What Swims Under the Surface

We know it’s there.  A quick change in the light like a cloud passing in front of the sun, a sense of something near us yet we can’t quite see where, maybe a twinge in the back of our mind, we hesitate to look straight in the eye.   How does it show up for you?

Becoming who we want to be and making the changes to get there requires that we interact with our desire from three perspectives: the now, the future version, and the what that swims under the surface.

Today’s state and the future state can be easy to engage with and mostly rely on our knowledge of self, a clarity of values and purpose, and a picture of what the desired outcome looks like.   Some can launch a successful change effort with only these two perspectives and push through to the new future state.  From now on I’ll do this…and presto, it’s done.

For others, the majority I’d propose, change doesn’t happen without understanding what’s under the surface.  Perhaps it’s an assumption or a limiting belief about our own capabilities. Maybe a worry about what other people might think, or say.   I’ll use fear of not being perfect, however substitute in what fits for you – worry, anxiety, unworthiness, imposter thoughts, uncertainty about getting it right, wavering self-esteem, lack of self-compassion, a voice that whispers ‘who do you think you are’ or beliefs about how we ‘should’ be, look, or act.

Engaging with this perspective is an important part of making change stick.  There is value and purpose in deconstructing ‘fear’ and taking a deeper look into exactly what happens differently from today if we were ‘perfect’?

Getting to these beliefs allows us to look at the role they play.   How they influence our decisions, undermine our success, and/or keep us from being our own ally.  Surfacing these beliefs gives us the option to redefine our perspective, even question if they are true for who we are today.

What swims under the surface is often connected to our limbic system, the part of our brain focused singularly on our survival.  It doesn’t “think”, “reflect”, or “negotiate”.  It isn’t invested in how we feel.  Instead, in literally an instant, it tags something as a potential threat and acts on that tag, even if the reaction is obsolete or illogical in the context of our life today.   Because the actions of our limbic system are pre-conscious, literally under the surface, we need to train ourselves to bring them into focus through tuning our self-awareness to spot the situations in which that fear or self-limiting belief is present.

A beginning strategy Dr. Dan Siegel recommends is “name it to tame it”.  This means to catch our reaction, the little whisper, the teeny inner tightening, and label it. For example, this is anxiety about if it will go well (translation: I want to do a good job).  In this act alone we interrupt the automatic limbic response and engage with our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) where we have conscious consideration.  In the PFC, we have choice.  We can decide what doing a good job really entails. We can choose to believe we can do a good job.   If we want to act in the same old way.  If evidence exists that contradicts the need for this anxiety.    It’s a fascinating dynamic of our humanness.   We can cite 1700 times that we have done it, and well, to our own expectation or better, and yet…that thing under the surface swims near and muddies the water.

It takes a little time to notice how often these perspectives are present. To really understand what happens in that moment when the power and reigns are given to this perspective.  Once we have surfaced and explored the issue, it really can’t stay the same, or go back under the surface.  We’ve altered its very existence.  We can now reframe those things that support your future success, that you know to be true for you vs. allow an obsolete brain function to hold all the power. With a new sense of familiarity, you can decide to replace that fear with a more accurate and positive reminder about who you are and what’s important in how you do it.

Practicing this new outlook and repeatedly engaging these new responses is what tells your brain to embed it in your unconscious and use it as a new operating system.  Though the brain is a creature of habit, it really is just as easy as notice, notice, notice, practice, practice, practice.  Well, and working with a good coach helps too!

This post was inspired by something literally swimming beneath the surface.  Click here to watch the 30 second video.


Picture credited to U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons

Please Login to Comment.

%d bloggers like this: