(Excerpt from my upcoming book Wing It & Win)
We’re constantly listening to the little voice in our head. The one that says, “Who are you to say?” and “Remember what happened last time you tried that?” Occasionally, in moments of triumph, it says, “I am awesome at this.” Sadly, those times are rarer.
Mostly, it’s a litany of horrors about things from the past that you did wrong, got hurt at, or felt terrible for doing. By showing you them again and again, it hopes to keep you from putting yourself into any situation where it might happen again.
Everyone has this little voice. It’s the “safety voice” that comes from the base of your brain. All it wants is for you to be safe, comfortable and happy. Your “lizard brain” as it is sometimes called is designed to keep you safe at all costs. A perfect life for the this small, ancient piece of your brain would be like this:
You, in a warm, cozy environment with constantly pumped in food and drink and the occasional naked person to play with. That’s it. No worries. No problems. Sloth, warmth, nutrition, and sex.
But that’s not the world. If you do nothing, you won’t be able to keep your happy, perfect bubble. And you’d get bored too. Then you would start bitching about that!
Since life isn’t hermetically sealed, you have to deal with people, earn money, and make decisions in your day. Your brain hates this because everything is scary.
Half a million years ago, life was crude and rough. There were constant dangers, including ravening beasts and poisonous everything! Your brain was designed to be on the defense all the time. Learning from your mistakes and from those of others was paramount. Anything that moved might kill you AND being alone in a clearing or, worse, in front of other creatures, was just ASKING for trouble. And by trouble, I mean death. Of course, your brain wants to keep you safe from that!
The problem is that there really isn’t that much that’s life-threatening anymore. Which, on the surface doesn’t sound like such a bad problem to have! But, it’s keeping you stifled and we all want to get over that. Most people want more, to be more, to have more. Some would just like to be able to talk to others comfortably or feel comfortable in social settings.
Today we’re not being chased by beasts. Poisons are generally clearly marked. Things are really not out to get you. So, what does your brain do? It makes little things into big, scary things. Almost everything you need to do in order to be successful in our fast-moving, high-tech, big-business world sets off alarms and immediately gets leveled up to DEFCON 2. Attack is imminent!
Your brain has made social standing, how others see you, and reputation into matters of life and death… for it. And, by extension, life-threatening for you. So, quite literally, your brain sees a failure in public almost as bad as literally dying. That’s why you get nervous, sweat, fret, and fear.
- Talking in front of people? That’s just like standing in an open clearing with no weapon surrounded by things that want to eat you!
- Saying something controversial? People won’t like you. If people don’t like you, you’ll be kicked out of the tribe. If you’re kicked out of the tribe, you’ll be alone in the wilderness… to be eaten by beasts.
- Want to create art? Nobody will buy it. You’ll be poor and seen as not contributing to the group. Of course, you’ll be ostracized, sent to the desert, and subsequently eaten by animals.
Sounds ridiculous, right? But it is what your brain does! Anything that stretches you or that asks you to put yourself out there visibly in front of others is quickly mutated up to “I’m going to die.”
So that’s just great. My brain thinks everything wants to kill me. If I want to go out and be successful, I guess I’ll just have to stop listening to it. Oh, if only it were that easy, my friend!
Because it’s your own brain, you can’t get away from it. You can’t shut it up. And the worst part is that it knows you SO well. It knows every button to push and every way to distract, scare and dissuade you.
Some people get into personal development to figure out how to shut this voice up. Stop that! You can’t. It’s you, and you just want to be safe. Telling it to shut up will just make it seek another route to stopping you. “Look! Cute kittens on the internet!”
What I can help you with is learning to use your frenemy as your ally. Instead of “Shut up!” which doesn’t work, I say, “Got it. Thanks for trying to keep me safe. We’re safe… And we’re (I’m) going to be successful.”
This is the Truth of this chapter:
If you don’t consciously hear the voice that is stopping you, you just do what it says.
Until you hear it, it runs the show!
Improv games are great at bringing that voice up to the surface. I like to run people through a game and then give examples of things I know that their heads just told them. People get trained to hear the voice when it speaks. Then, and only then, can you have a choice.
Sure, Improv games are wild fun. Everyone hoots and hollers and has a grand old time. But, the truth is I have found some of the very best personal development tools and exercises by playing these games.