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Let’s talk Bunker Mode.

inauguration painting by Kristen Kalp

Now that the threat of Trumpism has been beaten back enough for science to once again matter in these United States, I have enough energy to talk to you about 2021! Hello, hi, we did it! We made it!

In some ways, it feels like the year of 2021 didn’t start until January 20th — when we saw a new President safely and peacefully installed in the United States government.

I wept when Kamala Harris was sworn in.
I wept when Joe Biden was sworn in.
I wept for the duration of Amanda Gorman’s poem. Her words are a living reminder that poetry can help us reach for and name our deepest struggles, as well as frame hope in such a way that we can feel it returning to us after being hidden for a loooooong time.

Today, I want to share a metaphor that helped me to weather the past year. A metaphor is a small thing — just a string of words — but also an enormous thing.

Naming what we’re feeling has tremendous power.
Feeling less alone has tremendous power.
Being able to articulate an experience has tremendous power.

So, let’s get into some tremendous power.

Psst! This is an episode of my podcast, That’s What She Said! You can find all 260+ episodes here.

Let’s talk Bunker Mode.

I first heard this term at a workshop with Rob Bell and Liz Gilbert. An attendee said that she wrote a script for Hollywood and sold the rights to it! A film was made! The thrill of having her work made into a feature length film was amazing! And then, the reviews. The reviews were so bad — so mocking, so derisive, and so lacking in positive critique — that this woman stopped writing. For years. She wanted to know how to start writing again. (If I read the room correctly, she also wanted to know if she could start writing again.)

That’s when Rob introduced this concept.

Bunker mode is exactly as it sounds: some vital and essential part of you goes into a bunker of the soul and refuses to come out.

Circa 2021, most people I see are in some form of bunker mode.

You’re wildly disoriented (WHUT THE FUCK IS GOING ON???? times ALL THE THINGS).
You’re exhausted from trying to live up to new challenges.
You cringe at the word ‘unprecedented.’
You’re trying to adapt to new policies and norms.
At a fundamental level, you’re scared. Your sense of security in the world has been threatened.

You retreat internally to that place where no other human can reach you, then hunker down and hang out, hoping no one will notice that you’re gone.

In bunker mode, we’re surviving. Not dreaming, not planning, not processing our experiences, not dealing with what is happening at any level.

Just. Surviving.

The trouble is, our society doesn’t allow for bunker mode. We point to those we perceive to be less fortunate and say THOSE people are allowed to be upset. THOSE people are allowed to be freaking out. THOSE people are given permission to shut down.

But you? NO BUNKER MODE FOR YOU.

We expect ourselves to Just Keep Swimming — no matter what.

So what if we’re facing a global pandemic and economic collapse, heightened calls for a white supremacist uprising, an ACTUAL FUCKING INSURRECTION, and a few million lives lost around the planet?

‘Just BE NORMAL,’ our asshole brain says.

‘Stop having FEELINGS. DEAL WITH IT,’ our asshole brain chides.

So we push it down. We do our best to stop having feelings. We wring our hands in private. We want to talk about ANYTHING but reality. We eat to stop having feelings. We refresh the news with increasing regularity. We doomscroll. (Or at least, I did!)

Objectively speaking, any one of the events of the past year is enough to trigger bunker mode. We go down deep into ourselves and/or our screens, and we don’t come out until the threat is perceived to be over.

Personally, bunker mode was cemented when I saw a police drone the size of my VW Beetle hovering above the house in Portland last June. I shook for days. D-A-Y-S. I couldn’t concentrate. I had obsessive thoughts about living in a dystopian novel. I panicked. I cried. I withdrew and did breathwork as much as possible. I started doing yoga to be able to cope with being alive. Which brings me to the big question…

Are you in bunker mode at the moment?

If yes, you’re in good company. Most every one of my clients is dealing with some form of bunker mode or another! Some industries no longer exist. Other industries are on their knees, barely surviving. Not one client has reported that homeschooling children in addition to owning a business is The Most Fun Ever.

Bunker. Mode. Is. Normal.

Since part of my job is to share my deeply personal experiences and shine a light on the ‘hey this is a universal human experience!’ parts of my life, please allow me to share what I currently know about this phenomenon.

When you find yourself in bunker mode, LOWER YOUR STANDARDS.

Maybe in 2019 you could bang out some portion of your work in 23 minutes, but now that same task takes more like an hour and a half. That’s normal. That’s everyone. Most people I talk to say they feel like they worked twice as hard to get half as much done in 2020.

It’s hard to concentrate.
It’s hard to plan for the future.
It’s hard to know what’s going to happen, at any level, in the coming year.

Instead of trying to hustle like it’s 2019, beating yourself up for being unable to weather a global catastrophe unscathed…what if you acknowledge that 2021 is different?

What if you don’t hold yourself to unattainable standards of perfection — just for this year?

What if you don’t decide to quintuple your income by working 3x harder — just for this year?

What if you let yourself rest and take breaks instead of doubling down on time at your desk — just for this year?

Screaming TRY HARDER at yourself in bunker mode doesn’t help.

I can confirm for you that screaming TRY HARDER at myself internally each day didn’t help much. Neither did forcing myself to sit at my desk and work. Dreaming about holding workshops at various event locales around the world when travel is banned made it worse. Beating myself up for failing to bang out podcasts and other forms of communication at my standard 2019 rate made me feel like I had even less to say.

What if you could be kind to your being and your body for weathering this ‘unprecedented’ storm by going into bunker mode?

What if you could find ways to be kind to your spirit and your body each day?

What if you’re not WRONG for being freaked out?

What if it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and anxious, grief-stricken and hopeful — all in the course of a few minutes?

What if your thriving in 2021 could be measured by ANYTHING but the traditional trappings of success — minutes meditated versus dollars made, paintings painted versus followers gained, words written versus sales created?

What if you set your own standards for your time in bunker mode — and you let those standards be entirely joy-based?

Regardless of where you’re existing at this moment, I hope this podcast helps you frame your experiences within the context of normalcy.

You’re behind on email? Obviously.
You’re overwhelmed by all the changes to the world as you knew it? Of course.
Afraid of contracting Corona but unable to stay inside for every moment of every day or you’ll lose your sanity? ME FRIGGIN TOO.

You’re not alone.
You’re not broken.
And you are, whether you like it or not, deeply loved.

If you’d like my support for weathering 2021 in your business — bunker mode or not — KK on Tap coaching spots are open!

You’ll work with me and about 20 fellow Tappers for a full year. If you’d like to make more money and meaning in your business, keep yourself accountable for doing your work, or deepen your experience of being alive on this planet, I’m ready to help! Head to kristenkalp.com/tap and check it out, or shoot me an email by filling out the form below!

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May you find the resources you need to survive in bunker mode. May you be kind to yourself when you’re unable to do what was easy for you in The Before. May you rest when you need to rest; eat when you need to eat; and work when you need to work. May you feel 47% less alone when you hear these words. And may you know that bunker mode can’t and won’t last forever, even when asshole brain says it will.

Let’s talk about 2020.

…in which I use this episode of the That’s What She Said podcast to a.) share every major thing I’ve learned in 2020 (vulnerability alert like WHOA), and then b.) challenge you to see 2020 a little differently.  With less hatred, shame, guilt, derision, fear, and/or overwhelm.

This is NOT an exercise in the art of ‘good vibes only’ or spiritual bypassing.

This IS a dare.  I dare you to mine the difficult and awful aspects of this year in order to find some of the depth and richness available to you right now.  Even when you’re stuck at home and wondering daily if you’re going insane while doomscrolling and hoping today will just be OVER ALREADY.

Mostly, this is a perspective check so that you’ve got a fighting chance against asshole brain.

Asshole brain is the mean voice in your head that says you’re not enough while also calling you awful names and whispering that you’ll never be able to __________ anyway, so why even try?  I’ve been calling it out for years now, and recommend you start here if the concept of asshole brain is new to you.

Grab a notebook, a pen, your headphones, then get to work!

P.S. Joy is not canceled.

Put it down.

Here in the United States, the ongoing pandemic is a long haul that’s basically straight uphill and entirely unknown. That means we urgently need to learn how to take breaks and rest, ’cause no amount of sprinting today can get time to move so quickly that it fast forwards to 2022.

Here are some asshole brain maneuvers to watch out for as we enter another season of As the World Burns:

Put down the binary.

I’ve only got two options: A or B.”

A biz coaching client was outlining her options and said she could do A — which is the same thing she’s been doing that’s not working — or B, which is part-time for someone who’s treating her like shit. Both options were awful, but in her mind they were the ONLY options available.

In truth, you rarely have only two options. There’s always an option C.

Option C might be ridiculous or funny or awful or weird, but it’s still there! When I said I would rather my client take up a hobby of masturbating wildly than work at near-free prices for task-driven bros who in no way value her talent or her time, she laughed and shrugged me off. BUT I’M SERIOUS.

When it’s not ridiculous or funny, Option C is generally uncomfortable. It might seem like the impossible option, but Option C generally promises to pay dividends in the long term: quit the job. Move. End the marriage. Stop taking that work. Fire the client. Eat more greens. Ask for help. Hire the coach.

Put down your work.

Instead of being vaguely ‘on’ at all times — meaning you’re open to incoming needs from anyone at any point about any aspect of your business — choose times to be on. And times to most definitely be OFF.

Practice the muscles associated with picking work up at the times you specify, and then practice putting your work down at the appointed time as well. (Related: podcast #204, the quietly subversive 3-hour work day.)

As you learn to put your work down, you’ll also learn to draw internal boundaries that say, ‘now is not the time to worry about that problem,’ or, ‘I’m off and it’s not time to think about that client.’ There are many ways to gently remind yourself: now is the time for rest.

This hard off, hard on (heh) rhythm means that you clearly delineate and communicate times you’re working from all the times you’re not working.

A Hard Off means handling zero messages, communications, or work plans when it’s not work time. Personally, if you need me to do something after 4:20 p.m., it’s going to get pushed to tomorrow, ’cause I’ve got cannabis to smoke and an afternoon to enjoy. (Related: podcast #192, The Cannabis Episode.)

A Hard On (in this case) means messages, communications, work, and work planning are handled between the times of your choosing each day.

For more on how to work from home without losing your mind, check out podcasts 211-215, the Structure That Doesn’t Suck series! HOLY SHIT IT’S HELPFUL.

Put down your superhuman strivings.

The scope of work you can complete in this lifetime is human in size. ALAS.

We are each a tiny human part of all that exists, and when we operate from that human place we’re able to accept our true scope of work.

Asshole brain will continuously ramp up what we ‘should’ be capable of doing until deeming us absolutely useless for being unable to raise 17 children while organically farming almonds while running a multi-million dollar charity while holding a powerful government position while being so EASY BREEZY FUN about it all. (Sidenote: how does AOC’s lipstick always look so perfect!?)

As a bonus, asshole brain might blame you for every. single. problem. that exists in the world today!

Plastics in the ocean? WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED THIS.

Fascism continues to descend upon America? THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT.

Racism has been a problem through the generations long before you were born? STILL YOUR FAULT.

Of course, asshole brain is lying!

Systemic oppression and the manufacturing of millions upon millions of single-use plastics are NOT the fault of you and you alone! (This may seem obvious to you, dear reader, and yet my asshole brain kept me quiet and small for years by somehow making Me, Personally Responsible for everything that is and has ever been wrong with the world.)

Collective problems require collective solutions.

No human can solve any global problem alone.

Do your part, and help others do their part, and we’ll call it a win.

Finally: put down your pace.

Many of my clients finish up their work for the day and then feel horrifically guilty that they should be doing more.

Shouldn’t they be making ‘content’ calendars or ‘pivoting’ or ‘hustling’ or ‘leveling up’ or ‘CRUSHING IT’ or using every bit of time to be ever more ‘productive?’

Shouldn’t they be seated at a desk from precisely 9 to 5 each day, because that makes their job ‘legit’ in some way?

NO.

It’s okay to be done with your work when you’re done.
It’s okay to stop moving, communicating, and acting so quickly.
It’s okay to opt out of social media for a bit, for a month, or forever.

(Related, podcast #196: it doesn’t count if you don’t enjoy it.)

Please stop expecting yourself to write a book in a week or conquer your money problems within the next three days or to untie your work from your worth with a single flash of clarity. (Related, podcast #180: your work is not your worth.)

You are not a machine.

You are one human doing one lifetime of work.

The sooner you put down the vast and unreasonable expectations you have for yourself and for your power to make change, the better.

With you —

K

P.S. Breathwork is MAGIC for helping you put down the shit that’s no longer serving you.

Your first class is free, get it!

Have to, Get to, and Square One.

As updates go, this is a big one! I now live in Ambler, Pennsylvania, precisely two blocks from where I lived before the move to Portland on January 1, 2020. (Why yes that IS a crushingly expensive way to move two blocks, and I’ll talk much more about it later, promise!)

One of the things I put out of my head about the move itself — which was 7 days of road tripping car travel with a dog and cat, then 8 days of being stuck in Denver with a broken car, then a 3.5 hour flight to Philadelphia — is that when I got here, I would be moving into an apartment I’d never seen in real life.

For the second time in 2020.

The apartment currently has: tan carpets, beige walls, and the back of a walk-in closet that I’ve claimed as my writing spot. (I’m here now, writing to you in it!)

As someone writing to you with no furniture from a closet, I can assure you that…

This is Square One: the very beginning.

Nothing is done, and all the work lies ahead.

Psst!  This is an episode of my podcast, That’s What She Said!

You’re always at Square One when a chapter ends.

Portland had lots of steps, and getting out of Portland had lots of steps, and when you end a chapter that big you inevitably begin again.

To make any progress, you have to pass through the territory of Square One. And begin again.

In case I sound wise AF saying this: NOT AT ALL.

Two nights ago I was sitting on the back patio, moaning ‘I have to do this’ to Doey.

I have to talk to the landlord about how to plug in the stove.
I have to change all my account addresses to Ambler. Again.

‘Have to’ focuses on what’s daunting, difficult, or depressing about the road ahead.

Shouldn’t there be some point at which moving becomes simple and easy?

Shouldn’t landlords simply stop buying institutional beige paint and save us all the painting-over process?

Where is my similar-to-Queer-Eye-design-team who will makeover my apartment in 5 days or less?

And then the usual Asshole Brain 2020 questions:

Why is everything so hard?

Why can’t anything just be PAID FOR BY SOME SORT OF TRUST FUND FOR WEIRDO CREATIVE HUMANS?

But then our landlord comes over and demands that we accept her offer of a free patio table and six free patio chairs OR ELSE and PLEASE USE THE EXPENSIVE GRILL HER BROTHER LEFT HERE and make yourself at home.

All of a sudden, I’m flooded with ideas: we can paint the patio! We’ll order an outdoor rug to cover up the spots on the porch that can’t be walked on in bare feet! We’ll put out art invitations for our lunch breaks, Meri Cherry style!

When the focus shifts to possibility, ‘I have to do this’ sentiments reveal their other side: I get to do this.

I have to do this.
I get to do this.
It’s an AND.

Yah, I’ll have to figure out how to make tan carpet attractive (HELP PLEASE HELP I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS MIGHT BE DONE), but I’ll also get to live and work and play with my partner and two best friends for the foreseeable future.

For sure, we’ll have to figure out boundaries and personal space and how to not get sick of each other over the course of the coming years, and also we’ll get to build a life together that’s rich, deep, fulfilling, and magical.

So if you find yourself at the Extreme Beginning of anything at all: I feel you.

I’m at Square One AGAIN this year.

I have to make a home again.

…I get to make a home again.

Those two sentiments will move in and out. They’ll undulate regularly.

Knowing that these sentiments are two sides of the same coin makes the ‘have to’ easier to handle, because the ‘get to’ is always on its way.

Power-washing the patio is right next to picking flowers from the yard and putting them in vases absolutely everywhere.

Assembling the outdoor cat playpen via somewhat torturous instructions lies energetically adjacent to dreaming up more private and colorful outdoor spaces. (Why yes I *did* lose a screw in the sidewalk when I was ‘helping!’ Impressive, eh?)

Getting the electricity transferred to my name is a stone’s throw from making plans for exactly how many different kinds of wallpaper one can fit into a single apartment. (Back of cabinet wallpaper! Bathroom wallpaper! Closet wallpaper! Wall wallpaper!)

Have to, get to.

Have to, get to.

A big part of your job with the ‘have to’s is to make up ‘get to’s.

For every shitty and awful and hideous task presented by Square One — the very beginning — there’s an opportunity to make it up, do it a different way, clear old garbage out, and try again.

It’s a hard job, and in 2020 an exhausting one.
It’s also worthwhile AF.

Does any part of your life feel like you’re at Square One, chock full of HAVE TO?

If so, where do you GET TO do something awesome, rad, subversive, weird, fun, or revolutionary?

Pro tip! It’s highly unlikely that outside forces will provide you with the get to parts.

‘Have to’ will be dictated by outside forces: paperwork, forms, documents, governmental agreements, and adulting-mandated tasks.

‘Get to’ is entirely yours. It’s NOT a reminder that you have X privileges and should JUST BE GRATEFUL ALREADY.

‘Get to’ is joy-based and generally functions outside of capitalism. It uses the resources at your disposal in creative ways.

In other words, ‘get to’ is fucking FUN.

In many cases, ‘get to’ is making the moves that only make sense to you.

You get to write the book or the movie or the poems or the blog or the weird snippets that have no shape or form just yet.

You get to frolic outside instead of scrolling for another hour or seven on Instagram.

You get to make stuff
and destroy stuff
and begin again
and again
and again.

I’m the last person to shame you for beginning again (see: TWO cross-country moves in 2020!).

I’m simply reminding you that beginning again has its benefits, and maybe embrace those benefits, sparse as they may be?

At Square One of any major project, our ‘have to’ impulses focus on what’s daunting and difficult. The lesser-used ‘get to’ muscles focus on possibility, creativity, and the wide open portions of the road ahead.

The bonus, of course, is that ‘get to’ has the best wallpaper.

If you know or operate a source of amazing, fun, wild, and/or animal-patterned *REMOVABLE* wallpaper, I’d love to see it!

Own Your Gifts

This week, a question-based response in our asshole brain podcast series!  Catch up on the other episodes with interrupt the pattern, joy is not canceled, and if you ain’t got haters…or dive in starting here!

TODAY’S QUESTION!  What if my inner asshole won’t let me identify or accept what I’m good at? I want other people to tell me, but I’m realizing that no matter what anyone else says, I won’t believe it because my inner asshole says no. You are so specific on yours, and I’m curious how you figured out and accepted your super powers. I’m also secretly scared that I want everyone else’s super powers and don’t actually have any of my own (hi, there again, asshole brain). — Anna

First up: YOU HAVE SUPERPOWERS.

You are a being of this earth, and therefore you have superpowers.  No one is the exception to this rule, including you!

That said, your superpowers aren’t necessarily easy to see. They’re easy to gloss over because THOSE people over THERE appear to have better, more advanced, and/or more profitable superpowers. Sure, you can paint or draw or make or write or speak or roast or whatever it is you do, but ssshhheeeeeee is making millllllllllliooooonnnsssss doing that same work.

No.

We’re not doing that shit.

Comparison isn’t allowed for the duration of this exercise.

Not because comparison is bad or wrong, but because comparison has often led me to the despair of not being a modern-day Rumi AND a paleontologist AND an interior decorator with her own kickass line of custom sofas AND a person who looks good in cropped pants AND a person who’s good at cooking, say…rice.

If owning your gifts is all new to you, ask other people to help you see them.

That’s often the start: someone has to sort-of-yell, ‘HEY, YOU’RE REALLY FUCKING GOOD AT THIS’ a number of times before we believe it in any capacity.

Those who love you have been trying to get this message through for quite some time. But we can’t hear them until we’re ready to hear them. Starting now.

What am I really good at doing, handling, or making?

What are some circumstances in which you would want or need my help before anyone else’s?

Which talents, gifts, and superpowers do I take for granted or pretend aren’t real?

Where and when do you see A WILDLY MAGICAL BEING and you can’t get me to see it?

What do you wish I could see about myself and/or my work? 

Choose a question and send 3 texts to 3 different people. Ask the friends, colleagues, partner(s), or relatives you most trust to be honest with you. Ask them to be kind and clear, and then take whatever they say into your being.

They aren’t lying when they say you’re amazing; they’re only highlighting the ways in which you diminish yourself when you refuse to believe them.

Owning your gifts starts with knowing that asshole brain is going to throw up some pretty standard responses to these efforts.

When asshole brain says that there’s nothing you’re good at…that’s a lie.

When asshole brain goes wild with envy because he, she, or they are far more_______ than you’ll ever be (where ____ is talented, wild, connected, gorgeous, enlightened, swimming in cash)…that’s a lie.

When asshole brain only lets you see the flaws, the bad bits, and the imperfect messiness of your life instead of the whole picture of your decades-long existence on this planet…that’s a lie.

When asshole brain whispers over and over that you should be further along by now..that’s a lie. 

Interrupt the pattern, okay? Catch asshole brain in the act and refuse to believe it.

At some level, owning your talents is a matter of humility and acceptance.

It means you have no issue sharing the things you’re not good at with others, because you’re also grounded in your strengths.

Here are things I’m not good at: keeping plants alive, calling customer service reps (THE PHONE = WHY???), giving up control, using power tools without supervision, and making a plan for cooking dinner before it’s too late and I’m hungry and OH WELL it’s a microwave dinner again tonight.

Accepting that those things aren’t my strengths allows me to turn and say…okay, now what am I good at?

Writing, coaching, connecting with people deeply (small talk AGGGHHH I AM THE ACTUAL WORST), using my voice, experimenting, making stuff up, ignoring people who say ‘You can’t do that,’ taking action, having good boundaries with my phone, and (even, sometimes) asking for help.

See how neither the positive nor the negative is dramatic?

I am not THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD because I can’t be handed a nail gun and left to fend for myself on a construction site.

I am not THE BEST PERSON IN THE WORLD because I’m good at moving small talk aside to get to the root of an issue.

Humility is knowing what you’re good at AND what you’re not good at, then accepting them both.

Owning your gifts means accepting that this is where I can help people — i.e. all the things I’m good at — this is where I need help — i.e. all the things I’m not good at.

I can help you move through your business life as you learn to generate more money and meaning in your day-to-day existence.

I can help you try on new ways of being, give up the patterns that aren’t working for you, and listen to your own interiors with an eye toward what lights you up.

I can help you get more alive and build more joy into your life, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Business coaching spots are open, send me a note!

I cannot help you choose tonight’s dinner.  Or any meals.  Because having to eat 3 times a day, every day, no matter WHAT, is still a challenging problem in my life.

When you can do this owning-your-gifts exercise without shame, guilt, or judgement, you’re getting free.  Of asshole brain, of society’s infinite ways of making you feel like shit so you buy more stuff, and of the mental chatter that keeps you stuck or small.

Own your gifts.

Really and truly, all the way down.  That’s not short work, or easy work, but it’s work that pays off for the rest of your life as you do it.

P.S. Your work does not equal your worth.