Trapped in your story of you

You and I have similar bodies. And similar brains. Similar minds and hearts, even. Humans are mostly, well, human.

Which tells me that if you can do something I can do something. At least mostly. Like I can’t Michael Phelps, but I can pay down my credit cards. I can speak my truth and argue calmly. I can eat fairly healthily. I can quit my job or apply for a promotion. I can go on a date or at least introduce myself to someone. I can do human things.

As can you.

Except it’s not that simple.

~

A long time ago, some psychologists did an enlightening, if cruel, experiment with a bunch of dogs. They paired up each dog from group A with a dog from group B, put them all in little boxes, and started administering electric shocks. Dogs from group A eventually discovered that if they pressed a nearby lever, the shocks would end. They got to rescue themselves. Group B dogs, however, had no lever. And even though their shocks also ended when their group A mate found its lever, since they didn’t experience solving the problem by pressing the lever, they felt completely helpless about the shocks. Nothing they could do. Inevitable. Unstoppable. Helpless.

Later, they took all the dogs–group A and group B–and put them in different little boxes with a small partition in the middle of each. Electric shocks began again on the side the dogs were placed in. To avoid the shocks, they simply had to jump over the little partition to the safe side. Remember the dogs from group A? The ones that got to experience rescuing themselves? They jumped the partition to safety. And the group B dogs that just had to wait out the abuse? The ones who had experienced the shocks helplessly before? They just lay there accepting the shocks. Ingrained belief that there was nothing they could do. “Learned helplessness.”

Group A dogs had learned a story about themselves and shocks: I can change this.

Group B dogs had learned a different story: I can’t help getting shocked.

And, as a reminder, group A dogs and group B dogs are all dogs with the same puppy-legs built to clear those partitions. But their experiences created stories about themselves. And those stories dictated how they handled the next challenge.

~

Which is why I say it’s not that simple.

Yes, you and I have the same fingers with which to type that text, update that résumé, add that friend, sign up for that class, and bravely reach out to hold that hand. But you and I have very different stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

My story includes an odd jumble of affection and hiding and anxiety and determination and hope and authenticity and pain and adventure and caution and expectations and wisdom and pessimism and and scars and bravery. And though it’s a jumble, it’s a very specific jumble, specific to me. And it informs every day, every decision, every thought, every moment.

And our stories include the fate-type stuff we’ve learned about ourselves.

Having learned about ourselves that we “can’t,” or we’re “not strong enough,” or we “always do that,” or we “can’t help it,” or we “will always be treated like” . . . we accept our fate as our story plays out the way it’s “supposed” to.

Like: When I work out, I always end up in pain or injured. I’ll never be healthy and strong. So why bother trying?

Or: We always end up in a fight when this subject comes up. And I can’t deal with confrontation. So I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t matter to me anymore.

The themes that we’ve experienced, whether willingly explored or helplessly forced on us, have become our stories about ourselves.

Like those dogs.

“I can” or “I can’t.”

~

And while it’s not that simple–as simple as being humans that can change–it also is that simple.

Group A and B dogs are both dogs with legs to jump. And when the researchers finally showed the group B dogs they really could change their situation, holding their little legs and teaching them to move, the once helpless dogs did learn to rescue themselves.

You and I are both humans with human bodies and human minds.

And when someone finally showed me that I was allowed to experience and express a full range of emotions, ask for what I want, say what I really feel–I shed a little learned helplessness.

~

All this to say, you CAN.

Not you can everything. I can’t be on the Yankees team, which is super frustrating.

But you can do that thing–the one you keep wanting to do or trying to do or meaning to do or starting to do or committing to do.

That thing you’ve been remembering each January that you really want to do, and drafting to-do lists and schedules about, and starting, and eventually stopping every time.

Finding that community. Reading those books. Sharing that struggle with a friend. Eating in a way that feels better to your body again. Sticking to those boundaries next time. Sticking with therapy even when it gets too hard. Applying for that new job. Registering for those yoga classes. Cutting back on the Amazon shopping. Reserving more time for your loved ones. Or starting that difficult conversation that makes you a little nauseated.

Do you ever find yourself quick reality-checking a hopeful idea or plan or desire you had? “But you’ve tried that already, and you never stick with it.” Or “You’re just not that person.”

I do.

My story about myself includes decades of patterns that dictate to me who I am now–what I could do next, what I couldn’t do next–what my life officially looks like.

Unhealthiness.

Chronic pain.

People-pleasing.

Staying up too late.

Being only mildly expressive.

When I was 18, I was a loved and respected participant in a number of churches–they were like my families, and I was the confidant of most of my family members. And I had a best friend. I turned 19 and hopped on a plane to Africa, having that large home of friends and church families to come back to. Then I very suddenly, thoroughly, terrifyingly lost all of it. My family, my church families, even my best friend. Gone.

(Yes, I know I’m the common denominator there, and that’s not a great look. It’s a rough story.)

So in my story there’s this big theme about not getting too close to people, especially communities.

Talk about a powerful theme.

And I’ve stuck to that theme through a whole lot of life.

Stories are powerful.

~

What’s your theme?

What happened to you?

What’s your brand of helpless?

What’s your story of you?

And what if you aren’t actually trapped in that story?

~

The assumption that your story has to go a certain way–follow your norm, or any norm–like if you were abused you’ll be anxious, if you struggle with addiction you’ll never stop, if you try to save money you’ll fail–that assumption is a story you’re telling yourself built on powerful experiences you’ve learned from.

But what if you’re the author? And what if, as the author, you can just throw any random new color you want onto the page?

~

And remember, it’s simple and not simple: The trappedness in our stories is like learned helplessness. And while you may have the same mind and body as the next person–while you have the potential–remember that those dogs actually needed someone to move their legs. The aloner you are, the trappeder you are. So as you decide to change your plot this time, ask someone to help move your legs. A therapist. A bodyworker. A mentor. A friend.

~

What is your story about you?

And what if you’re the author?

Would you write something different next?

There is power in stepping back and asking what stories we’re trapped in and whether we’d like to re-write them.

What new plotline are you going to write today?

My 200th post!

NOW can I call myself a writer?

What passion of yours do you discredit because you haven’t done it long enough, well enough, fast enough, professionally enough, famously enough?

The thing that bubbles up from deep inside your soul is YOU, whether a thousand people know it or just you.

If you ever, ever, ever find yourself biting your tongue when the words “I’m a [thing-er]” or “I love [thing-ing]” want to come out . . . I challenge you to stick up for the enthusiastic, joyful, adventurous child deep inside you, and finish that sentence with pride.

“I’m a runner.”

“I’m a writer.”

“I love cooking.”

And remember that when your little child says “Mommy, I love drawing,” you would never say “Yes, but you’re not very good at it darling.”

Who you are and what you love and what you want still count as much as they did when you were 3 feet tall.

So say your “I’m-a” sentence, and then let it sit as truth. No “But-I’m-not,” “But-I-only” . . . Don’t discredit it. It is you.

Honor the passion inside you. Don’t extinguish your own flame. There are no minimum qualifications for being in love with life.

Thanks for honoring the Writer in me.

What are YOU?

~

Follow and support my journey as a writer by throwing your email down here:

I look forward to connecting as together we navigate this weird adventure called life. :)

Honoring the adventurous human in you today.

~

Be the curly chip

Tortilla chips are made in a factory.

Factories make things Just-Right.

On a conveyor belt, the sheet of dough is cut by triangle-shaped molds, each mold identically sized and shaped, so that each chip will come out identical: Just-Right.

Somewhere along the way, the chips fall in a fryer. A few of the chips get “weird”–some folding over on themselves. some attaching inseparably to another chip, and some inexplicably curling into a perfect little curly chip.

Technically, these are defects. The factory and its machines were designed to spit out the Perfect-Product, millions upon millions of identical chips, day after day, each one Just-Right. The way they’re “supposed to be.”

But when the bag of chips finds its way into your kitchen and is torn open, the curly chips don’t get picked out and tossed. In fact, I bet if we took a survey, we’d find that the curly chips become the prized chips. The ones that look so beautifully unique. The ones that for some silly reason just warm your heart by the sheer different-ness of them.

Life . . . we sort of grow up in tortilla chip factories. Quality control tells us we need to match the other chips. To follow the same life path, make the “right” choices, and value the “right” things. Even that there’s a “right” or “wrong” color or shape. That to be, say, and do DIFFERENTLY is to be DEFECTIVE. Expectations.

So . . . you could fit the cookie-cutter mold. You could aim for IDENTICAL.

Or . . . you could do your own unique dance in the fryer and find your own perfectly UNIQUE shape.

“I don’t fit in.” “I’m not normal.”

That’s okay. If anything, that’s good. Fitting the mold isn’t a real value.

Be the curly chip!

20200524_135609

Just. Be. You.

that negative voice

Every day, you can hear that voice:

You can’t.

You’re a fraud.

You’re bad at.

Nobody likes.

You’re not brave enough.

You’ll never.

And every day, you can choose to let that voice be what it is–just a voice.

Every day, you can acknowledge that negative voice you hear, and then choose to be yourself anyway:

Your true self.

Your brave self.

Your new self.

Your vulnerable self.

Your bold self.

Your excited self.

Your daring self.

Your genuine self.

The self that you would be if that negative voice wasn’t stopping you.

~

P.S.

Some days you’ll let that voice deep into your heart and you’ll stop, you’ll get scared, you’ll get ashamed, you’ll hide.

That’s okay.

Pick yourself up (maybe take a friend’s hand), take a deep breath, acknowledge that negative voice, and choose again.

~

P.P.S. Where do you think that voice came from? . . .

Denis Waitley - what you think you're not

Free yourself from “good at”

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” something?

The world is full of adventure–singing, making a story, rock-climbing, poetry, cooking, improv, skiing, paddle-boarding, reading confusing scientific studies, decorating a home, building a thing, volunteering, yoga, drawing, meditating, learning a language, hiking, trying Ethiopian food, spending a weekend photographing nature . . .

I want to try writing a story this year.
. . . I don’t expect I’ll be good at it.
. . . It’s not what I want to do with my life.
. . . Nobody will read it.
. . . I’m not planning to get a skill or lesson from it.
. . . I might NEVER do it again.
I just want to DO it.

We have a tendency to NOT do beautiful/fantastic things that we’re not “good” at, OR that we don’t think we’ll GET “good” at, OR that we think we CAN’T get “good” at, OR that we just don’t CARE enough about to get “good” at.

But why not just do a thing for itself? For fun? So you can be with it? Maybe you’ll never do it again (that’s not a thing to think about).

WHAT IS A THING YOU’D REALLY LIKE TO JUST TRY OR EXPERIENCE ONCE? (If you’re already good at it, pick a different one. :P)

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” it? What if you just took it, lived it, embraced it, loved it, remembered it?

Seems worth it to me.

What will YOU experience this year without having to be/get “good” at it?

a few adventures I’m not technically “good at”

#justdoitanyway