How You Answer This Question Will Determine Everything
You have two selves inside of you. We all do.
We have the self that is curious, creative, full of wonder, inspired by possibility, and that seeks fulfillment, meaning, purpose, and joy.
And then we have the self that just wants to keep us alive. It is not concerned with our ultimate fulfillment. It is solely concerned with our long-term survival. An alarmist by nature, this self is constantly worrying and naysaying to keep us from doing anything that could harm us in any way.
The former is often referred to as our higher self, our inner mentor, our executive brain, or our prefrontal cortex.
The latter is known as our inner critic or our lower/reptilian/primitive brain.
Regardless of what we call them, those two selves are fighting for air time in our minds day in and day out. Your fulfillment and success in life is determined by this single question: Which one are you going to believe?
Why This Question Matters
You can pretty much bet that, if you’re human, anytime you want to do something new or different, these two selves are going to have something to say.
Which one you believe is going to determine what you’re willing to try. And if you’re not willing to try anything, you won’t be able to achieve the results you want.
It’s really hard to find fulfillment and success by listening to the primitive brain. Even if your higher self is urging you to pursue something more, believing your primitive brain will keep you stuck. About 100% of the time.
Learn The Difference Between The Two
It’s worth taking some time to get to know these two selves, so that you can recognize which one is talking to you.
Your higher self is very future focused and says things like: “It would be really fun to try ___” and “I think I’d really love to do ___.” It speaks of hope, inspiration, and of what could be.
Your inner critic/primitive brain is past focused says things like: “I could never ___ because I’ve never done that before” and “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ve never been able to do anything like that before. What makes you think you can do it now?” In other words, it says things that are cynical, rude, and that you would probably never say to another person.
When I first conceived of the idea of leaving my law firm job to move to Spain and start my coaching practice, I was euphoric for most of the day.
My higher self was coming up with all the ways that I could make it work. It told me about all the fun things that we could do, how I could get the time I needed to get my business off the ground, how great it would be to spend time with my husband’s family, and all the reasons why the plan would work. After almost an entire day of this, I was starting to believe that it might really happen and I was practically levitating.
And then, just as I was trying to go to sleep that night, the other self (which I’ll call my primitive brain) woke up and burst the bubble that I had been floating around in. We had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: I think I can make this plan work.
Primitive Brain: Um, not so fast. This could get us killed.
Me: Excuse me?
P.B.: That’s right. You could die on the airplane over there.
Me: Oh, come on.
P.B: And what are you trying to do to your kids? Ruin them for life?
Me: Give them an unforgettable experience abroad?
P.B: They’re going to hate you for moving them and leaving their school that they’re so comfortable at right now. And you’re going to be homesick because you’re going to go from this comfortable home to a smaller flat that will probably have noisy neighbors and loud mopeds driving by at all hours of the night.
Me: Well, they do have a lot of mopeds in Spain.
P.B.: And this is all ridiculous anyway because what makes you think you can succeed as a coach in your own coaching business? Have you ever tried that before?
Me: Well, no.
P.B.: Exactly! Because it’s a terrible idea!
This went on for hours and I barely slept at all that night, wrestling with the part of my mind that wanted nothing to do with the new plan that I’d hatched.
Recognize Your Primitive Brain For What It Is
I struggled for months, not knowing which part of my mind to believe. Finally, I got coaching on the issue and was able to see, with the help of my coach’s objective perspective, what was really going on in my mind.
The reason why I wasn’t able to see it myself was because the thoughts coming from my primitive brain that were swirling around in my mind felt like facts. I was believing what my primitive brain was telling me and as a result, I felt tremendous fear that almost stopped me in my tracks.
Putting some distance between your thoughts and you is the best way I know to keep your primitive brain at bay. It is imperative to recognize that you are not your thoughts.
What your primitive brain tells you are just thoughts that your mind is generating in response to a new situation. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way our brains work.
If you hear your brain starting to raise an alarm, you can ask yourself if you’re truly in a life-or-death situation. (Note: Other people’s opinions about you will not kill you, even though it might feel like it.) If it’s not, then you can just notice what your brain is telling you with curiosity and say something like, “There goes my primitive brain again, trying to keep me safe.”
Get Comfortable With It
I wish I could tell you that after I made the decision to listen to my higher self instead of my primitive brain, that the struggle ended and I lived happily ever after. I did move to Spain, but the newness of that transition was hard for my primitive brain, especially for the first two months. Now that we’ve been here for six months and we’re used to everything, it doesn’t want to leave to go back home. Of course it doesn’t. It doesn’t like change. Ever.
Your primitive brain will continue to freak out on you on a regular basis, especially if you take any kind of risks whatsoever.
But here’s the cool thing: If you know that and actually expect that, then you won’t be inclined to believe what your primitive brain tells you. You won’t make it mean that you shouldn’t move forward.
In fact, you can even make it mean that you’re on the right track. And that’s when the magic begins.
Go forth, grow, and bloom.