Say you’re interacting with a potential business partner and your stomach starts to clench up and feel nauseated. That’s your inner GPS’s way of saying, “Get away from this person as fast as humanly possible. Seriously—RUN!”
Then your thoughts, a.k.a. lizard brain, start in, saying things like, “But it’d be rude to stop this conversation now, plus this person can help me make lots and lots of money, so of course we’ll go into business together despite the fact that every interaction makes me want to barf.”
Tell me, from the outside looking in, which path do you want to follow?
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, say you hear about a free lecture at the local college that’s so up your alley, you feel giddy and almost want to jump up and down with excitement. (If you actually jump, more power to ya!) That’s your inner GPS saying, “GO!! It’s gonna be awesome!”
Of course, it’s immediately countered by your lizard brain, this time with, “But I don’t have the time to do that, and I should really be more productive, so I think I’ll just stay home and knit sweaters for the neighborhood squirrels, even though my arthritis is acting up again.”
Again, from your current perspective, which sounds better to you?
The crazy thing is, even when we get clear signals of which decision to make, so many of us end up following the lizard brain’s advice instead. Much of that comes from living in a culture that puts thinking and doing and sacrificing on a pedestal. And most of us worry about how people will react when we do something different than what’s expected.
But what happens when we do let lizard brain take over? Well, in the first case, ignoring your inner wisdom would get you into a truly miserable situation, and the money you might make probably wouldn’t be worth all the suffering you’d endure. In the second, you’d be missing out on a great opportunity that could be something fun to recharge your batteries—or maybe even be a way to meet a wonderful, brilliant person who later becomes a business partner you not only love working with but who also helps you make all your professional and personal dreams come true beyond your wildest imagination. (You just never know!)
* * *
A big goal in my life is to choose my inner GPS over my lizard brain as much as I possibly can. It’s taken a lot of practice, but I’m getting better and better at it. The biggest change I’ve noticed is that the clearer I get on my right path, the easier it is to let go of worrying what others’ reactions might be; in fact, now it’s kind of fun to tell people what I’m up to and see how they react. (Considering I’ve always run the other way from any kind of conflict, I’ve come a long way, baby!)
Specifically dealing with my lizard brain’s a little trickier, since, well, it’s an instinctive (if overprotective) part of my brain, but I’ve got a lot of tools to deal with that, too. It’s constantly throwing thoughts my way, and I’ve learned to take ‘em all with a grain of salt. If something makes sense and feels okay, I go with it; if it feels oppressive or stressful in any way, I do what I can to let go of the thought so I can follow my heart instead.
Simple in theory, not always so in practice, but that’s part of what I signed up for when I joined this crazy game of life. And yes, sometimes following my inner GPS feels a lot harder than listening to my lizard brain, but I’ve seen over and over again that, in the long run, it’s worth it every time.
If you’re used to listening to your lizard brain, it can sometimes be a tricky transition to plug into your inner GPS instead. If you want some help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 30-minute consultation. xo, Katie
Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway
Most of us tend to assume that feeling fear is a bad thing. The kind of fear I talk about in my coaching practice—the kind that comes from our thoughts rather than our body’s instinctual fear-based reaction to something potentially life-threatening—is actually a great indicator that something’s important. The fear shows up when we’re afraid we’re not going to be able to experience something that’s truly important to our soul; quite frankly, if there’s not fear around a new experience, it’s likely not something that means enough for you to pursue.
If whatever you’re deciding on is something truly important, whatever fear comes up won’t erase your inner GPS’s wisdom—that sense of inner knowing is always there. And chances are, if something’s calling you strongly enough, you’ll do what you need to to make it happen.
So what happens if you choose to ignore that inner guidance? Well, you could very well spend the rest of your life wondering, “But what if…?” At some point, you’ll also likely start getting messages you’re going in the wrong direction—maybe physical issues start cropping up as your body’s way of getting your attention, maybe you start getting stuck in the sad/frustrated/angry end of the emotion spectrum, or maybe opportunities will just start showing up to guide you in the right direction anyway.
I can say from experience that as difficult as following your inner GPS may be, not following it is way worse.
* * *
So why does fear show up even when we know we’re on the right track? It’s just how our brains work. Specifically, it’s the reptilian brain, which is essentially responsible for keeping you alive. It’s great for life-threatening situations: “I have to go out hunting or there might not be enough food to get us through the winter.” “I shouldn’t poke the lion with the stick because it’ll get annoyed and eat me.” “I want to get a better view, but walking to the edge of the cliff on this exceedingly windy day is probably a bad idea.”
The problem is that the reptilian brain it hasn’t evolved with the times, so at the very hint of scarcity or abandonment or danger, it speaks up, even if those outcomes might not be remotely true. Positive Psychology calls this a negativity bias. For example, “If I start my own business, it’ll fail, and I’ll end up living in a van down by the river.” Your brain sees this as life threatening as well as pretty much inevitable, so it feels compelled you warn you. The problem is, your brain’s not psychic, and there’s just as good a chance that your new business will exceed all your expectations.
Martha Beck calls the reptilian brain our lizard brain and suggests picturing your lizard and giving it a name. (Mine’s a gecko named Philomena who loves wearing a Carmen Miranda-style fruit hat.) Now, it’s easy to get frustrated with your lizard when it busts in with unwanted thoughts that get in the way of you moving forward, but, really, it is trying to help. It just doesn’t realize its way of helping isn’t always helpful. That’s when you pat your lizard on the head, thank it for its concern, then give it a treat (Philomena likes peanut butter) and send it off to a corner to enjoy.
My other favorite trick is using Byron Katie’s inquiry process, The Work, on any thought or belief that makes me feel stressed or unhappy. The Work is comprised of simple yet powerful questions that can help your brain see other, more positive outcomes as distinct possibilities. For details on the process, click here. (It’s such an easy-to-use and thorough site, it makes more sense for you to get it direct from the source.) Sometimes just the first two questions, “Is it true?” and “Can you know for sure that it’s true?” are enough to help shake me out of lizard brain mode, although I always go through the remaining few steps to ensure a more powerful shift.
* * *
No matter what techniques you use to abate the fear, you still may feel scared, and that’s okay. Again, unless you’re about to try skydiving while using an umbrella as a parachute, your fear is likely just telling you you’re taking a big step and you’re nervous. Always check in to make sure that’s the case, of course, but once you’re sure it is, and once you’ve gotten the fear down to a manageable level, go ahead and take the leap.
How to Choose What’s Right for You
Figuring out what experiences you want in your life is the same thing as finding your road to joy. Sometimes what you feel compelled to do (or not do) makes no logical sense, and that’s okay. At some point in the future, you’ll look back and see why you made choice A instead of B, and it’ll all become clear—you were just doing what you needed to do to get yourself to a place that truly felt like home.
As an example, back in college, I gave in let my friends drag me to “Titanic” despite having zero desire to see it, so that’s $5, 194 minutes (plus previews), and a gallon of tears I’ll never get back. In the grand scheme of things, one movie's not a huge deal, but, looking back, I realize it was a turning point for me. There wasn't one part of it I enjoyed, and when we add up all those seemingly little things we've done that didn’t feel right, we’re talking significant chunks of time here. It’s not something to beat yourself up over—we’ve all done it, we’ve all had reasons we’ve done it, and all we can do is learn from each experience and use that knowledge in similar situations in the future.
The problem is that sometimes it’s hard to hear what our souls want over the droning thoughts like “But people will think I’m weird!” or “I’ll make my husband mad if I do that.” or “That’s pointless—I should spend time doing something more productive instead.” A quick way to override those thoughts and get to a soul-centered decision is to do the following exercise:
As an alternate option if you can’t stand up: uncross your arms and legs and get into a comfortable position. Now imagine the two scenarios, one at a time, noticing how your body reacts; a good way to do this is through a slow and focused body scan from your toes to your shoulders, down your arms, then up your neck and head.
Now that you’re clear on your body’s “yes” and “no,” you’re ready for the last step—letting your inner GPS speak:
3. Do the exercise with an experience you're trying to decide on. Does your body give your “yes” or “no” response? Decision made.
For the record, even if you get a clear “YES—DO THAT!” there may still be some (or maybe tons) of fear to work through. I’ll offer some tips and tricks on dealing with the fear factor in the next—and last—post of this series, but for now, I offer you a challenge: This week, do this exercise with a decision you’re trying to make—start with something small if this is totally new to you—and follow the yes or no that comes with it. Ignore the thoughts or the reactions you get from others. Just play with it and see what happens, and if you want to report in, I’d love to know how it goes!
Join me next week for the last of this series: Part 3: Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway.
Using Your Time Wisely
I recently heard the always brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love say, “I decided a long time ago that I don’t have to have every human experience that there is in this one lifetime.” She was specifically talking about her decision not to have kids, but it immediately occurred to me that this applies to every decision we make, big or small.
It’s up to us to decide how we want to use our time on this planet. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this blog post, you want to use your time in a way that’s as joyful and fulfilling as possible. Well, the only way any of us can do that is by placing a priority on what feels good rather than what makes logical sense or how we think other people will react. That’s not to say there won’t be stuff in our lives we do for practical purposes (hello, vacuuming!), just that, as much as possible, it’s important to follow whatever makes our hearts sing.
For example, a few years ago, my aunt and uncle were in Israel for an extended period of time. They invited me to come, saying that all I’d have to pay for was my plane ticket. It was by all accounts a generous offer and a great opportunity, and I immediately found myself wandering through TripAdvisor's photo galleries.
At that same time, though, I felt like the state of Colorado had grown arms and was pulling me towards it. I was still early on in learning to follow my heart instead of my head, but I knew enough that a pull this strong—stronger and clearer than almost every other pull I’ve ever experienced—just couldn’t be ignored.
Would I have had a great time in Israel? I’m sure I would have. But it just wasn’t calling me—hell, it wasn’t even whispering or doing a subtle come-over-here hand gesture. So with limited time, limited funds, and knowing I had to follow my heart, I made my way to Manitou Springs, Colorado. It was my first 100% solo vacation; a pivotal, life-changing experience I’ll never forget and a choice I will never regret.
* * *
Ultimately, there are only so many days we get on this planet, and that means we don’t get to have every experience there is. Sure, that sounds a little depressing, but to me, it’s also an incentive. Our job as human beings is to figure out which experiences will feed our soul the most, and then do whatever we can to go after them. My job—and my joy—as a life coach is to help you do that.
So I’m curious—to quote the poet Mary Oliver, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And on the flip side, what is your precious heart telling you to not do?
"I think never is enough, yeah, never is enough. I never want to do that stuff." -Barenaked Ladies
Thanks for reading part one of the three-part series, Making the Most of Your Precious Life. Stayed tuned next week for Part 2: How to Choose What's Right For You.
"You didn't expect me to substitute your judgment for mine, did you?" -Isaac Jaffe, "Sports Night"
I'm lucky because, in my experience, most of the time when people offer suggestions about what I should do with my life, they're sharing their opinions because they care about me and truly just want to help.
But I've learned that just because advice is coming from a good place, it doesn't mean you should take everyone else's ideas and let them override your own. Knowing when to take advice and when not to all comes down to where it falls on the YES!/nah/NOT-IN-A-MILLION-F-ING-YEARS! scale. In other words, does the person’s suggestion get you excited and wanting to start taking action immediately? Does it do nothing for you at all? Or does it make you want to scream and do an angry Phoebe run as fast as your little legs will carry you?
Let me let you in on a little secret: even if you specifically ask someone for advice, and even if their advice makes perfect logical sense, if your initial (i.e., gut) reaction doesn’t fall into the YES! end of the spectrum, it’s not the right advice for you and you don’t have to take it. And if you're worried about how they'll react, try repeating one of my favorite mantras, which I learned from Brené Brown: choose discomfort over resentment. Yes, the advice-giver might be mad, but how will you feel about yourself (and them) in a week, a month, a year from now if you follow their suggestion solely to avoid a negative reaction even though it clearly doesn't feel like the right choice for you?
Yes, I realize the irony of me advising you on how to deal with advice, so I want to make it clear that this—along with everything else I write here—is just a suggestion. I’m sharing my perspective based on what I’ve learned in my life, and if it resonates, I’m thrilled. And if, on the other hand, it falls into your “nah” or “never” categories, and you ignore it or disagree, I’ll still be thrilled. Why? Because that’s you trusting your inner GPS, and every time you do that, you get clearer on your road to joy. And THAT is exactly where I want you to be.
Back in high school, I was the quintessential band nerd. Well, almost quintessential; I hated pretty much everything about marching band. But I still served as squad leader, section leader, and co-president, and I silently suffered through four football seasons for the opportunity to play in my school’s wind ensemble, a great group filled with tons of talented musicians.
To further cement my band nerdery, I spent weekends rehearsing and performing with the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony, a group comprised of students from all over northeast Ohio. And to top it all off, the summer before my senior year, I attended a music camp at a Baldwin-Wallace College, a school known for its music program.
Music has taught me so much, like the importance of practicing and how to come together in a group and create something beautiful. I’m also willing to bet that all that counting of beats was instrumental (get it? ha!) in my not
But while all those learnings came from years of practice, the major life lessons I got from my brief two week stint at Baldwin-Wallace are the ones I’ve consciously come back to over and over again.
That experience really got going that first day when they announced the audition results. I found out I’d made first chair clarinet and was completely surprised.
Now I’m not bringing this up to toot my own horn, so to speak, but because it was the first of the important lessons I would learn: Stop underestimating yourself.
Did I know I was a better than average player? Yes, but so were all the other people there. Did I feel my audition had gone well? Yes, but I didn’t think it’d gone that well.
I quickly learned I was capable of both reaching for and achieving more than I realized. And as I’m writing this, I also want to share a side life lesson that just hit me: I was just doing what felt right, what I knew how to do, what I’d trained for. I went in with hopes but no real expectations. In other words, I followed my heart and the result was beyond what I’d ever imagined was possible.
Almost immediately following the audition results came the start of what would become lesson number two: Don’t let fear stand in your way.
I found out that the first two clarinets in the band were automatically also in the orchestra. My initial thoughts were all fear-based: I’ll never be able to learn that much music (each group had a concert at the end of each week), I’m not good enough, etc.
Thankfully, I had some other thoughts pop in that reminded me I was at this camp to become a better player, and that it’d be fun to play different kinds of music. So despite the nerves, I played on.
And thank goodness I did, because that led me to lesson number three, which was the most life changing of them all: You DO NOT need to be perfect.
I remember the orchestra director being a classical music version of Simon Cowell. He was unflinchingly, unapologetically honest and demanded the best, but when he gave you a compliment, you knew he meant it. (To be fair, I don't know if this is an accurate assessment or just the way my thin-skinned teenage self remembers him.)
I don’t recall why, but at one point during a rehearsal, he stopped us and said to put our instruments down. I think we all expected to get yelled at, but instead we got a heartfelt and passionate lecture about not striving for perfection. Sadly, I can’t for the life of me remember the specifics of what he said, but I’ve never forgotten the message behind it; it’s had a profound effect on me in all aspects of my life.
During the concert at the end of that week, we played Bizet’s “Carmen,” one of my most favorite pieces I’ve ever played. (My ringtone has been “Les Toreadors” for years.) It was a big piece for me, not only because I had a bunch of solos, but also because it was my first time playing an A clarinet, an instrument more commonly used in orchestras, and I had to borrow one.
The concert went great, with the notable (man, I love music puns) exception of one brief but VERY exposed mistake while playing the unfamiliar instrument. I managed to not let it shake me too badly, but of course part of me regretted that it had happened. But when I went offstage after the concert, the conductor was standing there, waiting to shake my hand and tell me what a great job I did. Not one comment about the obviously missed note. His following through on what he said cemented the lesson for me and ensured that it wouldn’t ever be too far from my mind.
That’s not to say there aren’t times perfectionism starts creeping in; I see it surface most often with regards to my writing, and every time I notice it, I can viscerally feel that it’s holding me back. Thankfully, I also notice pretty early on when it shows up, and I know how to extricate myself from that stressful, unattainable situation. Good enough really is good enough.
And if you’re not quite ready to let go of being perfect, try this quote from Dr. Brené Brown on for size: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” Convinced now?
So let’s review:
Stop underestimating yourself.
Don’t let fear stand in your way.
You DO NOT need to be perfect.
When you follow your heart,
the result may well be
beyond what you’d ever
imagined was possible.
Get it? Got it? Good.
If this struck a chord with you (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), please feel free to leave a comment or question below. And if you need help getting a better handle on all this so you can live a bigger, better, happier life, email me at email@example.com to set up your free 30-minute over-the-phone session. I promise I’ll try to refrain from more music puns.
The other night, I went salsa dancing for the first time in way too many years. I was super rusty, but, as I told another dancer, my goal for the evening was just to do my best, have fun, and not hurt anyone.
And you know what? Because I didn't put any pressure on myself, I managed to do the advanced move they taught us in the lesson (okay, only once or twice, but that still counts!), had a great time, and, unless that one dude lied when he said his foot was fine after I stepped on it, I didn't hurt anyone — including myself. Mission accomplished!
Added bonus — my goal for that evening also gave me an excellent new motto for life.
It was late at night, and ten-year-old Maggie was sitting at the end of the bed. She was hungry, but her snack was on top of the TV cabinet, way out of her reach. She glanced to her right, and saw Dad was fast asleep. She turned and looked at Mom, who was sitting on the loveseat a few feet away. She let out a soft, “Woof.”
Mom started laughing so hard, she woke Dad up. He couldn’t even be mad about it, because whoever heard of a dog being that considerate before?
Within a couple days, Maggie could soft bark on command.
* * *
It’s a good thing Maggie couldn’t think the way we humans do, otherwise her thought process might’ve been something like “They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess I’m considered old now, so I must not be able to do anything new. Crap. How the hell am I gonna get my treat now? Guess I’ll just have to go hungry for the rest of the night—or maybe even the rest of my life. I think I’ll just curl up into a little ball right here on the edge of the bed and hope one day by some miracle I get my treat anyway.”
She never would’ve come in second place in that doggie talent show.
* * *
The bad news is, as humans, our brains are wired to think all those hold-us-back thoughts.
The good news is that once we notice those thoughts, we can loosen them up and make it easier to start going after what we really want. One way is to look for examples that the opposite thought could be true, too.
For example, let’s say you feel driven to run a race to raise money for your favorite charity, but you can’t help thinking “I can’t run a 5K.” Make a list of at least three reasons you can. Maybe it’s something like, “1. I can get a trainer. 2. I can start small and build up. 3. I didn’t think I could [fill in the blank], but I did.”
Or maybe you want to get a new job, but you don’t think anyone would hire you. Now make a list of all the reasons someone would want to hire you. (If you’re having trouble with the list, try a trick a wise friend once told me: be your own agent. From that removed perspective, it’s often easier to list all those wonderful qualities you possess that would make an employer crazy not to hire you on the spot.)
* * *
For all the things we long to do, most of us have a million reasons why we can’t do them. But unless your dream is something completely out of reach, like living on Saturn or adopting a pet unicorn, chances are all those “reasons” are really just thoughts getting in the way. So the question is, are you gonna let mere sentences keep you from making your dreams come true, or are you gonna address them head on, then do whatever you need to do to start living a life you love?
I’m not a huge sports fan, but as a Clevelander, I felt like LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated article was practically required reading. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that I’d tear up. I can’t help it — it’s just what happens to me when I hear stories about people following their hearts and making their dreams come true.
LeBron felt a strong need to come back and play the game he loves in the city he loves, to be a leader and help his teammates reach their full potential, and to give back to his community and inspire others to do the same.
In other words, his heart pulled him back home.
But following your heart isn’t always an easy thing to do, even for those of us who aren’t in the public eye. We often let society’s expectations take priority over what we want for ourselves, assume others must be right about what we should do, or think we don’t deserve what we want or we’re not capable of making it happen.
The thing is, when you ignore what your heart wants, you’ll notice your body starts to feel anything from slightly uncomfortable to more twisted up than my earbud cords after a few days in my purse.
Why is that? Because our hearts use our bodies to communicate. If you’re having a hard time hearing what your heart’s telling you, try this exercise: Close your eyes and remember being in a situation you really didn’t want to be in. Use all your senses to get yourself into that moment. Once you’re there, notice how your body feels. Then open your eyes, shake off that feeling, take a deep breath, and repeat the process, this time reminiscing about a really happy experience.
I’m willing to bet that in the first scenario, your body was tense in at least one spot (its version of saying “no”), and in the second one, the tension was gone (i.e., “yes”). These specific physical responses are unique to each person and consistent regardless of the situation.
And now that you speak the language, you can check in with your body on anything from what to have for dinner to whether you should take a new job. But it doesn’t end there.
Just because you start listening to your heart more doesn’t mean following through will be easy. Many people still resist, procrastinate, and make excuses for why they can’t take action.
You can thank your brain for that.
Back when we were cavemen, our thoughts played a key part in our survival. For example, the thought, “This cave’s totally wrong for me, but moving’s a pain in the ass, plus what if there are lions already living in the next cave I want?” would’ve kept us someplace where we already knew the best spots for gathering resources and hiding from scary animals. (Okay, maybe the thought would’ve been closer to “No move. Stay here,” but you get the drift: skeptical, fear-based thoughts = better chance of living another day.)
We’ve come a long way since our cavemen ancestors, but the reptilian brain, the part of the brain responsible for those stay-safe thoughts, hasn’t evolved since then. It’s not trying to sabotage us or keep us stuck, it’s just being protective and doesn’t understand that staying comfortable isn’t always the best option these days. It’s also oblivious to advances like grocery stores, doors with deadbolts, and the internet.
That’s why we still think things like “I can’t move to a new city because I’ll be all alone, and if the new job doesn’t work out, I’ll end up broke and homeless.” The difference is that because other parts of our brains have evolved, we’re able to recognize these thoughts as clues that fear is keeping us from moving forward in our lives.
Thankfully, there are ways around those thoughts that hold us back. My favorite technique is The Work by Byron Katie. It involves asking whether a thought’s true or not, how it makes you feel, how you’d feel without the thought, and then examining opposite versions of the thought to see if they could possibly be true, too. It’s a deceptively simple yet profound tool that can make following your heart a much easier thing to do.
I don’t know what thoughts LeBron worked through, what discussions he had with people in his personal or professional lives, or how he dealt with all that pressure coming from the media and millions of fans. All I know is that his heart said to go back to Cleveland, and he followed it despite everything. You know what else I know? That if you listen to your heart and let go of those fear-based thoughts, you too can change your life in amazing ways. Okay, maybe not $29-million-a-year amazing, but, really, you can’t put a price on that absolutely blissful feeling you get when you finally arrive in that place your heart calls home.
It’s the 4th of July long weekend, and I’ve been thinking a lot about all the different types of freedom I have in my life. I spent the weekend doing exactly what I wanted, which meant time alone to relax, meditate, and catch up on some DVR’d shows, time with family to connect and enjoy great food and fireworks, time in nature to enjoy this absolutely perfect weather by hiking and (unfortunately) swatting away dive-bombing bugs who were playing a rousing game of who-can-get-closest-to-Katie’s-left-ear-without-going-in.
I’m so grateful I had the freedom to do all that and more over the last three days. And I was able to enjoy it because I had freedom from my thoughts, which, in the past might have told me things like “I should be cleaning, not meditating.” “I need to be working on my business, not watching an old episode of ‘Castle,’ even if I haven’t seen yet.” “I have to go to give my dog a bath, not lounge by the pool with my cousins.”
“Should be.” “Need to be.” “Have to.” The more I notice those thoughts, the more I can become free from them and do the stuff I feel compelled to do. And you know what happened by doing all those things that made me feel happy and recharged? I did all the other stuff, too, but without all the resistance I so often feel. I quickly and easily crossed off every item on my to-do list this weekend because I took the time to do so many things on my want-to-do list, too.
It’s weird how relaxing and having fun can help you get more done in the long run. I can’t explain why, only that over and over, I’ve found it to be true. So go ahead—give yourself the freedom to do what brings you joy.
After all, thanks to our forefathers, you have certain unalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So go ahead—pursue the hell out of them all; you’ll be amazed at what happens.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist