Wait a minute…What did you just say?
Over the last several years, it has become more and more apparent to me that my internal narrator is not saying words that serve me. My brain is wired to protect me. I’ve read countless books and articles about this topic, and have come to understand that my brain’s job is to warn me about every potential scenario that might contribute to my demise. Yet that internal narrator, otherwise known as self-talk, is rarely actually protecting me from anything – and often, it keeps me from developing character and being my highest and best self. Let’s face it – if I had a friend who spoke to me the way my own brain speaks to me, I’d have to cut them loose.
For many years in my personal and professional relationships, I let that inner, emotionally charged voice tell me how to react in challenging situations, and the result was to hurt or offend others and disappoint myself. I would get hijacked by that outcome; letting someone swiftly know how they are wrong (or even better - to understand how I am right), does not a healthy boss/colleague, friend or family member make. My conditioned response is pretty uncomfortable to say out loud, yet I am assured with overwhelming support of both friends and professionals, this is not rare. We just don’t talk about it.
Additionally, as a woman in IT & cybersecurity for twenty-five years now, I have had many opportunities to respond to disheartening behavior in a male-dominated industry. So, I do need to talk about it.
Recently, I had an experience with a person who behaved badly (sharing something that was quite insensitive to me as a woman) in a meeting. What he said or didn’t say is not important; this is about how my brain and body received it, the warning signs I identified that helped me to measure my response, and the way that I eventually addressed it. As with everything in life, how I respond to what I feel is unfair is more important than the act itself. And I want to respond well in these situations – because at the end of the day, I can either make someone wrong and put them on the defensive, or I can shift perspective to a higher level and use these situations as a teaching and learning experience. I can’t be listening to the provocative, over reactive voice in my brain to achieve the latter results. What I can do is walk through my process to respond better each time.
The book Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer served as one of my favorite guides on this journey. In the first fifteen minutes, I found myself laughing out loud at the perfect examples of what the narrator in my head will say to me. His book guided me from awareness of this narrator phenomenon to identifying the energy and choice of participating in verbal judo vs. letting go, to experiencing consistent freedom from my mind controlling my behavior. There is such a thing as complete freedom from following one’s mind’s instructions, trust me – and although I believed this before, I was not ready or able to piece it together in a meaningful way until I found his book.
The most valuable thing I’ve learned is how significantly what I am thinking impacts my daily life experience.
In the heat of the moment, that means identifying my heart rate has increased, my throat tightened just a bit, and I am losing the ability to stay present. Those symptoms mean my Amygdala (a part of the brain that serves to protect me) is trying to take me hostage and respond to a threat. That’s step one – acknowledge that my brain is attempting to hijack me. The next thing I do is change the narrative to having empathy for myself: “Yes, this feels terrible, I am afraid/ fearful /offended and want to defend myself, but I am not threatened, and everything is fine.” And then (and here’s the hardest part) extend that same empathy to the person I am speaking to. Empathy for others may seem a strange part of my process, but in my experience, I am able to stay open when I do this, which is half the battle. I then remind myself that I do not need to respond to anything in that instant. There are no rule books out there that say when I feel emotional (threatened, dismissed, disrespected, etc), I must make that known right now. Nope. As a matter of fact, the longer I can pause and distance from the emotion of it, the clearer my life purpose and intention will be. And when I am responding in alignment with my purpose (I am here to be of service) and intention (this can be an opportunity to help him understand why his words are insensitive), I am able to be a better leader.
This is not about men and me, this is about me and me. And if I can help others in the process, it’s all good.
I have become a grateful student of emotional intelligence. To aid in my journey, I work with Antesa Jensen, an extraordinary coach, guide, and spiritual warrior. I read everything published by Steven Kotler, most recently The Art of Impossible. I listen to Tara Brach and Brené Brown’s podcasts. And I follow Robin Dreeke, whose book The Code of Trust is a wonderful roadmap to navigating life with wisdom (my definition of wisdom is intelligence plus love). There are many others who inspire me and help me grow – and the point is, I am not stopping on my quest to constantly improve my emotional reaction and narration of life. It’s a journey.
I am what I think. I am the words that I say to myself.
And, while always a work in progress, I finally like what I’m hearing.
Joy Beland, CISM SSAP | CMMC-AB Provisional Assessor and Provisional Instructor
Senior Cybersecurity Consultant
Edwards Performance Solutions
The opinions expressed in this article are entirely mine and do not reflect the opinions of my current or former employers.