Sunday, April 08, 2012

Brain Worms

Long talk with Marc a couple of days ago. Wide ranging, as always. One of the subjects that came up was fear. There are lots of different flavors of fear and they change over time. More accurately, you change over time and with experience.

The pure adrenal, 'OMG I'm gonna die' fear doesn't stay the same. Part of it is that the words go away. You learn not that you aren't going to die or that you are going to die, but that being sure you are going to die has never been accurate. You get the adrenaline burst, but the voice in your head shuts up. You can think, and most times you can use the adrenaline.

Part of the stage of losing the words is that you don't think about an incident in terms of winning or losing. Those are labels and meaningless. You have a goal, you accomplish the goal. It's not a win because it is not a contest. It is a job. It's a good state to be in, very efficient, you have almost zero bullshit going on in your mind and clogging your reflexes.

But other things can step in. When I got named as a DT instructor, I found a new set of words creeping in. I still wasn't afraid of the incident, but I was starting to be afraid of failing in front of my students. That stage didn't last long, but it was definitely there. At another stage (and I noticed it more with climbing than with fighting) I realized I was worried about my kids growing up without a father. Caution increased.

Trepidation is a different set of fears as well. When I knew a situation was brewing, unless I had plans to make or equipment to assemble, sometimes there was too much time to think, and the adrenaline would start flowing with a lot of words. It would shut down when the moment became critical, but there were little worms gnawing in the back of my mind.

Little worms of all the possibilities if the threat was dedicated enough or sneaky enough; all the possible ways I might be misreading the situation; a checklist of all the people that stood to get hurt if I failed; what the gravestone would look like of a man who had lost...

All worms, all meaningless. Potentially freezing. Didn't happen, but it was always on the table and that was another of the worms... "What if you freeze? What if you just stand there frozen like an idiot and die without doing anything?"

And there were worms after the fact. Will there be a suit? Have I pissed off anybody in IA recently? Was there a better way?

My second ever blog post mentioned a worm. That after all the fights, all the experience, I still sometimes heard a voice in the back of my head saying everything was nothing but luck.

The worms don't go away. Not necessarily true. I have no way of knowing. The worms have not gone away for me. They have just shifted. All of the brain worms that used to pop up about danger and professionalism are now popping up about teaching. Twenty minutes before I start a class, a voice in my head says, "You won't be able to remember the lesson plan. Stage fright happens." During the class, "Everything you have to say is sooooooo obvious (and I really believe this) that there is no reason for anybody to be here..."

This probably sounds like a whine. It probably is. But it makes me wonder. I don't have brain worms about anything minor. Only things I truly care about-- writing, learning, teaching and loving (and that's a huge one. K is the best of all possible women and I continually expect her to wise up and choose someone more worthy). Is that universal? Does everyone get brain worms? And are they always about the important things? And what purpose do they serve?


Josh Kruschke said...

Maybe that is how you can tell if you actually care about something?

You worry about it.

mbailey7 said...

I always assumed it was your monkey brain trying to prevent change. Some sort of survival instinct that stops you from taking risks that could change your social standing.
I've heard those voices described as gremlins, the subconscious, the inner critic, etc. If you've got any strategies for dealing with them, I'd love to hear them. Seems like those little voices are constantly playing havoc with me.

Anonymous said...

Some brain worms sound like a form of risk control analysis. Normal. Intelligent, Autonomically self directed. Very Real. Very Useful.

Some sound like an extremely professional and experienced view of your career. I know experts in my field that say the same think about their it all just luck.

I wonder what about the worms bothers you, if bothers is the right word for the feeling.

If you view your brain worms (and any/all feelings) as having an underlying "positive intention," I wonder if you garner more personal, idiosycratic insight from the worms?



Katherine said...

Worms are strong power animals. Whether in thought form or physical form, they force us to hold life in one hand and death in the other. They recycle dead things into bodaciously fertile soil. I'm letting them do their thing:)

Andy said...

I think its pretty common, similar to Impostor Syndrome

Anonymous said...

Principles are universal and each of us understands them differently. It is all about personal experience and intuitive understanding of how the things are – that which is real, like the air we breath.

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" or ''Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?'' No need to start talking of epistemology or to philosophize about that. It is as it is. Like the air that we breath.

You've mentioned something that's universal and we all share that, only questions are different and even this changes with time like the questions most ask when they are young: ''Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? What is my/yours purpose in life? Who am I/are you?'' And then a moment in life and everything changes. All those questions lose it's importance and you see everything in a different way.

If I quote Frank Herbert (Dune novels); “The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”

By exploring the old, one becomes able to understand the new. Reflect deeply on the past, decide what to do now, then do it. Classical martial traditions, flows down to us across more than four centuries, and provides a unique vehicle for both reflecting on the past and actualizing the present. Each system and each form of that system has its own flavor and its own life.

Whether one passes on or remains is all the same.
That you can take no one with you is the only difference.
Ah, how pleasant! Two awakenings and one sleep.
This dream of a fleeing world! The roseate hues of early dawn!
- Tokugawa Ieyasu

It's like this poem. It won't mean much to you if you haven't experienced it.

Maija said...

I can say nothing good about brain worms. If something important is coming up, there is nothing foolish about running through checklists to make sure all is taken care of. There's also nothing wrong with starting a conversation with your intuition for later feedback ... but brain worms are 100% negative, in my experience anyway, and ultimately have no effect on an outcome, or on one's ability to deal with the outcome, whether things go well or badly.
If anything they cause resistance to doing, resistance to clarity, preying on the 2 major inhibitors in life - fear and hope.
Now, here's nothing wrong with self reflection ... but that should happen AFTER the experience, to make it better next time. And what makes you do the best you can DURING a situation? Well, that would be your training and abilities you already own, not the worries in the minutes before.
Brain worms are indeed pervasive, but I have yet to find a good use for them.

Anonymous said...

Is fear a learned responce?, or rather is a certain typre of fear a learned responce?There are Native Americans with no fear of heights, Sailors with no fear of the Sea or at least not in the way most folks think of fear.

Scott said...

In Conflict Communications you make the distinction between action oriented people and longevity oriented people. My first thought was that I'm action oriented because the longevity oriented voices in my head are painful and overwhelmingly. Action shuts them up!
You also have the makings here of a potent explanation of religion: worm management.
Traditional rituals around death are highly specific perhaps because they are working with worms.

Josh Kruschke said...

Rory if you haven't seen the movie "Next" it was thought provoking. Wouldn't be cool to be able to see two minutes into your own future with the ability ti change anything you you don't like?


Josh Kruschke said...

Maija -

Not every thought or action should be acted on with out a little forethought and consideration. Rember there is not always an after.

Take Care,

Maija said...

@ Josh - In my experience, worms come after a decision has been made, but a situation is yet to manifest (this can be particular or ongoing), and don't seem to have any positive influence on an outcome - That is what defines them.
Forethought and consideration are not the same, they are rational. Worms work in the realm of the emotions.
Meditation traditions around the world have been practicing worm management for millenia, and like Scott pointed out, religion and ritual may have been created as another way of doing this.

Josh Kruschke said...

To me a worm is any potentially negative or destructive thought. What you are describing to me are distracting thoughts ones that pull you out of the moment.

Imagine that your'e hiking, the trail comes out on top of this cliff. You walk over to the edge, and as you look down at a drop of 60 feet or so. You think, "One more step. Why not? Can life get any better than this last week at camp? I wonder what is on the other side? No more worring about what you are going to do with your life. Peace and quite. Why not?" And you move a little closer to the edge.
"But what about my family. What would this do to them? No note, so they woundn't know why. Would they blame themselves? What if the fall doesn't kill me? Hell, I haven't even had sex yet." You just stand their looking out and down, a little sway develops.
"Hey step back away from the edge!" a consoler yels, the spells broken you step back and look up. Another kid smiles at you, and you smile back.


Anonymous said...

I think everyone has "worms". It sounds like you only have a mild case. Congratulations! The only way I know of to deal with them is to occupy your mind with something or to focus on something else. Have you ever read "The Inner Game of Tennis"?

Brian said...

I never though about calling them Worms but the imagery certainly fits. I find that they only creep up on me during the important times (Love life, school work, teaching, etc.) I almost never find them immediately helpful except to train my mental discipline. But later, say after a big test, they make me feel more human and connected because I see everyone else sweating as well.

Not that this will change your view of yourself but having been to one of your seminars I feel that the things you teach SHOULD be obvious but aren't. It's my belief that those that train for a long time in a certain field forget what others can't see. After training as an engineer I can't even look at a kitchen sink anymore without seeing a series of dynamic systems.

Josh Kruschke said...

Brian, Rory,

Tiff said...

Rory - I know many wonderful men (my significant other among them) who fear that same sort of inevitable inadequacy, as if the perfect relationship is just a dream.

I've concluded that it's a guy thing, but since it seems to span generations between the guys I know, I haven't figured it out yet.

Maybe it's some ghost of chivalry.

Josh Kruschke said...

The realization that there are no guaranties in life that all we can do is are best.
Wait am I doing my best? Am I doing everytimg I can?
Let's go through the mental check list of everything we know of that can go wrong, and what we have done to mitigate the damage.
Man these check list where smaller when I first started.

I find that doubt and uncertainty is only unhealthy when used as the sole data pionts used when making decisions or evalueating the choices we have already made.

To change course in life you first need to ask am I even going the right direction.

This has been percolating around in the brainpan for the last week with a slow dribble leaking out.

One final thought; Roroy has a worm about worms.

One final question to ponder is the fear of death a good thing or bad?

Josh Kruschke said... our best...

Roroy... really brain....

One final question to ponder[; I]s the fear of death a good thing or bad?

Maybe I should worry more about my gramer and spelling.


Josh Kruschke said...

Another thought I wonder if the Ted Bundies of the world have worms?

Meagan said...

I think these 'worms' (love that image by the way) are like our appendix ... A vestigial organ that sticks around even though we don't need it anymore and serves no purpose other than to cause us trouble. Think about how quickly humans have forced the environment to fit their needs... our bodies and minds have not had time to evolve accordingly. Those 'worms' are the fight-or-flight response that helped a Neanderthal survive but which paralyze you! Try and take that energy (because that's all it is... energy) and transform it into a useful feeling like excitement or power!