3 Tools to take action on your goals

3 tools to take action on your goals

What percentage of people do you think achieve their New Year’s resolutions? 50%? 33%? 12%?

It’s actually 8%. 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.

To make matters worse, when I set goals I think I have 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.

1. Break it Down

In my previous process, to use a 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.

2. Commit to 5 Minutes

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 that 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.

3. Lower Expectations

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always 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 wears off. When you are having trouble getting started I challenge you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations.

Scorecard for Success

success is consistently doing the right things

I’m working with a client who wants to start her own business. Her idea is solid; she spent a lot of time researching it and putting together a business plan and website. But when it came time to implement it, she suddenly found herself distracted and losing interest. Her enthusiasm waned and she ignored it for a year. She hired me after she was laid off from her job and the thought of looking for another “soul-sucking” position (her words) made her sick and depressed. She realized it was time to go for it.

With coaching, she saw how her lack of confidence, self-doubts and fear of rejection were holding her back from marketing and promoting her business.

Marketing and self-promotion are vital to the success of any business. It doesn’t matter how good your idea is if no one knows about it. This was the problem my client was running into. She was focusing on her fears and doubts it triggered and stopped her from doing anything.

I’ve been in her shoes. When I created my business I wasn’t getting much attention. I knew the next step was to promote it and I procrastinated. I suffered from the same self-doubts and fear of rejection many of my clients have. (It’s a common issue with many woman). Suddenly it dawned on me. Building a client base is nothing more than consistently taking the right action. It’s a numbers game and a scorecard is the perfect tool. Not only can you track your progress, it also diverts your attention away from all those imaginary goblins in your mind (that trigger your worst fears) by giving you concrete steps to focus on.

Scorecard for Success

Here’s how it works. Write down all the steps needed to achieve your goal. In my client’s case, it’s increasing traffic to her website. How do you get traffic to your website? There are a number of things you can do:

  • start a blog and post regularly
  • offer a freebie for subscribers
  • build a presence in your industry’s community (think Linkedin or professional associations)
  • guest blog
  • be a podcast guest
  • give a speech
  • submit articles

Pick a few things you think will give you the best results and be consistent in your efforts. If you don’t know where to start, look at what other successful people did and start there.

Marketing is about building a presence and trust. It’s not a one shot deal, you need to do it consistently and this is where most people fail. They are impatient, want results too soon and give up. But if you are patient and consistently take the right action, eventually things will tip in your favor.

Create your Scorecard

Create a spreadsheet (or just write it on a piece of paper, it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated) and write down in one column all your steps. Every time you do something on your scorecard, mark it. I find a weekly scorecard works best. At the end of the week tally up how many times you did each step (i.e. wrote a blog post, articles submitted, etc). Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things. Start with three things and re-evaluate after a couple of months.

Keeping score accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. Weekly “to-do” list of action items. We tend to complicate things. Having a scorecard creates a system. All you have to do is work it.
  2. Stay focused. In the beginning, you will expend more effort and energy on your goal because you haven’t gained any momentum. Ideally, after consistently taking the right action and things are moving, it will take less effort to maintain your momentum. Focus on your action steps and give them time to work instead of jumping all over the place and wondering why nothing’s working.
  3. Feedback. How do you know if you’re taking the right action? Numbers don’t lie. Try something and give it sufficient time (three months) and if you aren’t getting the results you want, try something different! When you have quantifiable data you can properly asses your progress and switch gears where needed.
  4. Build good habits. When you do something consistently, you end up creating a habit. Good habits simplify life.

The scorecard was a game changer for me and my clients. It’s simple and effective. Give it a try for one of your goals.

Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is a common problem. Clients often tell me that it’s a huge problem for them. But procrastinating is not the real problem, it is merely the symptom of an underlying issue.

Before I get too deep into procrastinating and how to overcome it, I’d like to talk about incubation. When in the creative process or working out a problem, it is typical to go through a “ruminating” phase, when you turn over all of your work to your subconscious and give it a chance to work on the problem. This is where those “aha!” moments come from. Do not confuse this important phase with procrastination. You should be able to tell the difference. For me, when I’m letting ideas percolate, my thinking is fuzzy. I feel slightly agitated because I don’t like not knowing. When I am procrastinating there is a feeling of avoidance and resistance.

Procrastination – Why we do it

As I previously stated, procrastination is not a cause but a symptom of a larger and more complex issue. Some of the reasons why we procrastinate include:

  1. Fears – Fear is uncomfortable and we often choose to relieve our discomfort by distracting ourselves with T.V., surfing the web, cleaning (notice how appealing cleaning is when faced with something you don’t want to do?), etc.
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Perfectionism – As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how hard it can be to risk doing something that doesn’t live up to your (often unrealistic) expectations. In order to avoid making a mistake, looking bad or failing, our modus operandi is to do nothing.
  4. Bad habits – We become comfortable with our routines and bad habits and don’t realize how big of a hold they have on us. Habits are hard to change.
  5. Expecting things to be easy – If things have been relative easy for you all your life, taking on something that requires an effort can be, well, hard.

Tools to Overcome Procrastination

While it helps to understand and be aware of where our procrastination stems from, these tools don’t require identifying the origin in order to be effective.

Small Steps

Break down what you need to do into the smallest step possible, such as sticking with the task for 5 minutes. Small steps actually works on several levels. First, getting started is often the hardest part. When I am avoiding a task, I often tell myself I only have to do it for 5 minutes. It seems counter intuitive, how will you accomplish anything if you only do it for 5 minutes but it works. If I stop after 5 minutes, I’ve achieved my goal (and built up a little confidence). But what happens more often than not, is I continue because I’ve broken through that wall of inertia and gained some momentum.

Second, we often overwhelm ourselves by making that first step unrealistic. I used to make these ridiculous schedules, leaving little breathing room for anything else. And -surprise – I never followed them! It’s much less daunting to write a sentence than a book so break things down. Then break them down even further.

Find a Buddy

Find someone who is also working on a goal. Make it a habit to meet and work on your goals together (5 minutes at a time, if you have to), supporting and cheering each other on. Be picky about who you choose. I’ve been running consistently for nine years because I had a running partner when I started. Not just any partner, but someone who already had a running habit making it hard for me to back out. I knew if I did she would not go easy on me. She was the perfect partner because her good habits rubbed off on me and appealed to my competitive nature.

What Worked in the Past?

This is a powerful question. It gets our minds thinking about what we are trying to accomplish instead of what’s getting in our way. We procrastinate because we are focused on the negatives – I’ll make a fool of myself – instead of what we are trying to accomplish. We all have areas we’ve had success in and feel confident about. What did you do then that you can apply to your current situation?

You can not tell me that you’ve never had any success in your life. If you are reading this, you’ve mastered one of the hardest skills there is and you did it at a relatively young age – language and the all intricacies involved with it such as reading and writing.

I have found these tools to be easy to use and produce incredible results in a short period of time. Give them a try the next time you find yourself procrastinating.

 

 

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.

In Praise of Toastmasters

In Praise of ToastmastersI don’t care who you are or what you do, being a good communicator is an essential skill in life and for that, Toastmasters is probably one of the best learning experiences that your money can buy. I recommend it for everyone.

It is the eve of my final Toastmasters speech, after tomorrow I will officially be a Competent Communicator (you can go to the Toastmasters header to see all my speeches. I tried videotaping all of them but the first few had some operator errors…as in I forget to press the shutter button so it would actually record…)

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, everyone starts out with the Competent Communication (CC) manual and there are 10 speeches to complete. Each speech focuses on a particular part of public speaking – tone, body language, organization, persuasion, etc. The tenth speech is a culmination of everything you learned – it is the inspirational speech. After you finish the CC manual you are free to choose from a variety of other manuals based on your individual goals (titles include: The Entertaining Speaker, Technical Presentations, Special Occasion Speeches, Communicating on Video, Facilitation Discussion and Storytelling)

My goal was to finish the manual in 10 months – one speech for every month. I will have achieved this goal but I wasn’t paying attention in the early months so I didn’t sign up fast enough. In order to finish in 10 months I’ve had to do four speeches in a row. I’ll be very happy when I complete this last one and will take a break from the speech writing/giving for the summer. There are other roles in the club that I’d like more experience in anyway, such as being Toastmaster or an evaluator.

As I said, everyone can benefit from being in Toastmasters. It doesn’t matter what your job is, whether you’re a stay at home mom, blue collar worker, student or CEO, we are always communicating. Even when we aren’t talking, we communicate through our body language, how we dress, our eye contact, mannerisms…everything we do says something about us.

Let me walk you through a typical meeting at my local club. Other clubs might have slight differences but there is a basic structure to most clubs.

Our club has several different roles that are filled each week by members. There is a Toastmaster, who determines the theme of the meeting and is kind of like the Ringmaster in a circus. There is a timer, speeches and evaluations are timed. A general evaluator who evaluates the overall meeting – and speech evaluators. Feedback is critical to our growth as speakers. I was resistance to “areas of improvement” because I saw that as a criticism but I soon realized that it was more important for me to grow than get praise (see this post). The Table Topics master picks out topics and then chooses someone from the audience to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. Table topics can be intimidating but it helps you think on your feet. We also have what we call a WAG, who comes up with the word of the day, counts “ah’s” and other superfluous words (some people might use “like” a lot or “and”) and checks grammar. Sometimes we have a meeting listener who will ask questions about the meeting to see if we have been paying attention. Participating in these roles, along with doing the speeches, helps build a well-rounded communication education.

Some of the specific benefits of Toastmasters are:

  • Confidence – it’s said that public speaking is more feared than death. Preparation and practice are the only way to overcome it.
  • Leadership skills  
  • Clarify your writing. Writing the speech is one of my favorite parts. Not only do you have to structure your writing in a way that makes sense, but you have to stay within a certain time frame so being succinct, knowing what to keep in and take out as well as narrowing your focus are important skills to hone.
  • Think on your feet. Sometimes we’re called upon to make a few impromptu words at a special occasion or your boss asks you for your opinion. Learning to think on your feet and be articulate is an important skill.
  • Listening skills. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening and unfortunately our listening skills aren’t as developed as our speaking skills. Being an evaluator helps refine those skills
  • Critical thinking skills. Coming up with speech topics, research and organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole requires thought. As an evaluator you have to discern what the speaker is doing well and what they could improve upon.
  • Memory. I have yet to use notes in any of my speeches (though highly paid public speakers say they still use notes and there is nothing wrong with it.) I don’t say this to brag, I memorize my speeches because it’s good for my brain. My first speech I took 2 weeks to memorize. My ninth speech I learned in a day. I’ve given myself 3 days to learn the 10th speech because it is the longest speech and I didn’t want to be rushed. I’m hoping to finish strong!
  • Learn to take criticism. Criticism might be too harsh a word. We like to call them “grow” points but the fact is, if you want to learn and grow, you have to be able to objectively take constructive criticism.
  • Look for the positives. Everything about Toastmasters is geared toward being positive. Let people know their strengths, find something good in everything and when you do have a “grow” point, we phrase it in a positive light.
  • It’s fun! Turns out I’m a bit of a ham so getting up in front of an audience is fun. I love being animated and I always try to be either entertaining, informative or inspiring. Not sure if I achieve any of them but that’s always my goal.
  • Support. Finding a good club to call home is crucial. My club, while small, is filled with some of the kindest, funniest, supportive people that I’ve ever met.

I look back on my body of work with Toastmasters so far and I’m proud of everything I’ve done and have learned a lot. Maybe there’s a TED talk in my future…

 

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.

Don’t overthink – over do!

Don't Overthink - Over Do! Take action to get through resistanceIn my last session with my coach, I was in a funk and came to the realization that the problem was I was spending too much time analyzing it.

I am introspective by nature, so I spend a lot of time in my head. Most of the time it’s not a problem. I plan, dream, get ideas, find solutions, learn things and gain new insight but sometimes when I’m chugging along just fine – WHAM! – I hit a brick wall.

I feel like a pinball – my mind mentally bouncing around.  I’m unfocused, antsy and agitated. I fall into  Funkville (which is just the opposite of Funky Town). Once I rule out some obvious factors like hunger or need for sleep, I do what I normally do. I go inside my head.

This usually works. Sitting down with a pen and paper (or banging away on my laptop) and doing some stream of consciousness writing, I can often pinpoint what’s bothering me.

But sometimes my mind takes me into a dark place and the inner critic/demon/crazy lady, whatever you want to call it, comes out to play with a vengeance.

I happened to be in the middle of such an episode when I was talking to my coach. I was whining about how I was a fraud and a fake, comparing myself to others and generally whipping myself up into a full-blown tizzy.

I was suffering from a lack of belief in myself and I was trying to think my way out of it. But then it dawned on me, the way out wasn’t by thinking, but by doing!

When you suffer from a lack of faith/belief/confidence in yourself and your abilities, thinking only tends to exacerbate the problem. As I was talking to my coach, intellectually, I knew I wasn’t a fraud or a fake. I’ve accomplished a lot but I was having a problem shaking those damn little gremlins in my head telling me otherwise. Thinking wasn’t going to make them go away, in fact it had the opposite effect, it fed them. I had that “Aha!” moment when I realized I had to DO something. Anything.

I didn’t need motivation, I didn’t need confidence, I didn’t have to convince myself I wasn’t a fraud. I just had to ACT. So I looked at where my time would be best spent based on what I wanted to achieve and took the most logical small step to move me in that direction.

And the little voice in my head faded away as I concentrated on the next task at hand.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

Get comfortable being uncomfortable - your ability to do so will make a huge differenceOne of the five truths about fear, according to Susan Jeffers in her book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway“, is the fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow. It’s part of change.

Humans are creatures of habit and most of us have settled nicely into couch potato status in our comfort zone. The problem with that is it’s a pretty boring spot, from my stand point. For me, a fulfilling life means growth and and meeting new challenges. This means risk, fear and a host of other possibilities that make me vulnerable. Will I embarrass or humiliate myself? Will I fail?

Maybe.

Then there’s the alternative – mediocrity, boredom, stagnation, resignation. A sure path to Regret-ville.

So if you hope to live a meaningful, fulfilling, purposeful life, one that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning, makes time fly, pushes you to the edge of frustration and then rewards you with joy, a sense of accomplishment and purpose, one that satisfies your mind, heart, body and spirit, you’re going to have to get used to being uncomfortable.

There’s a big benefit to facing our fears and stepping outside of our comfort zone. When we push through it helps reinforce our feelings of resourcefulness and resilience. Living with a constant feeling of dread makes us feel helpless and adds more stress than if we took the chance. Taking risks helps us to cultivate our power – power over our thoughts and beliefs – boosts our confidence and self-assurance that will spill out into all areas of our life. We feel like we have control, making us happier.

Exactly how does one become comfortable with discomfort?

Acknowledge your fears.

Get to the root of your fears. Look past the excuses (“I don’t have time”) and find out what’s really at the core. Take out a piece of paper and write down everything that could go wrong. What’s the worst case scenario?  What are the odds that it could actually happen? Bring those fears into the light, acknowledge and challenge them.

Preparation and practice.

Once you have your list and narrowed it down to concerns grounded in reality. Let’s say you have to give a speech, the microphone exploding is a possibility but not a probability. “Going blank” is, so what can you do to avoid that? You can do research, prepare notes, practice your speech, mediate beforehand to calm yourself or find some other pre-speech ritual or focus on a friendly face in the audience.

I’m still nervous getting up and talking in front of people and I’ve done it at least a 100 times. I’ll probably still get nervous after I’ve done it a 1000 times, but because of the preparation and practice I put in, I’m not paralyzed by it.

Focus on the positive

When we are out of our comfort zone, we tend to focus on the negatives – what if I can’t do it? What if I look foolish? What if I embarrass myself? What if other people hate it? What if I fail?

Instead, focus on the benefits – learning something new, getting a promotion, helping others, being healthier, having more energy to play with your kids, being in control of your life, conquering a fear.

One of my running routes has an uphill section that I dread. To make matters worse it is at the end of my run so I am already tired. But the minute I turn that corner I start saying my mantra “This will make me stronger”, over and over until I make it to the top of that hill. It doesn’t make it easier but it reminds me why I’m doing it.

Take small steps

If you decide to start exercising after decades of inactivity, don’t try to run a marathon or come up with ridiculous expectations of exercising for an hour a day because that’s a sure fire way to not accomplish anything (ask me how I know this…). Start small. Teeny tiny small. Like 5 minutes. Ease into it. Get up and do jumping jacks during a commercial break or take a walk after dinner. Getting started is often the hardest part so make it as non-threatening as possible.

Once you’ve started, then work on expanding your comfort zone, in small steps. When you notice yourself becoming uncomfortable (not unbearable mind you, uncomfortable), sit with it awhile. Don’t give in right away. You don’t think you could possibly do one more jumping jack? Do a couple more. And then do a couple more after that. Don’t quit on the first try. We are more resilient than we give ourselves credit. Stick with it for a little bit longer, notice the discomfort, acknowledge it but don’t give into it right away.

Change is an inevitable part of life, especially if you want to keep learning and growing. Making peace with discomfort is a skill and asset that will help you conquer just about anything.