Sometimes I find myself with an overwhelming feeling that I can’t do something. It is a really powerful experience! I find myself transported back to the developmental age of 2. My daughter used to plant her feet and shake her head saying “no, no, no,” with her hands over her ears. I assume the hand over ear behavior was an attempt to not hear what it was I was asking her to do. That is exactly how I feel inside when the feeling of I can’t comes to call. All the amazing knowledge and experience I have gained in almost five decades leaves my body or hides under a metaphorical rock. Like a scene from a movie, a ghostly force seeps into my pores and begins to point out all the ways what I want to do is too much for me.
Let’s be clear, I am no stranger to hard things. In work and in life, I have faced some pretty formidable experiences, and here I am, talking to you about it. So why is it that this celestial toddler comes to call when something big, or something that feels big, comes my way?
The answer may lie in the feeling part, not the thinking part. Thinking through tough problems is challenging, sure. But not impossible. I have experience thinking through tough problems, we all do. I know that problems outside my area of knowledge require consultation. I know I can find the right person with the right knowledge to work through whatever is in front of me. I have no problem asking for help. This knowledge comes from the prefrontal cortex of my brain. It is rational; it relies on experience, information, and cause and effect.
“I can’t” comes from somewhere else. It comes from the limbic area of my brain, my reptilian brain. The part of my brain that protected me as a cave dweller, alerting me to danger and triggering a cascade of neurotransmitters that woke my limbs up to take action. The problem is, when I can’t comes now, it is not a dinosaur at my door. It is an interaction with a person that makes me uncomfortable or a financial hurdle I did not want to arise. I go through a complicated series of emotions, some of which are “that’s not fair, why am I the ONLY one that has to struggle this way?,” why can’t things be easy, just once, and worst of all there is no way I can possibly do this.
Like unraveling a tangled hose, this experience only resolves with slow, methodical steps, one by one, solving one problem after another, until the situation looks more in line with how I want my life to go.
So to recap:
- Step 1: I must calm down my lizard brain and sooth my inner two-year-old. She is not the boss of me and does not have the skills to manage a business, a family, the overall life of a mature (sorta mature) women.? She gets a sippy cup, a lovey (small stuffed animal), and she takes a comfy seat outside of my head.
- Step 2: I slow down everything. Despite my constant inclination that I must hurry up and solve these life problems, very few of these situations are the actual emergencies the chemicals in my brain are tricking me into reacting to.
- Step 3: Take a deep breath. Breathing deeply not only increases oxygen to my tissues, which is always helpful, but sends a message from the lungs back to my lizard brain saying hey, the lungs are inflating to full capacity, things are improving down here, stop the flow of those panic chemicals.
- Step 4: Look at the problem, the stimuli, and the issue. Be curious about what it is, why it matters, what steps I should take, and in what order.
- Step 5: Work each step, as long as it takes. Some steps are quick and painless. Others require a snack and a bottle of water, maybe some sunscreen. It is rare that any step is impossible, as my inner toddler would have me believe.
- Step 6: Ask for help. Some steps require help and some are just more pleasant with a partner or companion.? On occasion, my partner will see something I did not and open up opportunities I had not thought of. By asking for help and allowing myself to receive help, I enrich my life even more by deepening relationships.
- Step 7: Reflect. Everything hard I have ever done, is made better by stopping at the top of the hill or looking at the completed job with pride and respect for the steps that went into it. It reminds me that I can do hard things. At this point, I call to my inner toddler. I invite her to come and see what we have done.
See, I say, we can do hard things. Each time, it gets just a little bit easier. Then we celebrate with cookies!
Be Well! – Wendy
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