How to become a superhero underneath

Talked about just doing it and habits yesterday. Starting with small steps are effective “because they cannily sidestep that primitive part of your mind that senses change, or difficult task ahead, and so slams on the brakes and spins you toward some stress-relieving activity”, like watching tv. Just write down what you eat? The lizard brain laughs at this because it’s no threat. So you write down what you eat each day and without even noticing begin to eat slightly more healthy the next day and the next, until after a while you notice that eating six portions of veggies and fruit has become a habit. The principle behind this is apparently called kaizen, the Japanese word for progress through tiny but steady improvements. Justine Musk write more about this with regard to writing a novel: How to get out of your own way and quit procrastinating on your novel.

On the repetitive nature of building habits, I found Victoria Moran’s words (in Living a Charmed Life) motivational:

You can’t buy muscle. The only way to get it is to build it yourself.

By becoming as strong, flexible and fit as is possible for you, taking the whole package that is you (heredity, age, lifestyle up to now, physical limitations) into account, might have positive physical manifestations like trimming down and having muscles that make other people envious.

But the cherry on the cake is that when you KNOW you have “strength and endurance and flexibility beyond what’s expected, you may appear to be a mild-mannered hairdresser or physician or second-grade teacher, but there’s a superhero underneath.”

Maybe I’ve been under my son’s influence too long, but being a superhero underneath seems to resonate with me. Knowing something positive about yourself – holding yourself in high esteem – that’s where your power is.


(Lack of) Progress Report: my lizard brain to the rescue!

Our reptilian brain’s job (Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain in Linchpin) is to keep us safe. But since our whole environment has changed and this part of the brain has stayed the same, we now experience resistance to doing things that our reptilian brains experience as unsafe (such as being open to things). The lizard brain’s main function is to keep us alive; the other parts of our brain are there merely to make us happy, successful and connected to society. But as the lizard brain has the most important and most urgent of the job descriptions (you can’t be happy if you’re not alive), the lizard brain will always win – unless you train it with new habits and patterns.

I identified some of my lizard brain’s habits that need some retraining (if I ever want to be wearing that red robe at a graduation ceremony, that is):

Lizard brain habit 1: Don’t ship on time and Lizard brain habit 2: Procrastinate, you need to be perfect.
I have “missed” at least five opportunities to submit a research proposal. First because I just HAD to check one more time whether somebody else did not register something similar to what I was planning (surprise, surprise!). Second time, because I didn’t want to waste another year on something and then finding it’s been registered, I dragged my feet. Third time, because now nothing seemed to be original enough. Fourth time, because it’s not quite right, etc. etc.

Lizard brain habit 3: Do excessive networking with the goal of having everyone like you and support you.
I don’t HAVE to get to know students from other universities working in my field. I don’t need their approval or their help or suggestions, for that matter.

Lizard brain habit 4: Spend hours on obsessive data collection and Lizard brain habit 5: Start a never-ending search for the next big thing, abandoning yesterday’s thing as old.
My personal favourite. No, I can’t write a proposal yet. I just need a bit more information. Let me just quickly Google “translator’s fingerprint”. Then I read through each and every article and each and every reference in the article, highlight significant terms, Google them and start the cycle again. No, I can’t use what I researched yesterday, that’s old news, maybe something else is more recent. Reminds me of a quote by Peter Drucker:
There’s nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Lizard brain habit 6: Being snarky. [I had to look up “snarky”: it means being critical, cutting, testy, irritable, short, snide, rudely sarcastic or disrespectful, short-tempered.]
If you’ve been the recipient of me being snarky, I’m sorry. The worst of it, though, is being snarky to myself and my work.

Lizard brain habit 7: Excessively criticize the work of your peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for your work.
This come from being snarky, you see.

Lizard brain habit 8: Manufacture anxiety about people stealing your ideas.
Oh, I shouldn’t have used “translator’s fingerprint” above, now some other translation student is bound to highjack this idea! [This person will absolutely use exactly the same methodology and theoretical framework as me…]

So how to retrain the lizard brain? It is possible, but difficult. Nike apparently had the answer all along: Just do it!

This means pushing through the resistance: 1) set the target date (could be this month, could be next year, but set the date); 2) start now, and 3) deliver on time, no excuses.
[I’m scared of this one. Last year I reset my target date to this year. The January registration date is long gone. The 29th of March is a bit too close for comfort. The next dates are 14 June and 27 September. – Smaller steps, maybe?]

It also means acting in spite of negative feelings or thinking. By not giving in to the inner voice of anxiety, the more resilient you become. I’ll start with something unrelated to the proposal: Next time I will not give in to the habit of rechecking whether I locked my car. I’ll park my car, walk to the shop, and not turn back halfway to recheck whether I did, in fact, lock my car… 🙂 If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on having the same results you’ve always had.

It also means not being attached to the outcome. How to achieve this? By not having all your eggs in one basket. As my whole life is not dependent on this proposal, my reptilian brain would not, supposedly, experience it as life-threatening and would therefore stop trying to save my life and stop resisting so much… That’s the theory, anyway.