Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Hey beautiful soul,
When I was younger, Mami and Papi used to ship me to the Dominican Republic every single year, without fail. Less than a week after school was out for the summer, I was on a plane to my Abuelita's house en la Capital. In true child-of-divorce fashion, I split my time between my mother's family and my father's family. If you know anything about living in the Dominican Republic, then you understand why the hot water at my paternal grandmother's house always made staying there a little more enticing.
Aside from having hot water, I enjoyed my time at my grandmother's beautiful home because I learned how to play Casino with my great grandfather, Sandy. He was a simple man, unbothered by the ebb and flow of life. In contrast, you would find my grandmother's sister always on the go, with a notepad in hand, ready to take on the next task. Sandy was easy to please; as long as he had a cigarette, his playing cards, and a good rocking chair to sit on, he had all he needed to be happy.
To understand this story, you don't need to know much about Casino the card game, except that:
1. The Ace has the most value and flexibility of use.
2. I was forced to add numbers quickly in my head while math is not my strong suit.
As I grew better at Casino, I began to understand Sandy's poise and challenged myself to emulate it. I aspired to be as calculated as he was, dropping cards on the table only after knowing all possible subsequent moves, like chess. Even past all my observations, I could never quite master how to effectively use the Ace to my advantage. Anytime I dropped an Ace card in the hopes of building upon it later, for more points, I did so with some hesitation because I knew Sandy was always two steps ahead of me. Like clockwork he would swoop in, unannounced, and add my "strategically placed" Aces to his winning pile. I can't erase the smirk that plastered itself on his lips when it was his turn, and he dropped an Ace on the playing field knowing full well that I couldn't do anything to add it to my card pile.
As I was furiously calculating numbers in my head or trying to find the best strategy to beat my great grandfather at this forsaken game, he remained calmer than our dog "Negrito" after eating his chicken bone leftovers for lunch. While my heart fluttered with the possibility of losing my ace the minute I placed it on the playing field, his remained steady. Instead, I could see his eyes scanning the playing field for validation of his next move. In playing my hand, I calculated the ways in which Sandy could take my Ace, rather than highlighting the ways in which I could maximize the cards in front of me.
Have you ever noticed that when you're going to take a risk, or simply going to do something differently, that your mind automatically wants to show you the ways in which it can go wrong? The voice is quite subtle, sounds exactly like you, and if you're not aware it can consume you, making you question the audacity of having that thought in the first place.
Our brains are hard-wired to begin with the negative when balancing out the pros and cons of a situation. Psychology Today calls it, "negative bias,' and here's what they have to say about it:
"The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative... Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm's way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it."
See! Not only are you not alone, but we are all literally on the same negative bias train with you, thanks to our cave people brains. When I think about my time with Sandy, I can see how I was subconsciously avoiding danger and thus my actions were born out of fear instead of Sandy's unwavering confidence. Through the development of self-awareness, we can become more adept at noticing when our actions are born out of avoidance of danger, versus the pursuit of success.
This morning, after much contemplation and a back rub from my husband-to-be, I noticed that I was running from making a life-changing decision because I am afraid. I watched my 100 mph thoughts as they came up with all the ways my decision could go wrong. It makes sense; change usually follows a decision, which means that there is an element of the unknown at play. Unknown territory sends red flags to our fight or flight system, which sends our negative bias into overdrive.
To know me is to know that positive cognitive reframing is my jam, which in plain English means that I like to find the positive spin on everything. This "obstacles are opportunities" mindset allows me to push past negative bias into a more constructive conversation that illuminates my true fears. How you go about this conversation is completely up to you and your personal preference. While I enjoy writing and talking it out with my partner, you might benefit from drawing it out and listening to music. Which ever method you choose, the outcome is dependent on how honest you are with yourself. Identifying the underlying fear behind the things you "can't" do, will empower you to discover the ways in which you can manage your fears in a self-aware and productive way. Next time you catch yourself hesitating to make a decision that feels right, ask yourself:
1. Is there something I am avoiding?
2. What might I be afraid of as it relates to making this decision?
If our auto-pilot brains are attracted to the negative, what if we made the conscious decision to choose the opposite? Though Sandy has since passed (may he rest in peace), I wonder if my playing tactics would be different had I learned to pursue the win, rather than avoid Sandy's capturing of my Aces.
What if every single time we told ourselves we were incapable, unqualified, undeserving, and simply not ready, we combated our thoughts by reminding ourselves that we are capable, qualified, deserving, and ready to thrive. We do this with our children when they fall, or our friends when they are bummed out, why are we so resistant to do it for ourselves?
What if you disrupted the negative chatter in your psyche and took a chance on yourself?
What if you did the very thing your brain is telling you that you "can't" do?
You'd have one of two outcomes:
1. It can work because you took the chance.
2. It can not work because it simply wasn't the right time.
Either way, the power to choose is yours.
You are loved,
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