That Time I Almost Accidentally Aligned Myself With an Alleged Cult (or Why You Should Let Go of Your Stories and Focus on Your Gut Reactions)
Don’t you just hate it when you apply for what feels like a perfect job then discover the organization’s quite possibly associated with a cult quite possibly associated with a notorious serial killer? Yeah, me too.
In addition to being a life coach, I’m also a writer, and I recently came across a freelance opportunity helping out an animal non-profit. I love writing, I love animals, and ever since I adopted my dog from a dog rescue group, I’ve had a special place in my heart for organizations that save animals.
I did what I thought was due diligence—I researched the organization and discovered that, by all accounts, the non-profit was legit and truly helping out all kinds of animals. The thing is, as soon as I sent them my info, I got this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Immediately my lizard brain went into thoughts like “I should’ve looked over my stuff one more time.” and “I didn’t show them my full personality.” and “I can’t believe I forgot to mention I had a rescue dog!”
Ultimately, I let it go because I couldn’t change it. I figured if they responded, I could show them more of my personality and get across my love for animals in a stronger way, and that calmed my lizard down without needing to bribe her with peanut butter.
A few days later, they replied back with the pay to see if I was still interested. Now I’d expected a lower amount since it was a non-profit, but the amount they put forth was such a low offer, I really had to think about it. I did a little more digging into the usual pay rate for this kind of situation, one thing led to another, and that’s when I discovered the alleged cult stuff. I took it with a grain of salt because, well, Internet, but I also came across it a few different places so it felt like there could at least be a kernel of truth.
All I could do was laugh at the ridiculousness.
In the research process, I also came across a lot of negative employee reviews of the company, and there were so many, those at least felt totally legit. (Although I do feel compelled to add that even some of the most disgruntled employees mentioned the group really did help a ton of animals, so at least there’s that…) Anyway, the employee reviews combined with the pay combined with the possible cult connection combined with the most important thing of all—my gut reaction—of course led me to tell them I wasn’t interested after all.
I’m sharing this because I’m amused by it, but also because it’s a great example of my inner GPS intervening and my lizard brain immediately jumping into storytelling mode. I had a strong feeling something was off, and I let my brain go to “I did something wrong,” without questioning the thought.
The thing is, sometimes we do get strong feelings about something, but there’s no way to explain it at the moment; not being able to explain it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow what our gut is telling us. Seriously, would your brain have jumped to “It’s a cult associated with Charles Manson!”??
So the next time you get that kind of clear message from your body, check in with it. See if you can get clearer on what it’s telling you. Let go of the stories your lizard brain comes up with to explain it. Ultimately, if it's in any way possible, follow it (or know you'll probably pay the consequences).
And, of course, if it makes sense for the situation, dig a little deeper into those Google results.
Inner GPS vs Lizard Brain
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!)
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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
Making the Most of Your Precious Life, Part Three
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.
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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.
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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.
I hope you enjoyed this Making the Most of Your Precious Life blog series. If you have any questions, comments, or if any of this inspired you to take action, I’d love to hear it all! And if you need some help along the way, my door is always open.