My best friend JB can be a real tw*t in the morning. I used to take it personally, before I realized the pattern: she has low blood sugar in the morning, and her mood is negatively affected. Knowing that, I don't pay much attention to her before she eats. It works out better for everyone.
I've started to think about my brain a lot like I think of JB: basically awesome, but prone to f*ck with me under certain conditions. These conditions include any time I need to:
- stop fixating on the worst case scenario
- leave the house
- interact with real humans
- get something done
- take a break
- slow my roll
- make a plan
- check myself before I wreck myself
Your brain is sort of like your evil (or at least old-fashioned) twin, who's so fixated on KEEPING YOU ALIVE and whatever that they don't notice you're a neurotic ball of anxiety. Here are a few of the ways your brain's natural evolutionary wiring can be a pain in the tooter:
- Your brain is wired to remember the negative. The original purpose is to help you remember the things that might kill you, so you don't get dead. The practical result is this: out of that whole amazing party Dave threw you for your birthday, you only remember one snarky thing your ex-best friend said about the food. Super helpful, right? Upside? Now that you know this, you'll know your brain needs some help putting things into perspective. Every other thing about that party was cool. Everything is actually ok.
- Your brain essential function is to steer you away from pain and towards reward. Generally pretty cool. Except when your brain's idea of "reward" is "comfortable, familiar, known, safe," and you're trying to build new habits. This is why you're like, "I'm totally going to eat healthy and lose weight!" and your brain is like, "Ok, but no. I'm totally happy with the current plan. Your thing sounds hard, and I'm not a huge fan of, you know...effort." And the only way to change hardwiring is through attention to and repetition of the new action and its benefits. In other words, when your brain says, "Nope," and you follow up with, "Ok. But I'm going to anyway. You'll find the new habit comfy and safe soon enough. Hang in there."
The more you know about how your brain works, the more you can support its best functioning, and get a clearer perspective on your life. It will also help you become a lot more productive.
The same is true for personality quirks. The more you understand your own, the more you can design strategies that make the most of your natural personality. Shift your mindset from, "my quirk makes me bad at all these things," to "my quirk makes me better at these things." Some questions you can ask yourself include:
- When does my brain do its best work?
- When can I focus longest?
- When am I naturally creative?
- When am I better at talking to people than accomplishing tasks?
- What am I good at outside of work? (And can I make a job out of those things?)
- When do I feel smart?
- What feels easy to me?
- What actually motivates me? Getting a reward? Avoiding embarrassment? Everyone is different!
- When am I happiest?
- What helps me keep track of things? (Or how do I stay organized?)
Don't worry about how people think things work, or how it "should" be done. Seriously. If you've listened to my podcast you already know Rules Aren't Real. Find the way that works for you. Here are some scenarios demonstrating how you could turn a quirk to your advantage. Do they give you any good ideas?
Quirk: You really want to be better, but you're fundamentally lazy.
Approach: Don't overwhelm your brain. Start small by making little promises to yourself, and keeping them. You may not be making it to the gym, but you can do 5 minutes of exercise 4 times this week. Can't actually handle that whole presentation right now, but I can totally do one page. This builds personal credibility and makes you feel good. That momentum gives you a chance to go a little bigger next week, and again the week after. Not much feels better than self-respect.
Quirk: You want to get a promotion, but you have trouble keeping your mind focused. Social media is eating your life.
Approach: Figure out when your brain focuses best, and organize your day so that time is consistently dedicated to project work. Try new approaches, like the Pomodoro Method. Improve your network by focusing on a variety of people and their stories/goals/lives - parties might work better for you than dinners. Craft a pitch to convince your boss to move you into a position more oriented around people than computers.Quirk: You have a Type A personality, and you want to learn to meditate. You also can't stop thinking about everything you should be doing.
Approach: Create a goal - for example: to meditate 5 minutes more every night for 5 nights per week (5 mins, 10 mins, 15 mins, etc.). Create a worksheet where you can check off your meditation minutes earned for three weeks. Give your accountabilibuddy $40 that she will only give you back if you earn it by honestly filling in those worksheets. If you fail, she will spend it buying herself drinks when you go out for cocktails. She is allowed to gloat. Put your pride on the line and leverage your natural drive. Overachieve at meditating, get your mind right, celebrate with a friend. Bing, bang, boom.
Quirk: You're beyond awkward, and still you dream of true love.
Approach: Get passionate about something. Dork out. Go all in, then find people who want to talk about it with you. A keen interest and enthusiasm can overcome some regular ol' social anxiety. Not into anything specific? Aim for passionate curiosity. You get to avoid talking about yourself while flattering another with your genuine interest. You might even get accidentally intrigued by a response and forget that your curiosity is a strategy. The best relationships start as great conversations, after all.
Quirk: You hate people, and some reason work requires interacting.
Approach: Option 1 - break that rule. Find a way to work by yourself. Take classes online. Whatever it takes. Option 2 - instead of focusing on the person, focus on the desired outcome. What do you want the other person to do? How would they need to feel in order to do that? What do you need to do to foster that feeling? Do that. Get what you want. Problem solved. Continue in your rampant misanthropy.