopping block, decreasing the overall amount of value creates and increasing the likelihood that the firm's future will get worse.

Threat Lockdown can easily become a vicious cycle. If you're ever in the unfortunate situation of having to lay off workers, it's best to do it quickly, cleanly, and all at once. It's best to make cuts swiftly, then reassure remaining employees that no more cuts will be made. Rumors of layoffs or workers constantly wondering "if I'll be next" is a recipe for Threat Lockdown.

If you're experiencing Threat Lockdown, don't try to repress the threat signal. Many studies have shown that active repression doesn't make a perception go away-instead, it makes the signals progressively stronger.

Think of what a small child does when they want to get your attention, but you ignore them-they'll continuously increase the commotion they make until they're sure you've noticed them. Your brain does the same thing-repression will only make the threat signals stronger.

Consciously sending a mental "message received, safe to proceed" signal to your brain is a surprisingly simple and effective way to make yourself stop fixating on the issue so you can consider appropriate responses.

The key to dealing with Threat Lockdown is to convince your mind that the threat no longer exists. You can do that in one of two ways: (1) you can convince your mind there was never actually any threat, or (2) you can convince your mind the threat has passed.

Convincing your mind there was never a threat is the equivalent of searching your house in the dark at midnight-the search convinces your brain that no threats exist, so it's safe to leave protective mode.

Convincing your mind that the threat has passed does the same thing-the threat was there, but it can no longer harm you, so it's safe to carry on.

Sometimes it's difficult to diffuse Threat Lockdown, particularly if you've been in it for a long time. Because protective mode is physiological, it's often best to use physiological means to calm yourself down. Exercise, sleep, and meditation can help calm your mind by metabolizing or counteracting the stress hormones that have been flooding your body. When you're feeling overwhelmed, going for a quick run or lifting weights can do wonders for your state of mind.

Notice the threat signal, then do what you can to prove to your mind the threat no longer exists, and you'll break yourself out of Threat Lockdown.

Questions About 'Threat Lockdown'


"How little can be done under the spirit of fear."

Florence Nightingale, pioneer of professional nursing


From Chapter 6:

The Human Mind


https://personalmba.com/threat-lockdown/



WANT TO BE NOTIFIED WHEN UPDATES ARE PUBLISHED? Subscribe to Josh Kaufman's email newsletter. You'll receive Personal MBA updates, Josh's award-winning research, and useful resources that will help you make more money, get more done, and have more fun. It's free!

The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

More about Josh Kaufman →