Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Hi, this is Open Letter 3 of 10. All 10 are available in Stack 1 for $20.
As we say on the podcast, please put yourself first. Take a break if you need it and come back later. Enjoy.
If you’re like me, you’re drawn to motivational personalities. People that don’t seem to slow down, have tons of energy and confidence that boils over. Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins are my typical go tos. What is it about these individuals that motivates us?
They might be the only thing you turn to that’s positive - they’re encouraging, they’re hopeful, they’re full of life and they’re… well… motivational. They’re either bringing you down the polyvagal ladder or up it, is how I see it.
I think they can bring someone down the polyvagal ladder in a safe way. This means someone who is in a more safe and social state can feed off of their high energy. That combination of being safe and social, plus energized might feel like play or healthy competition for someone moving down the ladder but securely in their safe and social system. Gary Vaynerchuk in particular describes running businesses in playful terms, like it’s a competition. He’s also dead serious about it - to him, it’s a competition. It’s life or death. But it’s also fun - he smiles, laughs, makes jokes about his business and his goals. He and Tony Robbins also bring people along with them, providing lots of free ideas and resources across various mediums. They’re competitive, driven to win, but also well in their safe and social state.
If you’re one of those people that are using these motivational speakers as fuel, awesome. Maximize that. But I know a lot of people that listen to them are coming from a more shut down place and are moving their way up the Polyvagal ladder. And I’m not referring to someone who’s in the one-dimensional, cartoon version of being in shutdown. Think of it more like a gradient or ratio. Or give it a percentage. Like, for the most part, you might be safe and social, say, 75%, but maybe 25% is in a shut down place.
So overall, you’re able to navigate life smoothly, but when it comes to trying new things, like starting a business… you shutdown. You get a pit in your stomach and the stories in your head change, matching your state. Allofasudden, you’re thinking - “But I’m not good enough” or “I’m going to fail” or “Well, those speakers have millions of followers and came from wealth, so they have it easy.” Thoughts of doubt and judgment cloud your head.
Those thoughts don’t cause you to go into a shut down place - they’re there because you’re already in a shut down place. You’re at least shut down enough to not move forward on your goals. You do want to achieve more, whatever that looks like for you - school, career advancement, solopreneur opportunity. There’s something more you want than what you have, a level of achievement or success or feeling competent. It doesn’t have to be financial or career oriented. Maybe it’s needing to leave a relationship, be a better partner or making a new friend.
So you genuinely want something more, but then don’t act on it. You become shut down, even though you genuinely want it and the motivation is there. At least, when you listen to those motivational speakers it is. Or maybe you feel motivated when life is at its worst, but don’t act on it. Or when you hear a friend talk about their happiness and a competitive spirit rises up in you, but you don’t act on it.
You shut down. You immobilize. When it comes to your goals, you immobilize.
I think these sources of motivation are important though. And we shouldn’t cut them off if we’re not in a place to make use of them. What’s important to do is to remove the judgment you have of yourself. Start by recognizing and respecting where you are at on your polyvagal ladder. I don’t care where someone else is at in relation to you. It really doesn’t matter where your sibling or spouse is at right now. They’re them and you’re you, so do you. Where are you at on your polyvagal ladder? If you’re in a more shut down place, it is what it is for now. It will get better and you have the power to do so. You do. I don’t doubt it for a second. Remember - Assume the best.
But we have to recognize it and respect it. Recognize it first - listen to your body sensations. Or even the lack of sensations. Right now you’re in a learning, evaluative place, so it might not be the best time. Throughout the day allow your inner curiosity to come out and check in with your body, learning about it all over again with each deep breath you take.
Do me a favor - notice your breathing. Don’t change it yet, don’t alter it. Just notice what it wants to do in this moment. I know, now that you’re paying attention to it, it’s changed. Regardless, be curious and notice how your body wants to breathe. Where is the breath going into? Into your belly or into your chest? Give it a descriptive word, like “shallow” or “pressured” or “easy” or “relaxed.”
Do it a few times.
Good. Now I’m going to ask you to extend your exhale. That means keep breathing in like normal, but then when you breathe out, let the air slowly, slowly come out.
You can do it. Change is possible. Meeting your goals is possible.
The things that motivate us can have a direct and positive influence on our nervous system, helping us climb the polyvagal ladder and giving us a sense of hope. But as you might already know - that sense of hope can go just as easily as it came. How often have you felt like you were ready to conquer the world but then felt defeated before you made your first move to meet your goal? It’s easy to be fired up when you listen to motivational speakers. We feed off of them. Finding strength through these characters. Getting that fire in our belly, feeling alive.
It’s the fire in our belly we need to focus on when we have it. Rather than using that sensation to scramble to do something, anything - slow down. Notice it and embrace it. That might be the sensation of your body coming out of a shut down or partial shut down state. Really notice it. Take deep breaths like I asked you to a minute ago, slow the exhale and allow your body to go through what it needs to.
You want more. You want to accomplish more, get more notoriety or money or success. Or accomplish a new challenge you set for yourself or improve a relationship, I don’t know. You genuinely want something, but your nervous system might not be there yet. There’s a disconnect between what you know you want and what state you’re in.
Now, you could just power through it and reach for the stars and see what happens. If that’s your style, have at it. But the all or nothing path isn’t for everyone. It’s filled with very uncomfortable vulnerability and exposure. The rush of sympathetic energy that comes along with powering through something can be too much. And since it’s too much, you may not know what to do with it. Your body will experience it as dangerous and put you right back down into the shutdown state.
And when you drop back down into the shut down state, those stories in your head come right along to match. “I’ll never meet my goals.” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not as good as [fill in the blank].” I need you to take those thoughts with a grain of salt. They are what they are, but they aren’t necessarily a reflection of reality. They’re a reflection of your autonomic nervous system state.
The reality is when you do successfully climb the ladder into a powerful fight state, those thoughts aren’t going to be an issue. If and when they do arrive, they’ll go just as quickly, or you’ll tap into that frustration and dismiss those thoughts, focusing on your goal. You’re going to believe in yourself, you’re going to be focused. It might be new and scary, but you’re going to enjoy the ride. It’s going to become more about the process of growth and not the judgment and fear of failure.
I don’t know what your path to getting unstuck is going to look like. Every one of us is different and no one has the single right answer for the next person. Seriously. So relying on someone else isn’t practical. I know that’s frustrating. But at the same time, it’s also beautiful. Your path to getting unstuck is going to be yours and yours alone. It won’t be someone else’s formula. It will be your experience, owned by you, initiated by you and will serve as your catapult into achieving the things that you want to achieve.
For now, keep doing your breathing. Just let your body do what it needs to do and be curious about it. Allow yourself to slow down the exhale and notice the relaxation that comes along with it. Notice the images that pop into your head without judgment.
If you’re existing in a shutdown, even a partial one, you’re going to need to be patient and kind with yourself. Allow your body to gently come out of its state. Your motivation will come. When you see it, hold it with more curiosity. Feed it, nurture it. Make some small steps toward your bigger goals, like making a plan or a budget. Something that moves you forward, but doesn’t feel like danger.
I’m speaking from first hand experience. I existed in a partial shut down state for quite a long time. The number I gave before is pretty accurate - 30% or so. How did I come up with that number? It just pops in my head. I have zero science for that, it just feels right. So I use that. The actual percentage is probably unimportant. It’s the experience that’s important.
And in all honesty, I’m still kinda there. Like I said in my interview with Deb Dana, my “home away from home,” as she puts it, is shutdown. I feel very comfortable in my isolated corner. And I mean that literally - my favorite part of my house is a chair in the corner of the office downstairs. When I sit there, it just… feels right. So I’m maybe 15-20% in shutdown still.
And I’m totally cool with that. Because that 80-85% of me that isnt… is doing some really good things. Like writing, reading, recording and publishing these Open Letters, doing a weekly podcast, writing a blog and is very active on social media. Things that used to motivate me, like Gary Vee or Tony Robbins, aren’t really necessary on that level anymore. That 80-85% is really doing the work it needs to, all on its own.
Instead of finding motivation through them and their energy level, the motivation to create is simply within me. And for the most part, my nervous system state is no longer an obstacle to the goals that I have for myself.
I know I’m not your therapist, but just like my clients I’ve worked with over the years, I know you will get there too. I know you will. I believe in you. I need you to do so for yourself as well. But until then, I’m going to go ahead and hold that for the both of us.
Thanks for reading. You can also listen to every Open Letter by buying Stack 1 for $20.