The advance-retreat phenomenon
Do you also experience this advance-retreat phenomenon when going after your big goals?
One day we’re overflowing with positivity, ready to show up, make ALL THE THINGS and take on the world. Well, maybe not the WHOLE world, but at least our micro portion of it.
We can do this. We believe it. We state our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and start creating ALL THE THINGS our BHAG needs to thrive.
We strut about with the confidence of a mediocre white man.
But then we start the retreat from our BHAG.
The excuses begin and the monkey chatter starts. I tell myself things like:
- I’m too busy with client work to take this on right now.
- It’s not the right time for me to invest in this BHAG.
- I’ll be better off financially if stick to my old path.
- Having to show up every day is exhausting.
- I’ve got nothing to say that hasn’t already been said before.
And we find ourselves retreating into our safe place. Safely invisible. Safely free from having to expose ourselves to failure or judgement.
It’s happened to me often enough to recognise that it’s a phase I go through when I take on bigger, hairier, more audacious goals—the giant BHAGs.
But simply recognising the advance-retreat cycle as part of a phase during business growth is not enough for me. I need to understand WHY it’s happening.
I know I’m not the only one who experiences the advance-retreat cycle. I’ve asked around and other creative business women I know experience this, too. You’ve probably experienced it too, right? Or you wouldn’t be reading this post or at least not this far.
Fed up with retreating once again recently from a BHAG, I took a look at the the whys behind that safe retreat.
Why do we retreat?
Known as our ‘lizard brain’ our limbic system is that primitive part of our brain in charge of our fight or flight responses. Sprinkle in a few more F-words—feeding, fear, and fornication (I could have used the other F-word!)—and that’s about as advanced as a reptile gets in its thinking.
Basically, our lizard brain is responsible for our survival. It responds to situations—emotionally and through out actions—automatically and without us even having to think about it.
So, when I start to feel like retreating into my cave, that’s my primitive brain telling me it wants to feel safe again. Great for saving us from getting hit by a bus. Not so great for wanting to put more of our work out into the world.
And boy, is my lizard brain loud. She worries way too much about what other people think.
When we are in a state of constant stress—which many of us are without realising it in our daily, modern lives—our poor old lizard brain thinks we’re in a constant struggle to survive.
No wonder that cave looks like a comforting blanket fort.
How can we beat the advance-retreat cycle?
Mindset and mindfulness
A large part of tackling the unhelpful habits of our lizard brain is to work on our mindset.
For me, it helps to know why I’m retreating from a BHAG. It helps when I better understand my brain’s anatomy and behaviour. When I retreat, I’m experiencing my brain’s automatic response to a situation it sees as counter to my survival.
Knowing that makes me feel better about myself.
Practicing mindfulness can help us keep ole Lizzie Brain in her place.
Separate lizard-brain-me from the real me
If I can separate the behaviour of my lizard brain’s automatic response to BHAGs from the real me who created the BHAG, I know I can continue to advance towards my goals.
If I find myself seeking the comfort of invisibility in my cave, I’ll acknowledge it’s my lizard brain trying to protect me.
Suz Chadwick explains this retreat-advance phenomenon so well in a 2-minute video How to beat your inner resistence. Check it out.
Turn fears into stories ready for a reality check
Dive right into the fear that’s making you retreat in whichever way works best for you. I find journalling is a great way to poke and prod the fear beast from all angles.
My fears are things like:
- No one wants to hear from me.
- Everything I want to say has been said before by someone else and better.
- I’ll be embarrassed by errors in my work.
- I’m not sure how I can handle the conflict opposing opinions well.
- People who are far more skilled than me will think I’m an amateur who should get back in her box.
Once I’ve nutted out my issues, I then have a list of stories that need a reality check.
Are any of these fears true? Let’s go through them.
No one wants to hear from me.
Not true. Hundreds of people have signed up for my newsletter. Lots of people engage on my social media posts. Next!
Everything I want to say has been said before by someone else and better.
Everything is a remix. Someone out there needs to hear it from me because I’ll say it in a way that resonates with them. Next!
I’ll be embarrassed by errors in my work.
Seriously? I’m scoffing at myself here. Not true. I’ll pay someone to edit and proofread my work. Simple. Next fallacy…
I’m not sure how I can handle the conflict opposing opinions well.
Yes you can. You’ve dealt with this before and you will again. What people think about me and my work has nothing to do with me. I’ll either resonate or not or rub them the wrong way.
“What other people think of you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.”Jen Sincero
People who are far more skilled than me will think I’m an amateur who should get back in her box.
People far more skilled and experienced than me are far too busy looking ahead to take notice of me.
It’s like when you have a non-existent audience and worry about publishing something when the reality is, no one is reading you anyway.
Over to you.
How do you manage your lizard brain’s response that sends you scampering back into the safety of that blanket fort in your cave?
Share your ideas in the comments.