What, a tryptich in four parts?
Well of course, why not.
If Douglas Adams can write a trilogy in 5 parts, then so can I, see if I don’t.
And today’s procrastination mind-bender is about self-sabotage, and specifically about *who* in your mind sabotages you.
Because most people think that it’s some sort of broken part of the subconscious.
Something damaged, from the past, something wrong that should be eliminated.
But most people are wrong.
See, the psychological part of you that causes self-sabotage isn’t an enemy.
Quite the contrary.
The part of you that sabotages you is your friend, your protector.
Except, he or she behaves like a bodyguard constantly beating up the client he is hired to protect.
So what’s going on there, why does that happen?
To explain that, I take you back to the stone age, to meet my old friend:
A caveman name Grog.
Say hi to the nice people, Grog.
There’s a good caveman.
Now Grog here – put that club DOWN, Grog. Just go sit there and rub these two sticks together.
As I was saying, Grog here, he doesn’t think much.
His brain doesn’t have the size required to read, or speak, or post cat pics on Facebook.
It’s barely big enough to remember that certain animals are tasty and others are too dangerous, and to remember that this berry is sweet and the other makes him feel ill.
Yet somehow, he’s extremely good at surviving.
Whatever danger shows up, he’s got an uncanny ability to ward it off.
So good, in fact, that you and I are proof of that survival skill.
And the reason he has that skill even if he couldn’t say ‘watch out!’ to save his wife wife Shreeka’s life?
His limbic system, also known as the lizard brain, rules the roost.
It’s the oldest part of the brain in terms of evolution – it’s the stem, and it’s there to protect us.
It’s instinctive, and it’s core mission statement?
Protect from harm, increase pleasure.
That’s all it does, and whatever we think or feel or want, if the limbic system recognises fear, it steps on the breaks.
That’s what causes your reflexes – like when you’re in traffic and your foot is on the break even before you’re conscious that the tail light ahead of you came on.
It’s what drives you hand to grab the falling cup, just before it hits the floor.
And, even though we evolved to have far more abilities and brain centers, the limbic system has permanent overrule permission.
We may be intelligent these days, but the protector still protects.
And when we self-sabotage, it’s that limbic system doing it.
The bodyguard beating up his client.
If it wants pleasure and happiness for us, why won’t it let us get more successful, more focused, more productive?
Why doesn’t it allow us to kick procrastination to the curb?
Because of the unknown.
In prehistoric times, anything new and unfamiliar was potentially deadly.
And so the limbic system sabotages our efforts to venture into the unknown.
And, our chances of success too.
Because when we change, when we take massive action, become successful…
Responsibilities, activities, wealth, relationships… everything changes, including yourself.
And what do things change into?
Who will you be?
Who will you be with?
Who will you lose?
What will your life be like?
We may have some idea, but in reality we can’t predict, it’s mostly a great unknown.
We just know we want to be successful, and enjoy it – but what it will look like?
So you make a choice, to get things done, to build your success, and the limbic system agrees: sure, that’ll make you happy. Go for it.
But then it’s automatic protection program kicks in, realises that doing those things is going to open up some sort of Pandora’s box, and decides that no, you’re not going to do that.
Much better to stay here, where you are.
It’s safe here, isn’t it?
Comfortable, nothing wrong staying here.
Even if it’s uncomfortable – at least you know how uncomfortable.
So that’s why our protector sabotages us.
But now, what can we do about it?
To answer that, I’m giving you a simple, 5-step solution, courtesy of the very clever psychologist Peter Shallard.
Step 1: Identify what it is, specifically, that scares you
Fear only ever has one meaning; that there is an upcoming situation you need to prepare for in some way. Whether you’re facing a tiger in the jungle, or your first ever sales presentation, this is true.
Identify the message your Lizard Brain is attempting to send you by getting clear on what you’re afraid of.
Step 2: Acknowledge the Lizard Brain’s ultimate intention
Every part of you, Lizard Brain included, is doing the best it can to move you towards you goals. The confusing part is the incongruity of you consciously wanting to take action, be extraordinary and win success… while your Lizard Brain is pulling you towards safety and the security of inaction.
Acknowledge and respect the Lizard Brain’s intention by asking yourself what it’s ultimate purpose could be. You’ll soon figure out that it simply wants you to be safe, so that you can relax, be comfortable and be happy.
Step 3: Reassure your Lizard Brain that your intentions are aligned
Ask yourself why you desire your big goals. It’ll be for success, freedom, wealth and happiness.
The key here is that both you and your Lizard Brain want the same thing (happiness) – you just have different ways of doing it. Reassure that fearful part of you by reminding it of your highest possible intention for yourself (happiness).
How can that old internal conflict exist when both you and your Lizard Brain want the same thing? That’s right….
Step 4: Flip the equation
Ask your lizard brain how it would feel if, in 5, 10 or 20 years you hadn’t progressed towards your big goals. Imagine giving in to your old Lizard
Brain fears, permanently, then waking up in 20 years to realise what you’d done.
Turn the fear equation on it’s head by having your Lizard focus on the disastrous consequences of always settling on what is safe.
Have it really feel the fear.
FINAL STEP: Take action
Go do the thing that used to scare you most.
~ Peter Shallard
And my addition to that?
If the thing that scares you most is too big, then start small.
There’s need to jump over your fear – you can also grow you capacity by leaning into it.
Feel the thing that’s just a bit scary, feels a bit edgy, and start with that.
Over time, you’ll see yourself take more and bigger actions, and procrastination will fade into the background.
Never, ever beat yourself up for procrastinating, because now you know that it only happens because you yourself are trying to protect yourself.
And I’d say, make peace with that, be grateful for it.
Ok, one more: if you like this type of insight, I highly recommend you head on over to Peter’s blog at PeterShallard.com. The guy’s a genius.
Also published on Medium.