Learning to Lead Your Lizard Brain

Yesterday I attended the first session in a Master Mind Institute webinar series about neuroscience and life coaching. I learned fresh ways to consider and discuss emotions, and I’m excited to align my new learning with the lessons I gleaned from Susan David’s Emotional Agility.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped, almond-sized section of the brain that houses emotional experiences and responses. The word amygdala derives from Latin for almond, which I find fascinating. I imagine scientists of yore plotting various parts of the brain and their functions saying, “Yeah, we know this part of the brain deals with emotions, but instead of naming it for emotions, let’s name it something less intimidating. Almonds are not at all intimidating, and it looks like an almond, so….” So now we have an almond directing our emotions.

This emotional center is also known as the lizard brain (score another point for cool scientists and their nomenclature), which determines the fight-or-flight response.  In determining fight or flight, the lizard brain intertwines emotions and learning.

An example given in the webinar depicted a person walking around gathering plants and provisions and stumbling upon a lion. The lizard brain kicked in with the emotions of stress and fear, helping the person to decide whether to fight or flee. The person in the scenario chose to flee (which makes sense to me), but while fleeing, the person had to pay attention to where in the savanna she was, the time of day, directionality, topography, etc. In other words, she needed to learn how to avoid the lion while she fled from it.

Learning and emotions have never been separated, yet we often think of them as discrete. Because they share a neurological link, we can learn how to manage our emotions. First, we must accept that an almond-sized lizard directs synaptic emotional traffic in our brains.

You will have an emotional response when your status quo gets disrupted. You are hard-wired to do so. What you do with that emotional response, however, determines whether you grow and transform or become stagnant and stuck.

Dealing with your emotions doesn’t need to be scary. From now on, I will picture my emotions as a cute almond-sized axolotl (albeit an amphibian) on a mission to help me navigate my world.

What about you? The first step to transformation is acknowledging your emotions influence you. The next is to realize how they influence you.

To partner with someone who can help you figure out how to manage your emotions and transform your life, contact me. I would love to join you on your journey.

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Learning is Your Responsibility

Learning is your responsibility. 

I tell my kids that all the time. They know they must learn something every day (including days they don’t have school), whether or not someone has taught them anything. The death knell for them would be to come home from school and tell me they hadn’t learned anything. Sometimes I think they scramble for some shareable learning, just so they don’t have to deal with me. I’m fine with that – as long as they are learning.

During this COVID-19 pandemic crisis, with so much of society shut down, including schools, the mantra “Learning is your responsibility” resonates in our home. My kids realize that even though they cannot attend school, they still need to learn.

They also know learning doesn’t necessarily look like poring over textbooks and articles. It can, but it can also look like watching videos on how to make pasta then testing out skills in the kitchen or fine-tuning a fingering technique on a musical instrument.

My kids have only been out of school for a little over a week, and the first week of that was spring break, so we are still new at homeschooling, unschooling, or whatever kind of schooling we are calling this. Armed with the materials their teachers and district have prepared, the internet, and our own curiosity, my kids and I have embarked on a new education journey. We will have our triumphs and our missteps, but it’s my responsibility to keep us moving forward.

As a parent, I must set the tone of daily learning in our home, so not only do I tend to their learning, I stay cognizant of my own. My kids don’t always ask me what I learned, but sometimes they do, and woe to me if I can’t answer.

Lately, I’ve been learning about various online platforms. I learned about Eventbrite to create registration pages for upcoming LELA House events. I learned about Doodly to create a video about Octavia E. Butler (my all-time favorite author). I’m learning about Wordpress every day as I blog for LELA House and on my personal blog.

What about you? What are you learning?

Even if you’re no longer in school, I encourage you to make learning a daily activity. The article “8 Benefits of Lifelong Learning” urges readers to adopt the practice of intentional learning for the following reasons.

  1. Improving self confidence
  2. Fighting boredom
  3. Maintaining brain health
  4. Learning skills
  5. Modeling positive behavior
  6. Learning for the sake of enjoyment (of course!)
  7. Sleeping better
  8. Staying healthy

If you want to partner with someone as you figure out how to incorporate intentional learning into your already full life and work to improve your confidence and pursue your passions, please contact me. I would love to join you on your journey.

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Fascinating and Fruitful Literature

When I was about 8 years old and didn’t care a lick about God, I read the bible in my free time. I know that sounds bizarre, but hear me out. The bible is fascinating literature.

I loved reading the incredible stories – giants, floods, massacres, water beasts, talking animals, talking bushes, plagues, slavery, intrigue, animal sacrifices, human sacrifices, murder, sex, dancing, music, obelisks and furnaces (in one story!), pride, arrogance, patience, purity, vengeance, miracles. Everything I could ever want in a piece of literature I found in my Good News Bible. 

As I entered adolescence, I read my bible less and less, and I discarded it when I was 13. Thirteen was a rough year. I hated everything and everyone, especially myself and God. Some friends recognized the hurt in my heart and prayed for me, but I repaid them with derision. They persisted, however, and eventually cajoled me into attending a Power Team rally during the early part of 9th grade.

I accepted Jesus at that rally, and I picked up my bible when I got home that night.

I again became an avid bible reader, but instead of seeing bible stories as fascinating literature, the characters became my companions and their struggles my lessons.

I’m very different now than the 14-year-old girl who found friendship in the bible’s pages, but I still turn daily to the good news found in the bible.

I find God’s counsel and wisdom there. I also find the strength to apply myself to His teachings. I don’t do this perfectly. I fail more times than I like. But when I look back on the 9th grader with a wicked scowl and compare her to the woman I am today, I recognize I have had success amidst my failure.

I know that God grows me incrementally through the daily practice of reading His word. He uses His word as a tool to shape me into the person He designed me to be. It can be uncomfortable, sometimes desperately so, but I’m excited to see where He leads.

God has designed you, too, with a wonderful purpose, and applying yourself to studying His word will help you see it.

If you want to partner with someone as you dive deeper into the bible and God’s purpose for your life, please contact me for 1:1 coaching. I would love to join you on your journey.

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What Questions do You Have?

I have questions. About everything. Constantly.

In conversation, I ask myriad questions, not because I disbelieve, but because I’m intrigued.  Vast knowledge exists in the world, and I understand so little of it.  I crave to know more.

I love to learn.

Learning, however, is difficult and painful. It takes effort to approach, digest, understand, and use a new concept. This becomes especially difficult when we don’t care about the topic. Not caring happens everyday in schools, workplaces, and homes worldwide.

The concept of enforcement so characterizes learning that we often consider learning a “have to” and rarely a “want to.” We tell ourselves we aren’t in school, so we don’t have to learn.

I disagree.

Each of us has something we are learning.  Not only do we not find this thing odious, we may even find it useful or enjoyable. Maybe you’re learning to interpret your child’s cries. Maybe you’re learning to run a business. Maybe you’re learning to garden. Maybe you’re learning to lift weights.

You’re learning something, even if you don’t recognize what you’re doing as learning. Besides being difficult and painful, learning can also be fun and practical, especially when taken from “have to” to “want to.”

What are you learning right now? What do you want to learn?

Learning is a great way to grow, evolve, and transform. A good place to start is with what questions you have. What intrigues you? What have you always wanted to try? What makes you say, How does that work? If you can’t answer any of these questions, ask yourself why not. There is as much to learn about the world around you as there is to learn about the world within you.

If you want to partner with someone as you question, learn, grow, evolve, and transform, please contact me for 1:1 coaching. I would love to join you on your journey.

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Smiling to Transformation

My daughter’s resting face is … severe. Her friends kid with her about it, and people often tell her to smile more. But I tell her, “You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to, but when you do feel like smiling, we will all be in awe of your radiance.” When my girl smiles, it’s like a thousand suns have brought joy to the planet. Her smile may be infrequent, but its brilliance is rare. She can flash her fake smile at any moment, but her true, breath-taking smile only comes when she experiences genuine joy. Not only does her smile transform her, it transforms everyone in her presence.

Transformation. I have learned a few things about transformation from watching the evolution of my daughter’s smile.

Transformation is easier when you live with childlike wonder. When my daughter was little, nearly everything brought her joy, so she beamed frequently. As a child, she felt free to fully embrace and enjoy whatever she encountered. As she has become a teenager, cynicism and self-consciousness keep her from allowing herself to revel in her lived experiences. Similarly, transformation most readily occurs when we open ourselves up to it. As we age, however, we fill our minds with limiting beliefs that tell us we are too old or too tired or too fill-in-the-blank to become anything different than we already are. Consider what makes you truly smile. Who are you in the moment of that transformation? How can show up as that version of yourself more often?

Transformation happens when you are ready. Telling my daughter to smile will produce nothing genuine from her. At best, she will flash her fake smile and go about her business. At worst, dour lines will etch her face as she replaces her resting severity with annoyance and anger. Likewise, people transform on their own schedules; prompting from others will not produce transformation. You can prepare yourself for transformation by listening to God and living consistently as who He created you – the amazing individual with gifts and talents and passion and drive and uniqueness – to be. How are you preparing for your next transformation?

Transformation will run its course. And then run it again. And again. Once begun, the unquenchable brilliance of my daughter’s smile lasts until it stops. She occasionally tries to stop her smile, but she can’t. It dawdles in her eyes and cheeks, in the way she wrinkles her nose, in her breathless speech, in her body’s energy. Sometimes her smile lingers for hours; sometimes it only lasts for seconds. Sometimes we go long stretches of time without seeing her smile; sometimes we see multiple smiles in a day (although rare). Transformation also shows up as an irrepressible force, doing its work until complete. And it will come back to you again and again. What transformation are you looking for next?

Transformation changes people. My daughter’s smile, whether brief or extended, morphs her entire being, and we are all the better for it. Transformation, great or small, creates lasting change in you. People around you not only notice, but they also respond. Some people don’t recognize your transformation, but they recognize something different about you. Some people realize you’ve changed and may respond positively or negatively. Whatever the response, transformation in you precipitates change in others. How have you transformed and how has your transformation influenced others?

Transformation, like a smile, can happen frequently, can shine briefly or linger, and it can bring people closer to their true selves. Are you ready to transform?

Please comment below to share your transformations. And if you need some help navigating through a transformation, please contact me for 1:1 coaching. 

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Do You Know Your Passions?

The first time I felt my daughter move when I was pregnant with her seemed like someone sprinting in my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard the first time you recognize your baby moving feels like butterfly wings, or a faint rustle, or like leaves floating on the wind. Imagine my surprise when the first thing I felt seemed to be a track star.

Fastfoward 15 years, and my daughter still loves to run. When she was in elementary school, she ran for the sheer joy of it. She used to chase after cars, run through the backyard, and generally take off at racing speed whenever the whim struck her. Now in high school, she runs cross country and track.

If you were to ask her if she is passionate about running, she would probably respond in the negative. I would disagree. What I realize about her that she hasn’t discovered yet is that running is simply a part of her. She doesn’t feel passionate about it, because she can’t imagine life without it in some form.

My son, on the other hand, didn’t amaze me with his in utero running. His in utero dancing, however, happened so frequently that one day, late in pregnancy, I had to stop teaching a class so my students could gather close to watch my stomach gyrating.

Fastfoward 13 years, and my son does enjoy dancing, but he loves music. I don’t think he was so much dancing for the sake of dance, in the womb, as he was enjoying the music he created in his head so that it overtook his body. At an early age, kindergarten I think, he took drum lessons, and he engaged his whole body in his practice. And today, he plays multiple instruments; he loves anything you can beat or strum.

Our whole family talks about how passionate my son is about music, but he doesn’t recognize it. He avows that he is NOT passionate about music – says the boy who plays several instruments, takes music lessons, and plays in multiple bands and orchestras. Like his sister, I don’t think he sees his passion because it is too much a part of him to imagine existing without it.

Both of my kids have other things that they will tell you they are passionate about. My daughter would list art and film (broadly, as any sort of motion or still media) as some of her passions. My son would say sports and shoes (not just amassing them, but styles, brands, materials, icons, and customizing them).

My children, like most of us, recognize some of their passions but not others. When you have a passion, however, you follow it, whether intentionally or not, or even consciously or not.

What are your passions? Do you know? If you don’t, ask people who know you well, and I bet they will begin to regale you with things you never recognized in yourself. Even if you think you know all of your passions, I recommend talking with your tribe, anyway. I’m sure you’ll learn something new.

Please comment below to share your passions. And if you need some help discovering and developing your passions, please contact me for 1:1 coaching.

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Creative Juices

At the end of 2019, as I prayed about and planned for 2020, God told me to do something creative every day. I loved that idea and gladly accepted the challenge, even though 366 days did seem like a big commitment. Then He told me to blog about this challenge. That gave me a bit of pause, but I’ve been documenting my 2020 creativity journey on my blog.

Today is Day 50 of that challenge, and I have 5 things I’ve learned from daily expanding my creativity.

  1. I am far more disciplined than I imagined. And I’m now channeling that discipline to other areas of my life. I realized if I can allow myself to be creative for at least a few minutes every day, then I can allow myself to do something else for a few minutes every day. I’ve increased my writing output, cleaned up some corners of my house, read daily, and I’m building a business.
  2. I am far more productive than I’m accustomed to. Recognizing that I have to allot time for creativity has forced me to examine how I spend time generally. I spent far more time on facebook than I should, and since scaling back on facebook, I’ve discovered I have time for some activities I didn’t think I had time for (like my daily reading in #1).
  3. Unexpected opportunities have presented themselves. One of my earliest creative endeavors this year was to create art out of hole punches. I created a picture of waves. I didn’t expect anyone to notice or care about my hole punch waves, but just the opposite happened. New people began following my blog, and an artist colleague asked if I would demonstrate my technique at her studio.
  4. I am acquiring new skills. I’ve always loved to try new things, but having one random outing with your friends to try axe throwing isn’t the same thing as learning and applying new skills. Instead of facing things outside of my comfort zone with dread, I’m inviting in new experiences. I have learned some of the inner workings of WordPress, launched into Canva to design educational and promotional materials for my business, and implemented some marketing strategies.
  5. My creative energy and output has increased in several areas of my life. In meetings at work and church, I have made unusual connections and shared innovative ideas. I even choreographed a praise dance and co-wrote an Easter play.

I struggled to write this piece, because I feel like I’m bragging. I suppose, however, I am. I’m bragging on how God, the ultimate Creator, can use one small creative endeavor to stretch how I think about and interact with the world and its possibilities.

And I’m excited for more. If this is where I am on Day 50, where will I be on Day 366?

Let today be Day 1 for you. If you need help getting to Day 2 or beyond, please contact me for 1:1 coaching. Also, please comment below to share where cultivating your creativity is taking you.

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Home Work

I’ve always enjoyed working from home; it just took me a few decades to realize it.

When I was a kid, I took home seriously. It was my favorite place. I learned each nook and every cranny. I explored the yard. I created space for my dolls to luxuriate. My job was to learn and grow, and I did it at home.

While in college, I worked as an RA, which means I worked from home. I learned my building’s intricacies, and I got to interact with my residents. I loved it.

When I graduated, I worked as a hall director, which allowed me to work from home. I learned my building and campus, worked with my RAs and residents, and loved it.

Then I became a full-time graduate student. I went to school at a physical campus, but I did most of my work from home – reading, writing, grappling with difficult concepts. And while doing that, I made our apartment welcoming to family and friends.

Then one day I got the notion I needed to have a job outside of my house. I’ve had good jobs, that I was good at, doing good work. It all seemed so good that I ignored the feeling it might not be right.

Now, I’m not saying I never want to leave my house. Of course Ido! What I’m saying, however, is that I find satisfaction in work that allows me to use my actual home as my home base, work that allows me to tend both to it and my family and home.

I got caught in a trap that told me there was only one way to have a career and find success – by working for someone else outside of my home. That is a laudable career path, but it’s not the path God created me to follow.

Rather, God created me to connect deeply with others, to serve others, all from the space of my home. I felt that truth in my body when I would leave a job and have some time at home before beginning another job. I relaxed. I breathed. I thought deeply. I slept. I took care of my family and home.

My children saw glimpses of me. More often than I’m proud of, my children have either seen an exhausted, ill-tempered version of me; or they have not seen me, because I’ve retreated to my bedroom to decompress from the day.

But when I’m at home, my children can see who I am.

That, ultimately, became a driving force behind my return to working from home. I knew God didn’t give me children for me not to be myself with them. He has lessons for them to learn that can only come from me, and I need to be myself for that to happen.

It took me a long time to realize that.

The longer I worked outside of my home, the more I wanted to learn about how God had fearfully and wonderfully made me. I took spiritual gifts inventories. I took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I took StrengthsFinder. I learned a lot, and I got overwhelmed.

So I had to go back to where I knew I could find answers – daily devotion time with God. The more time I spent studying God’s word, the more He revealed to me about how He shaped me.

He showed me I’ve always loved doing many of the things I enjoy now; I’ve just enjoyed them in a variety of ways. I’ve always loved listening to people and helping them think through their processes; that’s why I’ve gravitated to the work I’ve done – residence halls, teaching, writing center work. I love learning and hunting for knowledge – that explains graduate school, my endless questions, and my love affair with Google. And I love to create – crafting, writing, music, dance.

None of those things I love demand I work from home, but my particular predilections indicate that I do so. I’m an introvert. I’ve always wanted to be a wife and mother. I find great satisfaction in cleaning (despite the current condition of my house). I enjoy hosting events from home.

I love being at home. That’s just how God made me.

But staying at home didn’t fit with the idealized concept of success I was living. I was married with kids, a church family, degrees, and a good academic job. My life was good, but something didn’t feel right.

Once I finally acknowledged I didn’t feel like I was living out God’s purpose for my life, despite how great my life looked, God began leading me to a life that better fit how He created me. I needed all the experiences I have had, including jobs that didn’t fit, so God could get me to where I sought His direction, rather than society’s confirmation.

Maybe you have felt like that, too. You don’t have to live as a watered-down version of who God created you to be. He wants more for you, and it’s ok for you to want that, too.

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