The highly developed, rational and amazing data-crunching machine that is our analytical brain – arguably our greatest asset and the most distinctive feature separating us from the rest of the planet’s species – is the single biggest factor in our inability to achieve our ambitions.
Master or Slave?
Forget opportunity, the life you were born into, education and money – all small fry compared with the incredible, multi-faceted ability our brain has to stop us dead in our tracks. But the thing is, it’s very clever how it goes about it.
So clever, in fact, that we really don’t know we’re being mind-tricked by our own brain and we believe what it’s telling us. We actually believe the stuff it comes out with. A never-ending mess of less-than-helpful nonsense that ends up festering and settling within us – taking residence in every cell and just making itself at home, thank you very much.
And sometimes it takes a while to cotton on that old Brain is up to it’s old tricks. I’ve had a couple of instances in the last year where it took me a week or two for the realisation to dawn. What did it feel like? Bloody frustrating. I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of analysis and “What Ifs”.
It’s an incredible piece of machinery, this analysis part of our brain, and no doubt has saved a lot of lives and injuries. We can scan a room and develop a full risk-analysis in three seconds flat (reduced down to half a second when we become parents). We are good at surviving because we are risk aware and any potential dangers are brought to our attention.
A Bag of Tricks
When starting businesses, making career changes, stepping out of a life and identity we’ve known for a long time, this is less helpful. As upcoming changes appear on the horizon, or we set ourself a challenge, our brain goes into protection mode. And it’s got a catalogue of highly sophisticated tricks in its arsenal which all have the one aim of maintaining the status quo:
Unable to make a decision
Feeling unable to let go of options and wanting to keep them all
Feeling overwhelmed and unable to see a path forward
Creating a list of reasons why things may fail
Stuck in a never-ending planning phase and unable to reach the ‘doing’ phase
Telling ourselves we’re not experienced enough, educated enough, credible enough, tall enough, etc
Feeling like we’re trying to somehow get control but are unable to eg need a clear step-by-step plan fully detailing the path ahead
Feeling like we need expertise or help but can’t find it/ afford it/ etc
The difference between helpful and unhelpful analysis is that the former happens once, and then moves you forward. It is servicing your goal. The latter tends to be like a holding pattern, and you just can’t move forward. And once this starts to happen, all sorts of other doubts jump on the bandwagon – I’m not good enough, will this ever work, I’ll never be able to get that promotion, etc.
We feel conflicted – we want to achieve our goals and want to make changes but just can’t seem to move forward. We lose our creative capacity and our connection with instinct.
We Are Not Our Thoughts
One thing we need to remember is we are not our thoughts – they don’t define us. Our thoughts are just that – fleeting things that run through our mind. And we have a choice – whether to take notice, believe them, acknowledge them, or dismiss them. A thought is not truth. It’s up to us to decide. This piece of equipment is one of the useful tools we have at our service, to bring into use when required, and then put to one side when it’s completed the task at hand.
When we’re in an over-analysing state of mind, we’re all about the front brain and we’ve lost our gut feel, our sense of safety, our inner knowing, our resourcefulness. We literally need to move the energy from one part of the brain to the other – from the Neocortex (our sophisticated thinking machine) to our Limbic (memory and emotion) and Reptilian (instinct, fight or flight) areas. To do this we need to quiet down our chatty neocortex and reconnect with ourselves.
Once we’re connected, we’re in a place of trust. We all know this place – a sense of calm knowing, of having faith that everything is going to work out fine. We have a sense that we know what the right next step is and of feeling utterly comfortable with everything around us. And ironically, we then feel creative, resourceful and able to see the best way forward. We can let the answers come to us, rather than desperately seeking these out. We let go of all the unknown factors and “What Ifs”. We can relax.
In this place, the plan doesn’t matter, and we don’t spend energy thinking about all the different things that may go wrong and therefore what mitigations we need in place. We can just look to the next thing we need to do to progress towards our goal. Having that inner knowing is enough and our brain not only quiets down, but has abundances of energy. The frown disappears and we find we’re looking at the horizon, not at the ground one foot ahead. Your shoulders relax, you stand taller and breathing becomes that bit easier.
Quiet the Chatty Brain
So if you’re feeling frazzled by your own brain, try the exercise below – it’s a powerful tool in creating a sense of calm, centredness and focus.
1. Notice that your thinking has become more about analysis and less about gut feel. Acknowledge that your brain is in overdrive and is not helping you to make progress. Just acknowledging this will help to quiet down the neocortex and help you relax.
2. Develop a series of statements to “raise your thinking”. We want to get out of the minutiae. Base them on your purpose or direction. Make sure they are clear, short and in the present tense ie:
I am looking forward to …..
I am proud of [what I’m achieving]…
I am getting lots of satisfaction from…..
I am a highly sought-after, high calibre…..
I am looking forward to….
I enjoy [these particular aspects of my work]….
I am excited about [launching my business, getting my promotion, etc..]
I am doing this in order to [the greater purpose of this change eg create a flexible work life, bring financial security to the family, spend more time with the kids, etc]
Add in any further statements that resonate with you.
3. Find a way to focus on and feel connected with these statements, whether that be meditation, going for a walk in a place you feel connected to, or build them into your walk to the train station or drive to the office.
4. Make sure you really connect with them. They are not a monotone mantra – bring life into them however works for you. Speak them, gesticulate, sing them, write them, draw them. The more you feel them, the more effective they will be. Say it with meaning. “Show me the money!” Okay, you don’t have to shout Jerry Maguire style, but make it something you can feel. Breathe.
5. Make this a daily practice. 15 minutes walk connecting with your statements before you sit down to work can really help calm and focus the mind.
So, be aware of your brain – appreciate it for it’s amazing capabilities, but build a bit of distance between it if you feel like you’re getting stuck. Remember you are running the show with this amazing piece of analytical kit working for you, not the other way round.