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When your nervous system says NOPE to your plans
The nitty gritty on listening to your inner signals & honoring them
So, I was planning on sending a different newsletter today, about spirituality and healing and how those relate for me. And I will send it, soon.
But my nervous system woke up not ready to be that vulnerable today. And I want to talk about that: how I know, and how I’m approaching it.
Your body and brain sends you signals when you are outpacing your sense of safety.
We all have different signals that tell us when we are way too far out on a ledge, and we need to backtrack and find some safety and comfort.
We also all have our own patterns of how we ignore these signals, and make them wrong.
To figure these signals out takes some self-study and self-attunement.
I can identify three things that I noticed in the last 24 hours:
Last night, after writing and editing, I was having thoughts like, This is so cringe, why did I even write this? Who is going to benefit from this? I’ve realized that this voice in particular comes up to prevent me from revealing what I am not ready to reveal. I don’t have to take it literally and question my work, but I need to take it seriously, because it’s a warning sign.1
I had an optional group thing today on my calendar, which I normally look forward to, and today I didn’t want to go at all. I was categorically uninterested in interacting authentically with other people.
I was messing around with another project and I had the random thought, This is SO NICE, because it doesn’t require me to be vulnerable or interact with anyone AT ALL. I felt a palpable sense of relief that I could just futz around with code for hours, and not think about how I felt about anything.
These are like little warning bells.
I could ignore them. But, when you ignore your body’s warning signals, they get louder.
Resistance, writer’s block, burnout, shutdown, overwhelm, depression, exhaustion…they are all preceded by many more subtle signals, that were ignored.
So, the first reason I’m not gonna override my signals today is cause burnout has kicked my ass. I’m still recovering, and I don’t want anything like that to ever happen to me again.
Going faster than my nervous system is capable of right now is a choice I can make, but it is a choice that has consequences. And I’m not willing to pay the consequences of ignoring these signals anymore. I’m too old, and it’s too hard to scrape myself off the floor. I’d rather take lots of small breaks that feel nourishing, than one big break that feels like shit.
That’s the stick. Here is the carrot:
I want a relationship with my motivation and creativity that is based on trust, not fear.
I am experiencing lately that when I trust my motivation is a natural part of me, it changes my relationship to it, in the most beautiful way.
The idea that we have to overcome resistance is predicated on the idea that we are fundamentally lazy, and we need to punish ourselves to produce work.
Ew, what a dreadful idea. I reject this idea of who I am.
I have a better idea: I actually have oodles of motivation to do many, many things, and yet also, I am a human, who only operates well under certain conditions, and I have certain needs, and those are dynamic and changing, and I will be optimally creative when I optimize my circumstances, including how I treat myself.
Some of these conditions are outside my control. Maybe most of them. But what is inside my control is respecting and supporting and loving my natural self, which includes honoring my pace, my readiness, my limits, my capacity, my needs, etc. And that is an ongoing, daily practice.
What I’m teaching-myself-by-practicing-here-and-now is that creative consistency is not some magic fairy land you arrive at when you have conquered your humanity. It’s something you arrive at when you develop the skill of responding to your humanity on a daily basis, so you body doesn’t need to burn it all down to get you to pay attention.
So, today I’m choosing to pay attention, and give my nervous system a break, to let it catch up with this whole let’s be vulnerable on the internet again idea. I’m gonna not pretend that it’s easy for me. I’m gonna take care of myself.
And wherever you are and whatever you are up to today, I’m here encouraging you to take care of yourself, too. 💚
It took a lot of work, but my inner critic and I are friends now. I used to have the kind of vicious inner critic that is common to CPTSD. I’ve worked with it a lot over the years, mostly using NVC to identify the feelings and needs it represents. So I just want to acknowledge that you may be in a very different place with your inner critic. Pete Walker talks about how to shrink the inner critic in his book Complex PTSD - here is a PDF that covers his techniques. I also have a page about NVC, which is what I used to translate my inner jackals.