The credit for this one goes to Lucy Kaplan, the badass octogenarian teacher/coach and faculty member at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI) who is a dynamic blend of humor, compassion, honesty, and rigor. She artfully packaged one of the (let-me-count-the) ways our brains have of holding us back from doing what we really want to do in an easy-to-understand acronym that helps us resist our resistance.

Who are those GADs?

They’re the voices in our heads and hidden protectors that work to keep us safe, out of harm’s way. The problem is that these safety features were designed to keep us from being eaten by saber tooth tigers, and haven’t evolved to accurately diagnose the signals in our modern world, so they’re not very good at knowing when we’re really threatened. They can keep us from doing or being what we really desire, often take up more than their fair share of our emotional real estate, and get us stuck.

Gremlins are benign. They’re quite rational — they just really hate change. Let’s say you go to the same breakfast place every Saturday morning. One Saturday, a friend wants you to meet her at a different place. Those gremlins get all riled up and yell, “Nooooooo! We go to the same place every Saturday, they know our name, we feel safe and comfy there. Make that friend come here!”

ANTs are those pesky, loud, never ending Automatic Negative Thoughts — “I’m not smart enough, good enough, tall enough, funny enough, fill-in-the blank enough.” They’re constantly chattering in the background of our lives.

Dragons are the most subtle. They hide the treasure — what we really want or feel. Maybe they’re feelings you learned to push away a long time ago because they weren’t acceptable, or a persona you took on to navigate the world that isn’t true to the real you inside. Just when you might be getting close to the root of something important, the dragon steps in and you might hear yourself saying, “I’m confused, I don’t know, don’t go there!” Are you hiding the real you from yourself?

What to do about those GADs?

I get it, you say! I see and hear how these pesky voices and protectors from within get in the way. Uh, what do I do about it? Unstucking oneself is not easily done. In the BECI program, Lucy gave us a lunch break to write a one act play in which we had to perform all three of these GADs in living color. They cajoled, seduced, made up crises, fought with each other, persuaded, and justified, until we stood up and overcame those gremlins, quieted those ANTS, and slew those dragons. For an introvert, acting this out in front of my classmates was pure torture, and you know what I’m going to say: I was all the better for it.

The truth is, though, this is an ongoing battle for many of us. First we have to notice our GADs, then take them on as they appear. Noticing is much of the work, and recognizing those dragons can be darned hard! Be curious. Pay attention to what your body is telling you — it gives us important clues: What is that feeling in my gut right now? Or that sensation in my neck? Why am I suddenly curled up in a fetal position? What am I resisting? Labeling is key: if you name it, you can tame it, say the experts. This takes lots of awareness and trying stuff and experimenting to find out what works for you. Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff has some useful tools. A sense of humor helps a lot, and with almost everything in our lives, so does meditation.

We can open up a universe of possibility when we knock down these well-intended GADs. We can preserve the part of them that keeps us safe, and step in to redirect when they’ve misjudged a threat, causing us to get stuck.

Sunday Morning Reflection

Name your GADs! Write your one-act play and find your stage. Unstuck yourself!
(Tigers and dragons and ANTs, oh my!)

Sunday Morning: 111