Seth Godin, marketing guru, author of Lynchpin, wrote a blog entitled “I Think Laziness Has Changed.” Seth sees that, where once physical labor was demanded from us, now our work demands that we do the emotional labor needed to overcome our fears and resistances so that we can be productive and creative.
“You’re hiding out,” Godin says, “because you’re afraid of expending emotional labor. This is great news, because it’s much easier to become brave about extending yourself than it is to become strong enough to haul an 80-pound canoe”
Sorry, but I disagree. For many people, it’s much easier to become physically strong than it is to become emotionally strong. That’s why physical labor is easy to find, and therefore cheap, in comparison to emotional labor and the emotional intelligence needed to do work that is vital and alive in a rapidly changing world.
Look at how challenging many of us find it to change ourselves, to overcome our fears or the story we carry. Yet life may be nothing more than a fantastic opportunity to work through these resistances so we can express more fully who we are.
I want to offer something for overcoming fear that is usually not discussed, and is a big part of my coaching practice.
We often deal with difficult emotions only from the neck up, and that’s a problem.
Oftentimes, even very insightful advice boils down to “just do it.”
Just make that phone call.
Just put your butt in the seat and write that book.
Just get that product to market.
It’s amazing advice and very powerful, but what about all the times you just can’t seem to get yourself to do it? What about all the times you want to go east and you just can’t seem to stop yourself from going west?
In spite of your best efforts, you go right ahead and do what you don’t want to do, and you feel like a failure for doing so.
If you really want to go east, then why can’t you resist going west?
It’s because you’re ignoring a big part of you. You’re ignoring your dragon, and the dragon doesn’t like to be ignored.
We often think we’re nothing but our thoughts, nothing but our frontal lobes and neocortex where we think and plan all day long. But there’s a dragon living in the lower regions of our brain running much of the show. It’s old, similar to the brain of a lizard, and based in primal emotions like fear and anger, but when you wrestle with lizard brain it feels like you’re wrestling with a damn powerful, fire-breathing dragon, and not a four-inch-long chameleon.
There are two very powerful tools to overcome the resistance of the dragon. One is to have an inspiring vision that calls you forward, whether it’s to write that book, fix that relationship, make that move to a new city, or to take that nonprofit to the next level—a vision that gives you the energy, the commitment, and the power to do what you need to do.
The second tool is to stop fighting the dragon or ignoring it. You need to become present and aware of what your body is doing as you begin the work of dealing with difficult feelings or emotions. That change in your breathing is the dragon starting to awaken, so is that constriction in your chest or that tightening in your throat or your butt.
Maybe your feet are tapping, or your palms are warm, or you have crossed your arms. Whatever it is, it is your limbic brain—the dragon—responding, usually with alarm, to the threats of the new project, the new relationship, or the new possibility.
Pay close attention to the body. Don’t get lost in your head, in your words, in your arguments, or in your attempts to cover up your fear or explain it away. Just stay put and get a good look at the dragon.
And keep breathing. Keep gazing around the room. If the physical distress gets too powerful, remember a time and a place where you felt more fully alive. Maybe it was your child’s first birthday or hiking down the Grand Canyon. You’re not looking away from whatever difficult emotion is coming up, but you’re bringing in resources to support you while you get a better look at the snorting son-of-a-dragon who you could swear is breathing fire down your neck.
You are doing the emotional labor necessary to tame your dragon. Dealing with fear and resistance requires the will of “just do it.” But it also requires imagination and the ability to stay with the feelings in the body, which is where the emotions come from.
As you practice this, you will observe that your body has multiple intelligences and ways to find balance and healing. Your body and your dragon will begin to settle down. This is an art and a skill, like riding a bike. You get better with practice. What else is new?
So, go do your work. Begin that project, but do it with all the resources available to you. Do it with your emotional brain, your dragon brain, working with you rather than against you. Get the dragon to stop terrorizing you not by slaying it, but by befriending it. You do that by paying your emotional brain its due. And what your emotional brain wants is to know what’s going on and that things are safe. The way you let dragon brain know things are safe is by letting it look around and giving it the time to really see, feel, and experience without interference from either commands or negative thinking. “Just do it!” is not always a helpful way to speak to a dragon.
Let it feel and experience in and through the body.
Is there tightness? What does that tightness feel like?
Is it hot, cold, electric, tingly, watery, or dizzying?
Where do you feel it? How do you feel it?
Take some time to do this. If you’re like most of us, you will be a bit handicapped. You will find yourself thinking and interpreting. But keep at it. If it gets to be too much, take deeper breaths, bring up comforting images and memories, and slow it way down so you can process what’s going on. This is not about thinking, but about simply letting the body feel what it needs to feel. That will give the dragon what it needs to settle down. Do less rather than more. Come back again later, or tomorrow, but don’t give up.
In this way you will help the dragon to feel safe and to lie down. Then you will have more freedom to do what you want to do. You will, over time, increase your ability to “just do it.” And your life will be richer and more fulfilling.
Now go do your work, and be prepared. If you start to push at your borders, trying to expand your limits or comfort zone, the dragon will awaken. That’s its job. You will never slay the dragon, nor should you. The dragon is part of you, and so is its fire. It has warned you of danger. It has kept you alive. It remembers to keep you breathing when you forget. It’s part of your many intelligences. It just doesn’t live upstairs in the house of words and thoughts, but it lives in the body of feelings, images, and stories.
The dragon is an extraordinary ally, so why would you venture into strange territory alone when you can ride a dragon into victory?
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (805) 680-5572.