Monthly Archives: July 2014

Making the Lizard Brain Scream for Mercy

Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance.

Honestly, for me, it’s just plain fear.

Every single time I get close to finishing a book, I balk at the thought of it and can find a million reasons to avoid writing. The reasons are always good … from visiting family to cleaning; from managing accounts to handling advertising and marketing. I am afraid of finishing each book.

When it comes time to press the button that delivers the book for publication, I get sick to my stomach. Fear stops me from moving forward and does its best to hold me in place.

These last few weeks I’ve watched fear as an outsider. My sister is fostering a little girl and after spending several months getting comfortable in Carol’s house, all of a sudden lots of new things started pouring down on this child and she erupted. Carol would call me after her daughter had gone to bed, absolutely livid with fury because of the child’s behavior. We’d talk. She would calm down and prepare herself for the next day.

Carol had to listen to her daughter say horrible things to her about wanting to live just about anywhere else than with Carol. She had to discipline the girl for choosing terrible methods of disobedience. If a good day was experienced, the evening turned into a battle of wills.

Then … it was over.

What changed? Big experiences were in the past and normalcy had been regained. Things that we took for granted, Carol’s daughter didn’t know how to process. We took her to meet my brother’s family – a chaotic, wonderful mess filled with adults, noise, a new place, swimming, new foods, new animals … and I’m sure that little girl knew there were expectations. We wanted her to love them as much as Carol and I do. She didn’t know up front that it would be easy. She’d never experienced a great, big, loving family.

Two days later, Carol had to ask a friend to care for the girl for four days since Carol was going through an iodine radiation treatment and needed to pretty much be in quarantine. Even though the child knew the woman she was staying with, her recent experience with being moved from home to home after the rescue from her own abusive home, was still quite fresh. She couldn’t know that she wasn’t being passed off again to a new family. The first night away, she was able to call Carol and talk to her and I imagine that everything settled down in her little heart. It really was just temporary and had nothing to do with her – everything to do with Carol’s health.

For several days prior to that explosion of experience, Carol’s daughter faced inner turmoil that she couldn’t articulate. How could she hate going to our brother’s house? How could she be angry that Carol’s health required her to be out of the home?

That little amygdala in the back of her scalp told her, though, that she should be very afraid. Everything that could go wrong probably would and she needed to jump into self-protection mode, even if it meant alienating everyone around her.

That’s what Seth Godin calls the Lizard Brain. It scares the life out of us, telling us that the only way we will continue to be safe is to stay exactly where we are. Don’t make any changes, don’t let anyone make changes around us. Don’t stir the pot, don’t make waves. Stay safe – stay alive. It’s much easier to pay attention to that fear center within us than it is to shut it down and step away from our fears.

This little guy crawls into my arms each evening as I work. It helps.

This little guy crawls into my arms each evening as I work. It helps.

I can’t tell you how much self-discipline it is taking for me to write each day this week. Moreso than at any other point in the process. I’m so close to the end and I keep finding ways to draw this out, because being finished means making a commitment to the goal. It means moving forward to the next story … the next book … the next part of the process.

The weird thing about all of this? Discovering that the fear of not completing the project – not being able to continue this life as a writer – or not meeting my goals, actually supplants the Lizard Brain surrounding completion of the book.

When Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself in 1932, he was speaking to me all these years later. I may not win over my Lizard Brain today or even tomorrow, but I’m going to kick it around enough so that it runs away screaming.

Can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish if that Lizard Brain was brought under control? It makes my head hurt to realize how many things I’ve missed in the past because of my fears. I wish I had understood then that I had more control over it than I realized.

Guilt, Anxiety … Let it Go

You know that whole thing about getting up and out of your head? Well, pardon me while I involve you in the process today. I’d apologize, but the truth is, if I’m writing this, I don’t feel guilty about it (please chuckle there, okay?). If I was going to feel guilty, I just wouldn’t do it.

I just typed a bit about guilt in a chapter I wrote and that’s one of those lessons I learned in the two weeks before Mom died. All of a sudden one evening, it occurred to me that for most of my life, guilt revolved around her. She is the one who caused me to feel guilty when I did something wrong … it was to her that I looked for moral guidance. And my goodness, she was really good at it. I’m sure it’s a mom-thing, but that woman was a master.

One evening my brother came home and was in trouble for something or other. He was maybe thirteen years old … much too old for her to spank. She was angry, but sent him up to his room. Then she took a deep breath and at the bottom of the stairs, said, “Watch this. It won’t take me five minutes and I’ll have him in tears.” She wasn’t wrong. I doubt it even took that long.

There was really no worse punishment in our lives than disappointing our parents. They were more than willing to point it out to us and rather than face that again, we straightened up.

Anyway, the night Mom told us she was going into the hospital and wouldn’t be coming home again, I realized that guilt needed to be over for me. It was time for me to grow up. I couldn’t rely on her any longer for that moral compass thing. I was responsible for my own behavior. If I was going to do something I’d feel guilty for, I needed to make a different decision. If I went ahead with it, then I needed to simply go for it because I was going in with my eyes wide open and a clear decision made.

Now, to be honest, I’ve screwed plenty of things up and had to face down serious guilt for those things … but the best way to deal with that is to face it, release the guilt, and move forward. I have more than enough fears, anxiety, stress (on and on and on) floating around in my head – I don’t need guilt taking up extra space.

For some reason, the last few days have been filled up with free-floating anxiety. I can’t identify it. Sure, I have plenty of people to worry about … friends have things going on, family members have things going on, even TB is growly for some reason. Is that what I do to myself, though? Do I take so much of their stuff on that it hovers just out of sight in my mind until the pressure builds inside?

Oh, probably. I’m a nut that way.

The first job I had out of college was at a church in Spencer – six hours away from home. Argh! Mom and I talked on the phone all the time. One night I called her and was a complete mess. I cried over everything. I hated my job, I missed my family, on and on. When we hung up, I felt much better and went to bed. I slept great, got up the next morning and the phone rang. It was Mom. She hadn’t slept at all. She had worried all night long for me and let me tell you, when I expressed confusion over her worry and told her how well I’d slept, she was ticked off! (yes, please laugh there)

Apparently, I’d transferred all of my worry to her. Once I’d said everything out loud, I was fine. But she took it all and had no way to release it. I’d gotten up and outside of my head, but she couldn’t see that. At least she waited until I was awake before calling me back, right?

Well, I’m my mother’s daughter. Do you worry out loud? Here, let me take that for you. Do you have some stress you’d like to lay out there? I’ve got it and I’ll keep a good eye on it. Are you randomly concerned about someone I don’t even know? Perfect. That fills in the blank spots in my worry calendar. Oh, and by the way, if you have an unsolved issue that we talked about five years ago, I’m still fretting over that too.

Pray ...Martin Luther’s quote “Pray, and let God worry” has been showing up in my life a lot lately. All of this free-floating stuff I can’t specifically identify (even the stuff I can) is just like that guilt I decided to release. It isn’t worth the precious moments of my days. Those are much better spent doing something worthwhile … oh … like praying.

Now, if I could get the flies to stop buzzing around me, the squirrels to quit messing with my car, the cat to not hurt himself, this book to write itself and the temperature to drop about ten degrees, life would be pert-near perfect. Let it go Diane. Just let it go.

(By the way, if you’re reading this – I’m not looking for a fix or counseling. I just took care of that with a few words. A little humor from your own life or some commiseration (look it up) would be perfectly appropriate, though.)