The Beach Story
You live in an underground city and you’ve heard about a beautiful beach on the surface.
There are thousands of elevators to take you there. They are slow and fit only one person but they are Express Elevators to where everyone wants to go.
You see thousands of people riding them and you hear enchanting stories from that paradise.
But, there’s a slight problem.
Some people are afraid of riding elevators under those conditions, so every time they want to get to the surface and take the elevator, they start hyperventilating, the heartbeat races, and the hands get sweaty. They start overthinking what would happen if the elevator breaks and they get stuck or what happens if the destination is not as good as people say. In short, their own fear sabotages the situation and in the middle of the ride, they press the panic button, which takes them back to the bottom immediately.
They perform the same scene over and over again for years, not being able to reach their desired destination.
“The Hulk” Alter Ego
Whenever Bruce Banner from Marvel Comics gets angry (…or like me: “hangry”), he turns into a massive green irrational muscle man. This is a XXI Century form of the English story of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
In both stories, there’s a catalyst that turns the character into a darker version of himself. Anger is the trigger in the case of Banner, and a potion in the case of Jekyll.
Those darker versions of ourselves do not necessarily reflect only mad or violent alter egos, they can also be subdued, despondent, over-jealous and needy versions.
As we mentioned in the story of the elevators above, some circumstances trigger reactions within ourselves that transform us into lesser versions of the rational capable humans that we can be. But, more on this in a second.
The “Emotional Hit & Run”
Through personal experience, it seems that something within me gets triggered when I start to create feelings for a romantic partner. When that blurry line gets crossed, a part of me that is unable to rationalize the situation gets awaken and it starts to hurt the other person with indifference.
I always loved traveling. The promise of discovering new lands and people from different walks of life to interact with gets me high on life. And a few years ago, I was lucky to adopt a Digital Nomad Lifestyle, which basically means traveling the world, working online and chilling. All at the same time.
So, why is this relevant?
A few days ago, after realizing that that dark version within me got triggered again (a.k.a: “Hulk Alter Ego: Activated!”), I decided to look in hindsight to find potential patterns that could show some clues of this behavior.
The research showed that in a period of 10 years, there were at least 8 situations that fit two categories:
1) I got into a passionate deep loving relationship and… I waited for her to move away and then I pretended nothing happened.
2) I got into a passionate deep loving relationship and… I moved away and then I pretended nothing happened.
I call this “Emotional Hit & Run”.
Yes, I know. “What a piece of $!@#%.”. This is exactly what I thought about the guy in the mirror when I realized the patterns. Hurting people emotionally is as bad (or worst) than physically.
Our Values vs Our Biology
The American Author T. Robbins talks about Moving-Towards Values and Moving-Away-From Values. The first ones refer to principles or emotions that a person is intensely attracted to (Unconditional Love, Adventure, Playfulness, Security, etc). The latter ones refer to emotions that we want to avoid like the plague (Any sort of Fear, Stagnation, Rejection, Anger, Loneliness, Failure, Humiliation, etc).
Having our own values clearly defined in each category is great. The problem arises when they conflict between each other. Let’s analyze a few silly examples:
“I aim to become physically fit (Moving-Towards: Health), but… I get frustrated after one month in the gym (Moving-Away-From: Frustration).”
“I love traveling (Moving-Towards: Adventure) but I hate to leave the comfort of my bed (Moving-Away-From: Discomfort).”
Specifically, let’s talk about the amygdala, a key player of our limbic system and responsible for detecting threat, which ultimately means helping to keep us alive.
This almond shape portion of our brain is the first checkpoint when any stimuli is received. Base on past experiences, the amygdala dictates what is a threat or not. So, let’s say you were bitten by a puppy when you were a kid. Most likely the puppy was being playful and wasn’t aware of his own canine strength, but your amygdala categorized that event as an attack perpetrated by a beast and stored it for future reference.
Years later, when you see a puppy 10 feet away approaching straight towards you, something inside urges you to cross the street to avoid it. When you’re asked why you cannot find a logical explanation for it.
Now, let’s get back to our Values talk. When there are two dichotomous values competing with each other, one from the Moving-Towards category and the other one from the Moving-Away-From categories, I can tell you from personal experience that chances are that the one that is more aligned with your biology (that means, the one that the amygdala advocates for) will tilt the balance in its favor.
So let’s say you desire Unconditional Love and at the same time, you fear to be vulnerable. Which one do you think will win the match?
Beginning to Re-Write our inner programming
It would be great to tell you that I deciphered how to re-write our mental and emotional behaviors to live a healthier life in mind and body, but honestly, I keep repeating unhealthy patterns over and over again.
Now, what I can really share with you are some techniques that I found along my journey. Probably they can help you take back the reins of your inner programming, too. So, here we go:
Journaling and Pattern Identification
Do you recall what you had for dinner on Tuesday three weeks ago? If your answer is “No” (like mine), then we need to start taking notes in a journal, but not any kind of journal, but something that author Jim Collins calls the Bug Book.
The Bug Book represents a form of journaling where we study ourselves as if we were bugs. Taking notes with dispassionate objectivity about the likes/dislikes of our bug.
Practicing it for just two weeks will reveal behavioral patterns that we may not have been aware of in the past.
Asking people for Raw/Honest Feedback
First and foremost, lots of crying (on our side) may happen when applying this approach, because truth hurts and that’s ok.
Now, think about a two or three people that you look up to. …Do you have them? Ok, now ask them to provide you raw/honest feedback about yourself in specific situations. The more unbiased and objective the feedback, the better. Most likely, you’ll discover other patterns that were out of your sight.
Controlled Fear Exposure
Seeking out adrenaline-rushing experiences like bungee jump, rollercoasters or skydiving place us in situations where, even though our biology experiences fear, our conscious mind knows that it’s all under control.
The question is, what if we could simulate situations where, under safe conditions, we could practice facing our fears?
Every human has specific fears that oppress and limit his/her personal growth. But, technology and mental strategies are handy weapons in the battle inside of our skulls.
A few examples to spark ideas on how to promote controlled fear exposure:
- Ovation or VirtualSpeech, Virtual Reality Training Apps for people with Glossophobia (fear of Public Speaking).
- Rejection Therapy, by Jia Jiang (TED Talk). In summary, for 100 straight days he put himself in situations where most probably he was going to receive some form of rejection. Basically, he deliberately sought out situations to face his fear of rejection. The outcome was something that no one ever imagined 🙂
Remember: Truths may hurt but facing fears empowers us.
This article presents topics from neuroscience, mental health, technology, consciousness, behavioral therapy and even Marvel Comics. None of that is relevant unless we become aware of our inner mental processes, how they limit or empower us and how they affect positively/negatively our environment.
Only through introspection, we can identify “The Beach”, what triggers “The Hulk” inside of us, and take ownership of the changes that we desire to implement.
So, what is it that awakens your Alter Ego and sabotages your own Dreams?
Keep on learning, and discovering yourself.
Got feedback? Please leave a comment below or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.