Episode 11: Breathing Into the Good

When things are "too good to be true" do you start looking for the other shoe to drop? I know I do. In this episode, I share an experience with self-sabotage that started with things feeling too good to be true. Counter-intuitively, feeling good can sometimes be uncomfortable and scary. How can we develop comfort with the good and awareness of the choices we have in response to the fear that things are too good to be true? 

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.

So, today I want to talk about self-sabotage, and learning to become comfortable in the discomfort of things being “too good to be true.”

Are you one of those people who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop? I know I am. When things start to feel “too good to be true,” I start to worry a little bit.

I remember once saying to my therapist that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop--things must have been feeling pretty good in that moment--and frankly, I had been living in a season of challenge after challenge after challenge after challenge. She looked at me, straight-faced and said, “Booth, the other shoe has dropped.” But, I still wasn’t sure I believed her.

I have talked before about how our mental conditioning--based in things we have actually experienced--can start to take a life of its own--as we play out stories in our heads that are based in history, not necessarily our current reality.

But what about the beliefs that are buried even deeper within somehow. The ones we are not even consciously aware of?

Something AMAZING happened to a friend of mine last week, and she has been experiencing a combination of overwhelming gratitude and absolute panic every day since then. The panic is rooted in a fundamental belief that she is not worthy of the good thing that happened, and that somehow, it is going to vanish into thin air.

One of the lessons that was really impactful for me in yoga teacher training was the idea of BOTH, AND. I had been of “one mind” for so long, only giving voice to the logic in my brain [well, at least until my body and brain revolted], that it was completely a new concept to me to think about the fact that there are “parts” of us who can be experiencing and feeling very different things, even competing emotions at the very same time.

As my clients start to make changes in their lives, their bodies and minds can sometimes be a little bit of a battlefield. PART of them knows that the new choice they are making is absolutely more consistent with the life they want and need to live. And even if they are not yet able to really give themselves permission to imagine or pursue the life that is truer to who they are, they may at least be able to know that they are at taking a step away from a life that no longer serves them or works for them. Even as they know this, another PART of them is screaming in fear . . . WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?! THIS IS NOT SAFE!! I KEEP YOU SAFE. DON’T DO THIS! THIS IS CRAZY!

Many of you have probably heard the parable about the two wolves, but I will repeat it here:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

So, my week started off great last week. On Monday, I had the opportunity to share with a Leadership Capstone class at the University of Tennessee about storytelling in leadership, and on Tuesday morning I led a group of female entrepreneurs through making Valentine’s for themselves as we talked about why self-love is important for entrepreneurs.

As I left the gym Tuesday morning, this thought went through my mind. . . “I feel so good, it’s weird.” On Wednesday, I had the same thought again. “I feel so good, it’s weird.” Now, I have finally and gratefully gotten to a place in my life when I feel well and I find moments of presence and joy in most days. But this was different. This was a little extra bounce in my step--feeling almost on top of the world--for no apparent reason. And, if I am being honest, I was hesitant to even say it out loud to anyone.

Do you have anyone you come into contact with who responds to you with absolute enthusiasm and authenticity with “I AM GREAT” whenever you ask them how they are? I haven’t come across many of these people in my life, but I do remember them. I am not one of those people. Even when things are good, I realize that I kind of “choke” on saying that out loud. Almost like saying it out loud will jinx it somehow.

So adding a little more context to my story about last week . . .I spent all of last year re-learning the practice of eating enough food and I have referenced this journey before. Because of this, I record my macros and am part of a coach-assisted nutrition program. My purpose in this is multi-fold--eat enough to fuel my body because I have learned how important that is, build strength and muscle, and over time lose some of the excess weight I put on when I wasn’t eating enough and going through a physiological break down.

AFTER spending a year learning to eat again, and AFTER being in a place where I felt like a calorie reduction would not put my mental health at risk, I spent much of January of this year eating significantly fewer macros as part of a Fat Loss phase. It took a lot of mental energy to do this . . . I am actually really good at not eating so that was not the hard part for me. It took me A LOT of mental energy to plan and prepare food in advance and to pack it up each day so that I wouldn’t default to buying food that would be much harder to fit into my macro count. Then, as part of the nutrition program, the restrictions were lifted a little bit--so last week--but they were not lifted all the way back to my food intake prior to the beginning of the Fat Loss Cycle.

On Thursday of last week, Valentine’s Day, I met a friend for coffee and breakfast to talk about some projects we are working on, and I had given myself permission to eat a donut because it is one of my most favorite splurges. After breakfast, I found myself working on-site somewhere and I had not packed any food for lunch. So, I am going to be there several more hours and I’m HUNGRY. The company has a snack shop but everything in it is pre-packaged. I bought Pringles, peanut butter crackers, and some nut clusters--one of those little protein snacks you see out everywhere these days.

Okay, but not ideal, but it could have been worse because the shop is full of candy and all sorts of things. Having already “blown” my macros in the fat category, I then met a client at a restaurant. Well, it was Valentine’s Day after all so I had one glass of Prosecco.

Then I went and taught a 3-hour class at the local entrepreneur center. Someone had left donuts (I have already mentioned, one of my very most favorite foods). At this point, my macros were blown and I frankly, just gave up. A donut it is!!

On Friday, I woke up with a self-disappointment hangover.

Now I completely understand that one day of poor food choices is not going to make or break my health goals.

When I shared what had happened with my coach, she did something that I often do with my own clients. She encouraged me to sit with that feeling of regret, to take a few minutes deep breathing into the area where I felt that feeling in my body, and to see if I could identify the fear or the toxic thought patterns beneath that feeling. Were any of those feelings or thought patterns familiar?

Yes, indeed. Self-sabotage had creeped into my psyche and I didn’t even realize it.

According to Psychology Today, behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in our life and interferes with long-standing goals. Among the most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination--I am a queen of procrastination--self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury.

So, fast forward to Saturday. I have a dear friend, Kate Ziegler, and we meet regularly to support each other as we develop business ideas, plans and programs. So, I was still processing my realization about the self-sabotage, and remembering other times that I have gotten in the way of my own goals.

(Get two people, who work with other people, to help them be their best selves and achieve their goals watch out, you never know what is going to happen.)

Something Kate said really stuck with me though. She talked about how things being “good” can be a very scary feeling, particularly when we are comfortable with discomfort or disappointment.

There is a famous quote from Marianne Williamson that says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I don’t know for sure whether this is true, because I know that my own fear of not being “good enough” or “worthy” ruled my life for many, many years. But it does call out the distinct possibility that we are terrified of success just as much as we are terrified of failure.

It turns out that our brains actually have a bias for preserving the status quo. We feel SAFE in the familiar, even if it isn’t good for us or is inconsistent with our vision for our lives or a goal we have set for ourselves.

Moving out of the status quo, even for changes or feelings that we would otherwise deem to be good, happy events, patterns, behaviors or activities is actually frightening for our brain.

It feels so scary in fact, we may be tempted to engage in self-sabotage to put ourselves back into more comfortable, familiar space.

Kate encouraged me to “breathe into the good.” By sitting with the good, and the discomfort and fear that can surround things being good, we can actually build our capacity and our comfort with being in that “good” space. We can actually feed that good wolf, instead of the scary, bad wolf. And if we can become more comfortable and familiar with positive feelings, we can also create the space make CHOICES about how we respond (instead of reverting to self-sabotaging behaviors), sometimes without even noticing it, as I did last week.

So I encourage you to take time and space. When something good happens, know that it is absolutely normal to both be excited and happy about the good, and to also be afraid at the same time. It’s not either, or. It’s both, and. The challenge and the opportunity is to decide which wolf are you going to feed in that moment. Are you going to feed the wolf of fear or are you going to feed the wolf of good? Sitting in that moment and recognizing that we have a choice is the first step of creating a new pathway and a new way of responding when things feel too good to be true.

You can learn more about my friend Kate Ziegler and her work at https://www.kateziegler.com/.

And for more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. you can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.

Thank you for listening. And if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I look forward to being back with you next time!