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Amy, the director of engineering for a small, established software company, was talking with her longtime friend Molly, head of engineering for a rather larger software firm.

“I feel like there is this part of my brain that’s so concerned with how much time I have and deadlines,” Amy said. “That makes it hard to say that I’m just not up for working on this or that project today. ‘Well, you only have this long to do this thing,” my brains say.  ‘You have to push through.’”

Molly laughed as she asked, “How many times have we had this conversation?”

“So many!” Amy replied ruefully. “It won’t go away. It’s so prominent. So loud.”

Amy paused a moment, then continued. “I know I have control over how I internalize things and perceive things. I’ve worked so hard at shushing that part of me. Yet, here it is, still stressing me out.”

“So what do you need to change?” Molly asked. “So that the next time this voice comes in and says, ‘You don’t have time to stop for gas,’ you recognize that it’s pushing your buttons. Instead of trying to ignore it, or telling it to shut up already, you say, ‘Thanks for the warning. I don’t need you to protect me anymore.’”

“Well, If we were in my car, my response would be, ‘Look, I need to stop. The gas tank is reading empty.’ But, your response was completely different. Your response was, ‘I don’t even need that warning.’”

Amy paused again, reflecting. “This reminds me of all the times as I was growing up when my parents stopped me on the way out the door and made me put on a coat and hat and other outerwear I knew I didn’t need. They never listened to my protests that I knew exactly how cold or wet or whatever it was outside and that I would be perfectly fine.”

Molly guffawed. “I was completely the opposite. I always wore way too much clothing. I never believed my parents’ suggestions that I might be more comfortable with fewer layers. Even though I was always peeling them off moments after I got outside.”

“There was nothing they could say to convince you they were right,” Amy nodded knowingly. “Just like there was nothing I could say to convince my parents I was right. Even though I always was.”

“That’s why I suggested telling your voice ‘Thanks’ rather than trying to argue it into submission,” Molly said. “We can’t reason with things like this because they are not necessarily being logical. Recognizing that they are trying to protect us lets us acknowledge that intent while deflecting its effects.”

“Even when they’re not really trying to help?”

“Even then,” Molly confirmed. “Telling them that we know they are meaning to be helpful invokes a kind of magic that transforms their actual objective into a desire to help. Even if they’re meaning to do the complete opposite.”

“Thank you for this interesting reframe. I do often try to argue back at this voice. You’re right that it isn’t really ever logical. So, of course, I’ll never shut it up by talking logic back to it.”

Amy fell quiet for a bit, letting this new idea soak in. Then, she said, “This feels like a significant shift in how I go about thinking about this stuff. I wonder if incorporating that will make a difference in how easy or hard it feels to push past some of the external pressures I’m feeling.”

“You turn those adversaries into advocates,” Molly said. “It’s so much easier to say, ‘Thank you for that feedback,’ than to push back against it. That leaves you the energy to determine whether their advice feels right for you.”

“That feels really important,” Amy said, nodding. “It makes it much easier to be compassionate towards that part of me. ‘Thank you for trying to take care of me and ensure that I perform well enough in my job to keep it. Thank you for wanting that for me.’ I can accept that from me.”

“Yes,” Molly said. “It becomes less of the frustration of, “Why do I still feel this?” or, ”Why do I keep letting these pressures influence me?”

“This may be all my brain can comprehend today,” Amy said with a rueful smile. “But, I’m not ready to return to the office just yet. I need to process this for a bit longer. Want to join me for a wander through the park?”

“Sounds great,” Molly said. “I’ve been inside way too much today. Some fresh air will do me good.”

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