Break through the deadlock to find your way forward

Brett Frank is a licensed psychotherapist, trauma specialist, educator, and former addict. She is an award-winning assistant professor for her time teaching at the University of Kansas. She also speaks and writes extensively about achieving and maintaining emotional wellness.

Below, Brett shares 5 key insights from her new book, Stuck science: Breaking through inertia to find your way forward. Listen to the audio version – read by Brett herself – on the Next Big Idea app.

1. We need to worry.

People often enter treatment with severe symptoms and believe that all they need to do is “get rid” of their anxiety. While anxiety can be debilitating and, in some cases, must be medically managed before any other interventions are applied, trying to get rid of anxiety is as futile as trying to disable a smoke alarm in your home.

When the smoke alarm begins to squeak, the noise is inconvenient and uncomfortable, but the alarm does not attack the house; Noise is a sign that something needs attention. Likewise, anxiety is not a character defect or an illness — it’s the “check engine” light on our brain’s dashboard. If we disable or ignore our anxiety indicators, we won’t know where the problem is. Anxiety is a roadmap that directs us toward a real or imagined threat, pain from the past, or something in the present that needs our attention. Anxiety can lead us out of our mess. In short, we need it.

2. Motivation is not an issue of mind.

We love working with the logical and analytical thinking part of our brain, and as a result, we love to think our way through problems and make strategies and plans of action. Thoughts help shape behavior and thus reality; However, you simply cannot think of your way out of “stuck”. Motivation is largely a physiological issue, not a mental issue.

There are mechanisms within our nervous system responsible for the physiology of survival, known as “fight, flight, or freeze” responses. If you’re closed (frozen), or if you’re stuck in a fight or flight (sympathetic reaction, like panic or racing thoughts), you won’t be able to think your way out because this is a physiological condition. Just as you can’t think your way out of indigestion or think about driving a car if it doesn’t have gas, you can’t think of happy thoughts and anticipate getting down to business.

“Anxiety isn’t a character defect or an illness – it’s the ‘check engine’ light on our brain’s dashboard.”

Turning off the amygdala response is key to stimulation. The amygdala is the panic button in our brain that sounds the alarm that something is wrong. Even if you don’t do it logically Think You have to be stuck in the brain to survive, this is an automatic process. Our brains are designed to identify danger and seek safety. This means that if your brain, either consciously or subconsciously, thinks you are in danger, it will create a survival response. If your brain perceives a threat, it will put your system into a state of hypervigilance or shutdown, we call that procrastination and undermotivation.

There is no such thing as a true “lack of motivation”. Either our brains are motivated to mobilize in the direction we choose, or to mobilize towards safety.

3. Mental health is a physical process.

Language is important. Mental health has nothing to do with our minds. A nervous system caught in a fight-or-flight or frozen state will display the exact same symptoms as clinical depression or illness anxiety. But the response of the nervous system not disease or disorder.

Our survival physiology responses are often misdiagnosed and misclassified as mental illnesses. The pain from our symptoms is real, and it’s important to note that depression can be life-threatening and incredibly debilitating, but it’s equally important to know that many of the things we call “diseases” our brains often do are exactly what the brain is designed to do. with it.

There is no shame in having an illness or disease – it is part of the human experience. But it’s important to note that 40 million Americans are diagnosed with mental illness each year, when the disease is supposed to be the outside phenomenon. It should not be described as the norm. Most therapists are not trained in mental health physiology nor know to evaluate these body responses. If we shift our language from mental health discussed as a mental process, to mental health as a physical process, then we have a greater chance of finding our way to tools that can spoil ourselves.

“Mental health” has little to do with our minds. “

A brain stuck in fight, flight, or freezing isn’t sick or agitated—it’s incompatible with safety and danger in the environment. Symptoms rarely appear on a brain that feels safe. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need treatment or drugs, but it does mean that the framework we’ve used historically to display our most troubling feelings and thoughts needs to be changed to a more biologically accurate model, also as an enabler.

4. There is no such thing as “self-sabotage”.

We all make choices that interrupt our lives, but the phrase “self-sabotage” is a misnomer because actions that spoil our plans, destroy our relationships, and wipe out our sanity aren’t meant to sabotage. Rather, these self-sabotaging behaviors are a suboptimal effort to protect oneself.

Even if, logically, you don’t think you “need” protection, there are unconscious emotions and automatic physiological processes at play. Often what we call “self-sabotage” happens because if you achieve a goal, things will need to change. Every change – even positive change – involves some degree of loss and grief. We are skilled at repetition, looking for patterns, and forming habits, so any and all changes to our current state can trigger a threat response by our amygdala.

Knowing that self-sabotage is a suboptimal effort to protect oneself does not excuse any suboptimal behavior, but it does explain those often bewildering behaviors—and understanding the behavior is required to modify behavior. Achieving any goal requires emotional risk, new boundaries in relationships, financial resources, and other risks.

“We are experienced at repetition, looking for patterns, and forming habits, so any and all changes to the status quo can trigger a threat response by our amygdala.”

5. All behavior is functional.

Our habits and impulses interfere with our ability to live our best and most productive lives. Not all behavior is acceptable, but all behavior is functional – otherwise the behavior would not exist. For example, the function of suboptimal behavior could be image preservation: if you don’t make changes, you don’t have to change the status quo. Any change brings some measure of sadness, but since modern Westerners are in an environment of the “just think positive, live your best” kind of idea, the idea that we need to name the things we fear most and integrate parts of ourselves we don’t like, as precursors to change, is really hard sell it.

Addiction is an example of highly toxic behavior, but it is nonetheless functional. If I am addicted to a substance, behavior, person, or way of thinking, I don’t have to deal with what awaits me on the other side. While the addiction disease model is still prevalent, there is an equal amount of research indicating that addiction exists. not Always a disease. As a former addict and as a therapist who worked in inpatient rehab, I have yet to meet anyone who struggles with addiction who also doesn’t have an underlying pain point that the addiction is trying to calm. When you scroll down to even the most extreme behaviors, you will always find either untreated trauma or unresolved grief.

While ‘explain’ is not synonymous with ‘excuse’, it is very important to know that focusing on behavior modification at the expense of understanding behavior will always leave us idle. Failure to define the function of the behavior forces us to repeat this behavior. In fact, it takes more work Avoids work from actually Act the work. You don’t need to make giant behavioral shifts to get stuck—breakups require very small shifts, and those shifts add up quickly. Before you know it, you’re in motion. Once you get started, all this wonderful cognitive work suddenly becomes powerful.

To listen to the audio version read by author Brett Frank, download the Next Big Idea app today:

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