New Year’s Resolutions?

It’s that time again. Humans, by nature, are goal driven though I’m not a regular resolution setter. But I do use it as a time to reflect on how my year went and what I want to accomplish in the next year. 

Most people, however, don’t follow through on their resolutions. Only 8%, to be precise. I’m not surprised. We sincerely want to quit our bad habits, pursue our dreams and be our best selves, but when it’s time to work on our goals, why are we suddenly compelled to clean out the vegetable drawer – or is that just me? Our intentions are good but our follow through, well, sucks.

In the past, when I set goals, I used to think I had superhuman powers and put unrealistic demands on myself and my time – who needs sleep? I never questioned this approach and each time I felt like a failure because not only did I NOT reach my goal, I barely got started.

I thought I lacked discipline but the problem wasn’t me, the problem was my approach. I didn’t need iron-clad willpower, what I needed was a system that took me from planning to DOING. Action is the only way to build momentum and create new habits and I’ve discovered a few tools that helped me move through my fears and resistance to reach my goals.

But first, I’d like to talk about how our brain works. Our brains have 3 parts:

  • the primitive brain handles our survival instincts,
  • The limbic is our emotional brain and is used for building social bonds.
  • The neocortex is the thinking brain, used for logic and reasoning.

For goal-setting purposes, it’s important to know that when you experience fear or stress, the primitive brain is going to override the thinking brain. Every. Single. Time. It’s going to do everything in its power to alleviate that stress. My unrealistic plans triggered some fear and my primitive brain reacted, thus the overwhelming desire to clean the fridge. I needed a subtler approach so my brain worked for, not against me. The tools that work for me are: break it down, the 5 minute plan and low expectations.

The first tool is to break our goals into manageable tasks. Writing a novel is daunting, but if we break it down into chapters, pages or even better yet, paragraphs, it seems doable. In my previous process, to continue my writing analogy, I tried to jump from never writing to a finished novel overnight. It’s like expecting a baby that just learned how to roll over to start running. I was depriving myself of the learning opportunities in all those little steps and the habits and confidence they built. I finally realized that achieving a goal means growing into it, one step at a time.

The 5 minute plan is a another great tool to overcome resistance. I actually thought I could work 3 hours a night, 5 nights a week and another 16 hours on the weekend to work on my goals, in addition to my full-time job and everything else life threw at me. And I wondered why I couldn’t get started! Then a coach suggested I turn it down a notch and start with 5 minutes. It seems counter-intuitive, what could I accomplish in 5 minutes? Never mind I wasn’t accomplishing anything before

Here’s the thing, getting started is often the hardest part and 5 minutes is ridiculously easy and non-threatening (remember that primitive brain?), that it was easy to commit to. And if you know Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Five minutes is usually all I need to overcome inertia and get the ball rolling.

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always try to do your best. Just accept in the beginning your best might not be all that good. But in order to improve you have to practice. I read about a pottery teacher that did an experiment. He told one class that they would be graded on the quantity of pots they made. He told another their grades would be based on one pot. The class that was graded on quantity actually produced the best pots. Why? Practice! They were focused on the process while the one pot class was focused on the product. In the beginning quantity is more important than but will eventually lead to quality. It’s the process, all that practice that matters, not the product, which is just the end result. So quit worrying about how good it is.

Pursuing our goals is gratifying but the path is seldom easy. It’s good to have some tools that we can use that work with our brain to get us started as well as get us back on track if we slip into old habits when the novelty and excitement of our goal seeking wears off. The new year is right around the corner. I challenge each of you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations to your goals and this just might be the year you join the 8% club!

Stop Feeding Your Ego at the Expense of Your Self-Esteem

Stop feeding your ego at the expense of your self esteem.

Ego.

It’s only three letters but those three letters can wreak havoc on our lives.

The ego is a mean-spirited bully. It always wants to be right at the expense of making others wrong, makes us live small, is arrogant, untrustworthy, judgmental and most of all, this whole facade is because it is scared. The ego is all about “me, me, me” and it always has something to prove. It believes there’s only so much to go around so it better grab its share before someone else does. When we live by our ego, we are living in fear.

We all have an ego problem but we can lessen it by tapping into our higher power. I don’t mean this in a religious way. What I mean is we all have a spiritual side. Maybe you call it “intuition” or a “gut feeling”, whatever you want to call it, it is that voice or feeling that nudges us toward the good and warns us about the bad. At some point in our lives, we’ve all had that feeling that something or someone wasn’t quite right or felt so “in the moment” and joyous that time seemed to fly.This is when we are living from our spirit.

When we are connected and listen to our spirit, we become aligned with our true nature and life tends to flow and seem effortless. When we are living from our spirit, we are living in love. We are joyful, we see the abundance and beauty around us, we can tap into our creative energy, we are excited and engaged. When we are operating from our spirit instead of our ego, we feel safe and secure in who we are. We are enough. We can shine our light knowing it takes nothing away from anyone else. We become a light for others to shine. We seek to serve, to share our gifts and talents as only we can.

Obviously the better place to be operating is from our spirit, so why do we get trapped in the ego? Because the ego is sneaky. It plays on our fears and insecurities. It’s subtle. It’s hardwired into our brains.

For instance, I’ve seen this situation play out many times, with myself as well as my friends. You end a relationship because it wasn’t a good fit. No one did anything wrong (cheat, steal, was abusive, etc), it just wasn’t meant to be. But even if you were the one who ended the relationship, it still might take awhile to let go. You or the other party still try to maintain contact. Often, it’s because we don’t like being rejected. Rejection is the ego’s domain. We continue to engage, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it gratifies our ego.

But at what cost? Our self-esteem, self-respect and dignity.

We give in to our ego because we fear rejection. It’s a very real fear as we are social creatures and in the early stages of mankind, being rejected from your “tribe” often meant death. There was safety in numbers and we are wired to connect.

But we can’t be everything to everyone. We don’t like everyone we meet so why should we expect everyone to like us? We are not suited to every job that is out there so why do we get depressed when we don’t get the job we never wanted in the first place. We are so concerned about being liked and wanted that we lose sight of what we like and want. 

When we operate from our ego we remain focused on our fears – we want to be validated, we want to win, we want to prove ourselves and as a result, we end up with a bunch of stuff we never really wanted in the first place. We settle for mediocre relationships, jobs that numb us and spend most of our days disengaged – “living for the weekend”.

When we live from our spirit, we live from grace, joy, empathy, compassion and authenticity. We focus on who we are, what we love and how we want to live. We honor ourselves and others by sharing our gifts and uplifting others.

Shifting from an “ego” to a “spirit”  mindset doesn’t happen in a day, a week or even a year. It’s a lifelong journey. It takes awareness, patience, a sense of humor, compassion and a commitment in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of progression. It’s a balancing act of looking inward to love, accept and forgive ourselves, warts and all, and know that wherever we are, we are enough.

And looking outward with kindness, compassion and gratitude at the wild, messy sea of humanity that we share this planet with and not make assumptions, jump to conclusions, judge others or take things personally because every one of us is acting out from our own fears and desire to be accepted and loved.

As I see it, there are really only two paths in life – love and fear, ego or spirit. Our ego keeps us small but our spirit lets us step into our light and shine.

 

 

 

Change Begins by Changing Your Mind

Change Begins by Changing Your Mind

I made a commitment to myself. It’s a pretty significant investment in myself and my future. I have no doubts that I hired the right person and it will change the course of my business as well as be a growing experience. When I signed on the dotted line, I was thrilled. This was happening.

And 24 hours later I am terrified. Terrified that I am an impostor. Terrified that I don’t have what it takes. Terrified that I’m going to “blow” it. All over a piece of paper with four questions on it.

And so it goes.

I sit here quietly in my discomfort. What other choice do I have? It’s not going to go away anytime soon so I might as well get used to it. Because there is one thing I know, nothing’s going to change unless I do. 

I want this change.

Change is uncomfortable. Change triggers all sorts of fears, beliefs, resistance – my brain is literally screaming for me to stop – the red light is flashing – “DANGER” as this fear raises my stress level.

Change helps expose some chinks in the armor. If we bring awareness to our fears, expose and examine them, we learn what we need to attend to.

Just writing that last sentence helped calm my mind. It’s shed some light on an area that needs my attention, my compassion. It’s reminded me how much I have undervalued and taken for granted my gifts.

The four questions are innocuous. It’s the thoughts and self doubts that emerged when I read them. This is usually the case and luckily I’ve had enough practice to know just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true. If the thought isn’t serving me, I can choose to think something different – something that will benefit me, help me move forward towards my goals. What a revelation!

Any change we make begins by changing our mind – getting rid of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and replacing them with beliefs that empower, energize and excite us. As with so many things on this journey, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. Our thoughts often lie below the surface, silently running the show. It takes practice to bring them to the surface and expose them to the light. It’s a process, but one that will pay off big for us in the long run.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some questions to answer.

 

 

 

Not Knowing is the Path

Not knowing is the path

I’ve taken up meditation. I’m horrible at it. But at the end I say a little prayer to acknowledge the blessings in my life. I don’t have a set prayer, I usually just say something off the top of my head and yesterday I said, out of nowhere, “Not knowing is the path.”

Whoa! This struck an immediate cord with me.

Not knowing is the path.

Maybe there’s something to this meditation stuff after all. But what does that even mean? A couple of things came to my mind.

  1. Our strength lies in our vulnerability.  Do you think you have to know all the answers before your begin? That’s how we’re trained, isn’t it? But none of us know it all. NO ONE. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge says that mentality weakens us as individuals because “the search for understanding, knowing there is no ultimate answer, becomes a creative process.” He goes on to say, “Then curiosity, previously buried under the belief that ‘I know the answer’ is free to surface. The fear that ‘I don’t know, but perhaps he or she does,’ or ‘I don’t know but I should,’ dissolves”. Not knowing makes us curious and open. When I tried to hide my “not knowing” (that includes my lack of experience) it always backfired on me. I was wearing a mask and it wasn’t fulling anyone, least of all myself. But when I admitted I was a beginner, that I didn’t know but I was willing to learn, a lot of supportive people showed up. People like to help and it takes guts to say “I don’t know.”
  2. Not knowing leads to growth. For me, part of the appeal of being an entrepreneur is exploring new ideas, developing new skills, facing new challenges. I am easily bored. I can’t stand doing the same thing over and over and over again. Not knowing is the path because when you choose to go down it, that’s were the magic happens. That’s where we stretch outside our comfort zone (sometimes we are dragged there), where we learn about ourselves and our ability to grow into our goals. That’s what this whole journey, at least for me, is all about.
  3. Not knowing keeps us open to the possibilities. I told a friend I never would call myself an “expert” because once I did, I was closing my mind off to new possibilities. No matter how far I come, there will always be something new to learn, areas to grow. It’s never ending. I never want to be at the point where I say “I know it all, there is nothing more to learn on the subject.” Life is continually changing and we can move forward with it or we can stop. I’ve seen first hand what happens when people stop. It’s tragic. I want to stay engaged in life.

The takeaway is don’t let not knowing stop you from doing what you want to do. Creating a business is a process, a journey. It’s not plug in and go. There will be parts you feel confident about and other parts you don’t have a clue to how to do. And there are still parts you don’t even know you don’t know – yet.

It’s good to have a starting point, know what you want to do, who you want to do it for and how you’re going to do it but there’s still a lot of leeway and flexibility. You don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t so try something. If it doesn’t work, learn from it and move on, try something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Not knowing is the path.

 

 

 

Wisdom from Trailblazing Women

I recently joined the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) and went attended my first meeting Tuesday evening. The title of the meeting was  Powerful Women at SXSW and included Terri Gruca (KVUE anchorwoman), Brandy Amstel (filmmaker), Laura McCanlies (Business Technology) and Teryn Fogel (producer).

Shame on me because I wasn’t prepared to take notes and there was a lot of really good information and advice. Here are the highlights:

  • Try to be the smartest person in the room, it’s not about IQ or being a know-it-all, it’s about being prepared. Don’t bring up problems unless you can also offer solutions.
  • Take ownership of your future. Don’t wait for permission to do what you want to do. Go after it. This is a huge issue with many women. We wait for someone to make the offer instead of going after what we want.
  • Be the one with the idea or innovation and don’t be afraid to sell your idea. Speak up and be the first to get your idea out there.
  • Be true to yourself (this came up a lot). Realize not everyone is going to like you. (I heard a saying that sums it up perfectly. I call it SW3 – some will, some won’t, so what).
  • Stand up for yourself and for your vision. Don’t be wishy-washy and let other people water it down. Women tend to be pleasers so we’ll back down in an effort to gain approval. We need to stand in our power.
  • When asked what they considered the key principle that brought success they answered with:
    • Trust your gut,
    • curiosity,
    • a willingness and desire to learn,
    • listening,
    • understanding where other people are coming from,
    • connecting with others,
    • reading between the lines.
  • Advice they’d give to women starting out in their business –
    • Take time to get to know yourself
    • Be willing to experiment – it’s how you’ll figure out what you want to do, your talents, passions, etc. Get a broad base of knowledge and then narrow it down (or not)
    • Don’t be complacent. Grown, expand and try to learn something new about your job to love or look for new things to be excited about.
    • Figure out what is really important to you.
  • When asked as a trailblazer, how did were they able to move forward without affirmation. Brandy gave a wonderful answer when she said she didn’t need affirmation from others. Her affirmation came from knowing who she was and following her own path. Her affirmation came from her heart, not from some external source. Terri expanded on Brandy’s comment by saying it is our responsibility to do it for other people even if we don’t get it.

It was an inspiring and memorable panel and I was also impressed with my chapter president, Kerri, who did a marvelous job of asking the questions and moderating the discussion. I don’t know how other chapters do it but I was blown away with the Austin Chapter. It’s obvious that they are truly devoted to lifting each other up.

 

 

Lies we tell ourselves

girl-worried-1215261_1280

Everyday we tell ourselves lies that limit our potential. Here are some of them:

1.”It’s not my fault”

If you are talking about the weather or another person’s actions, then you’re right. But we often say these words when we have been called out on our behavior. In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about our birthrights and one of them is freedom of choice. We all have the power to choose and as a result, we need to take responsibility for our actions.

When you apologize for your words or actions, try to right a wrong, suffer the consequences, make amends, fix your mistakes, etc, not only do you have a chance to learn and grow, you release yourself from the pain and memory and can move on. You are able to take that failure and make it a win. When you play the blame game, you end up holding on to all that negative energy and carrying it with you, letting it eat at your confidence and self-esteem.

2. “I can’t…”

At 53 my chances of becoming a prima ballerina are slim but nothing is stopping me from taking ballet lessons, watching ballet, photographing dancers, creating a movie about ballet, hosting a fundraiser for the ballet or writing a book about it or in any other way expressing my love for ballet.

There are some things that aren’t realistic anymore but there is a difference between accepting reality and fighting for our limitations. Don’t let your age, circumstances or physical abilities define what you can and can’t do. Ask yourself “Why can’t I?” “What if I did?” Maybe you don’t want to…but that’s OK, you’re making a choice which is different than accepting defeat before you even tried.

3. Letting your past determine your future.

The beauty of being human is that we are capable of learning and growing. What happened 1, 5, 20 years ago is inconsequential to what we are capable of doing today. Ten years ago I said I hated running and totally sucked at it. But today I am a runner and I can run an 8 minute mile. I’m not going to win any awards but my vitals (i.e. pulse, blood pressure, etc) not to mention my physique, have changed over time due to my commitment to running. The choices we make determine our future. If we want our future to be different, we do so by making different choices. Personally, if I’m still the same person in ten years as I am today, I’ll be disappointed. Living in the past is not living.

4. Life’s a bitch.

This isn’t a lie because life can be a bitch at times. As I write this post, it is my brother’s birthday. He passed away almost 20 years ago, leaving behind a wife and two-year-old son. That sucks, because if you ever met my brother you’d be instantly struck by how fun-loving and optimistic he was. He got sick when he was visiting me and I remember saying how it sucked and his comment when his wife brought him a bowl of soup was “Yeah, but I’m being taken care of.’ He wasn’t focused on how sick he was, he was just so grateful for the love and care his wife gave him.

People are probably tired of me saying it but it’s true – you get what you focus on. If you’re going to focus on the misery in life, that’s all you’ll see. And how does that make you feel? Not so good, I bet.

Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life, it means you choose to remain confident things will work out. As Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Studies show optimists live longer, are healthier and more committed to and likely to achieve their goals. Dreaming about a better future motivates you to work towards it.

Personal control is one of the traits of happy people. When we feel we are in control of our life, we are happier, more productive and have more confidence. We can pursue our dreams and have a sense of purpose in our life, which gives us meaning and more fulfillment. Stop the lies, quit putting limitations on your life and take control of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Questions to keep you on target

4 Questions to keep you on targetSo you have a goal – lose weight, start a business, get over your fear of public speaking, learn new software – whatever it is. That’s wonderful! Life is really just a series of goals – growing into our full potential. Before you dive in, it’s time to do a quick assessment of where you are at. This is not a one shot deal, you should check in with yourself often. Asking these questions will help keep your impulses/emotions from side-tracking your progress.

Am I hungry?

“Wait,” you say, “that’s great if I was on a diet but that’s not my goal…” Have you ever heard of the word “hangry”? It’s actually in the Urban Dictionary and is a composite of the word hungry and angry and defined as:

“When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.”

Since I mention diet, I will bring up two cases to illustrate the importance of this question.

First, I had a client who’s goal was to lose weight. She tried every fad diet, which are usually full of restrictions and create a deprivation mentality. Her enthusiasm would be high in the beginning but sooner or later (usually sooner) her hunger would become unbearable and she’d end up gorging on junk food. This would put her in a cycle of shame and blame that got her nowhere.

My second client wanted to finish her degree and start a new career. She was working full time and enrolled in night classes. Three nights a week she was driving from work to class and would be there for 3 hours. Her first semester grades weren’t good. She questioned her commitment and her intelligence and came to me as her one last hope before giving up. One of the things I discovered is that on the day of class, she didn’t eat dinner until she got home, usually around 9 pm. She would snack on soda and a bag of chips or a candy bar.

The problem was that both of my clients were hungry! Food is both a need and a basic pleasure in life so eating a well-balanced, nutritionally dense meal is important for mental and physical performance. I worked with both clients to develop healthy options so they were getting the nutrition they needed to function at an optimal level while also feeling satisfied. I knew why my first client couldn’t lose weight – she thought she had to eat salad all the time and hated every minute of it! After some research, she was able to come up with some healthier versions of her favorite meals as well as some snacks that satisfied her but were still nutritious.

My second client started planning some time into her schedule to have a light, nutritious dinner or pack a healthy snack that would still keep her focused during class.

Are there any emotional issues that need to be resolved?

I’m not talking about childhood or other big emotional traumas here. For those you should seek the appropriate help, such as a licensed therapist. I’m referring to those little emotional blips that we get caught up in a daily basis such as being stuck in traffic, oversleeping or dealing with a grouchy child. Little things that just seem to yank our chain and get us angry or frustrated. It’s best to clear the air before you try to do anything else.

Especially if you need to deal with someone else, one of the best tools is to write it out. Journal your feelings and frustrations. Have a little hissy fit on paper, rather than doing it in person and escalating the situation. Most of us get tired of our pity party and when that happens you can sit back and look at the situation objectively and do what you need to do to get back on track whether that means laughing it off as just one of those days or apologizing.

Is your social calendar bare or overloaded?

We are social creatures but we all need downtime. Is there a balance in your life? Is every spare minute filled up with work and social activities that you have no time to yourself? Or, are you starved for a little social interaction? Extroverts are rejuvenated by spending time with others. Introverts recharge by withdrawing into themselves. Know which works best for you and make sure that you schedule enough time so you don’t feel deprived and drained.

Consider your preferences when you are setting your goals. I had a client who was taking online courses but as convenient as they were, she often made excuses instead of doing them. Turns out she preferred the interaction of being in a classroom. Once she switched over, her motivation and enthusiasm returned.

Are you tired?

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Not enough sleep can result in difficulty concentrating and remembering things as well as lower reflexes resulting in vehicle crashes, industrial accidents and medical and other work related errors. People who are regularly sleep deprived also have more medical problems such as depression, obesity and hypertension. The amount of sleep we need depends on our age but the average adult should be getting 7-8 hours a night.

Trying to make changes in our life requires energy and it’s hard to stay on track if you aren’t getting enough sleep. It helps to establish a regular bedtime, turn off the electronic devices, avoid caffeine and alcohol and avoid large meals before bed.

Working towards our goals is part of what makes us happy but in order to give them our full, focused attention, we need to make sure some of our basic needs are taken care of.

One model for creating change

One model to make permanent changeIn my last post, I talked about how our subconscious mind, where our thoughts and beliefs reside, can sabotage our efforts to change without us even realizing it. It’s often the reason most new year’s goals are abandoned within the first month. Our beliefs and habits (including habits of thought) are so ingrained in our minds that no matter how much conscious exertion we put on trying to change (i.e. willpower), we often fail because we aren’t addressing underlying beliefs. The biggest problem is we usually aren’t aware that it’s our beliefs stopping us. We are trying to create change by using the wrong tools.

I’d like to share with you one model for making change.

Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to point out that change is not going to happen overnight, in most cases. It’s going to take practice so don’t be hard on yourself if you slip. Please don’t give up because it didn’t work the first time. You’re working against some pretty powerful forces.

Cognitive behavior therapy offers one model for change. It’s called the ABC model and this is how it works:

A = Activating event

B = Belief or perception

C = Consequence

So let’s say you decided to lose weight and just inhaled a whole quart of ice cream. You’re feeling a little disappointed in yourself (to say the least…) Here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper and write down the activating event – “Ate a quart of ice cream”. Stick with the facts.

Now write your belief or perception. You might write something like “What’s the use of even trying, I have no willpower.” “I’m a big, fat pig! I don’t deserve to be happy!” Get it all out. Often we’ll use absolutes (always, never) or words like “should”, “must”, “have to”, “ought to” which are indicative of irrational thinking.

What’s the consequence of those beliefs? Write them down. These are self-defeating emotions – guilt, anger, depression, a sense of worthlessness, self-pity, etc. These emotions don’t serve us, they leave us stuck and put us into a cycle of shame and blame.

In order to change you need to challenge/dispute your original belief. It could go something like this “I was stressed and hungry from skipping lunch. There are plenty of times when I’ve made healthy choices. I’ll ask my coach for some stress relieving tactics  and make sure that I make time for a healthy lunch so I’m better prepared.”

Now note the effect that this has on you emotionally. Do you feel differently than when you described the consequence? This part of the exercise elicits more positive emotions (disappointment, concern, sadness, hope). You recognize that you had a set back and have come up with some proactive solutions to keep it from happening again. This gives us a feeling of control and we often recommit to seeing our goals through.

Give this a try next time you’re having trouble making changes in your life

 

Why is it so hard to change?

Why is it so hard to change?Because you think your conscious mind is running the show.

Our brain is a complex and amazing organ. It has a built in survival mechanism, allows us to experience deep emotions, form social bonds and think, reason, analyze, and create.

The problem is we think the cognitive, rational, analytical part of our brain, the part we’re aware of, is in charge when in fact, it’s responsible for about 15% of our thoughts and actions. The other 85% is controlled by our subconscious – the part we aren’t aware of.

From the day we are born, our brains start building neural pathways. Because our brain values efficiency, when something is repeated, whether it be an action or a thought, these pathways become stronger and ingrained to the point we don’t even have to think about them anymore. That’s a good and bad thing.

It’s good for things like mastering a skill. Remember when you first learned how to drive and how awkward it was? If your experience was anything like mine, there was a lot of conscious effort as you tried to remember what you were suppose to do. Your actions were choppy, there was a lot of jerking when you turned, accelerated or braked. But after years of driving, our actions are smoother. I know how much room I need to ease into traffic. If a car cuts me off or swerves in front of me I react quickly. I don’t have to think “What should I do?” because I instinctively know what to do, I’ve done it thousands of times. I can predict what a lot of drivers will do around me before they even do it. I have my brain to thank for all of that.

Then there’s the down side. As we are growing up, we receive messages – from our family, friends, teachers and society in general. Some of these messages, if repeated enough, become internalized and we adopt as beliefs. Some work for us, some don’t.

My client, whom I’ll call Sarah, hired me because she wanted to start her own business. She had a viable idea and a good plan but couldn’t seem to make the leap. Instead, she kept taking dead end, low paying jobs she was overqualified for and hated. She was losing hope.

This wasn’t the first business she attempted to start. Any of her previous ideas could have worked but after the initial excitement of researching the business and coming up with a plan, she would hit an obstacle, procrastinate or just give up, believing she was too old or didn’t have the “right” credentials. It was a predictable pattern and she was frustrated. She yearned for something different but when she got to a certain point she always quit. It was a battle of wills – between her deeply conscious desire to have control over her own fate, to have the flexibility and variety that being her own boss would bring and choose exciting projects and work with people who inspired her – and her subconscious beliefs.

Her subconscious was winning. Sarah had a huge fear of rejection and as we explored the issue further, it turned out Sarah was constantly looking for someone to validate her worth. It was a driving force throughout her life, unbeknownst to her. Any rejection, off-hand remark, roll of the eyes or indifference, Sarah’s subconscious mind assumed were about her so it would rely on those deeply ingrained behaviors of the past and she’d retreat back to the safety of her comfort zone lest she be deemed unworthy.

Sarah believed her self-worth came from other people. It was outer-focused. She reflected back on her life and realized how this manifested in so many of her actions and interactions. She saw how it caused a lot of the conflicts she had with others and was the source of much of her unhappiness.

Sarah’s dream of owning her own business would (probably) never be realized until she could resolve the belief that she needed others to validate her worth. The biggest problem is we aren’t even aware of these subconscious thoughts so never bother to question them, even when they no longer serve us. We get caught up in a pattern of trying and then failing, creating an endless chain of disappointment.

So what can we do about it? I’ll address that in my next post.

The Intellectual vs. Emotional Mind

The Intellectual vs. Emotional MindIn a recent post, I talked about how I knew, intellectually, that I wasn’t a fraud, fake or a failure. I have accomplished a lot in my life. I graduated college, raised a phenomenal human being, mastered various skills, created tons of stuff with my own two hands, became a certified coach, formed some fabulous relationships, am a dedicated runner and yoga practitioner and have overcome an eating disorder, just to name a few. I have plenty of proof to know that I am a capable, intelligent, resourceful, compassionate and ever growing individual.

Intellectually, I know this, yet I still occasionally have feelings of doubt and inadequacy. Like I don’t have anything worthwhile to offer and will never be good enough. I turn into an emotional basket case.

It’s a battle between my intellectual and emotional selves.  Can you relate?

It’s no surprise that this battle is fought in our mind. There are actually 3 parts to our brain. The reptilian brain handles our vital biological functions such as breathing and pumping blood. It’s “largely unconscious, automatic and highly resistant to change”, according to Integrated Wellness Therapies article “The Role of Three Brains”. 

The limbic brain handles our emotions. It’s where we make value judgments that influence our behavior and form social bonds. It connects events with feelings. It is “active in situations that arouse fear, anger, frustration and pity.” It also operates mostly on a subconscious level.

The neocortex is our thinking brain (our intellectual self) and is responsible for abstract thought, imagination, higher reasoning and language.

These three separate parts of our brains don’t operate independently of each other, they are connected and the limbic and neocortex “influence each other via ongoing communication, linking emotions with thinking and voluntary action…Whilst we like to think of our neocortex or thinking brain as being the conscious decision maker, it is, in reality only selectively conscious. Psychologists generally agree that at best we are only 15% conscious of our emotions and behaviors. This means that even when we think we’re being rational and conscious, we’re largely being driven subconsciously by previous similar experiences and emotions.

Here’s the thing you need to know – “our subconscious brain is the ultimate decision maker. It always wins.” If it’s a matter of survival, our reptilian brain takes over – the fight or flight response. If it’s not a life-threatening situation, then emotional memories that have become ingrained, will triumph. The challenge, then, when making changes, is to overcome that emotional conditioning to create new habits or patterns of behavior. When we sabotage our efforts to change, it is our subconscious mind merely trying to keep the status quo.

Growing up, I believed that mistakes were bad and determined my worth so I played it safe. I gave in and reinforced my fear of rejection and feelings of inadequacy over the decades. I’ve taken jobs that I was overqualified for and settled for less than I was worth.

I grew up in a household that neither encouraged or modeled any type of risk. It was an environment rife with control and rewarded “good” behavior – doing what you were told and not questioning why. Looking back with some maturity, a fair amount of counseling and perspective, I now understand the dysfunctional dynamics and have compassion for what we all went through.

That’s all fine and dandy except it doesn’t change the fact that I’m now stuck with these subconscious emotional responses that no longer serve me and what I want to achieve.

As I strike out on my own, forging an unconventional path (at least compared to what I grew up in) and challenging my beliefs, I often find my intellectual and emotional minds at odds. I get caught up in the excitement of learning new things, the freedom of being the master and designer of my own life and helping others do the same but inevitably, like clockwork, my emotional side starts getting nervous and shaking things up because I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone.

It’s a pattern I’ve come to know over the decades. I’d get excited about doing something and would make all sorts of plans. I am a Master Planner. After some progress, I’d often lose interest. Sometimes it was legitimate, it just wasn’t my thing. More often, though, I had my first challenge and I was scared. Having taken the easy way out most of my life, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to handle it, so my brain kicked in and did what it does best.

After my divorce I realized that I had spent my life living in fear and decided to use this as a rebirth, if you will, to live my life in love. It’s an ongoing process which I liken to peeling an onion. Just when you think you’ve tackled one issue, you realize that you just scratched the surface and have to diligently be aware of your thoughts and habits, constantly reinforcing new ones to replace those that are counterproductive.

It’s a two step process really – being aware and questioning your thoughts and then taking SMALL steps outside of your comfort zone.

Awareness is probably the hardest part because most of our thoughts and behavior is reactive – that 85% of our brain that works subconsciously. And once you question a thought, belief or assumption, you have to replace and keep reinforcing it so it becomes the go-to response.

Taking it one small step at a time helps you ease into new behaviors, gain momentum and prevents the warning bells from going off in our brains, activating those old patterns. For instance, if you want to start an exercise routine after you’ve been a confirmed couch potato, telling yourself you’re going to go to the gym for an hour everyday is going to raise some red flags. Start small, maybe 5 minutes, or a walk after dinner. Grow into your goals slowly and you have a chance of achieving them rather than trying to strong arm your way to success.

It won’t be easy. You will have set backs. But you will also have triumphs. Show yourself some compassion, let your emotional mind know that you understand and just keep moving forward.