Welcome to Episode #94. I’m Kristi Angevine, and I'm here to help you bring more awareness to why you do what you do, so you can be more intentional with what matters most and live your life on purpose instead of on autopilot.
Life is short. Who are you putting in the driver's seat of your life? Who are you letting drive you around your day? If it's not who you want in your driver's seat, your life is going to feel more out of control than it actually is. Let's dive in, shall we?
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everybody. Okay people, winter is officially here where I live. We live in Central Oregon. Our cats are shedding, our new puppy is shivering unless he has this little orange winter parka on, which is super cute by the way, the mountains have fresh snow on them, and we're having our kids try on their winter gear and their ski boots to make sure that we are ready for said activity when it's time.
This means a lot of shifting around of apparel that we're not going to wear, things like shorts and sundresses, and shifting to more things that we are going to use more regularly. There's also a shifting around of activities, as some of the main soccer season is coming to an end, and some of the other sports are kind of cropping up, like volleyball and skiing and basketball.
So, this particular season in life, not just with the weather, feels like it has a bunch of things just shifting around. During these types of transitions, I like to be really deliberate about how I approach them, so that I don't feel just batted around.
This podcast is meant to empower you to understand yourself, and give you really practical life coaching tools that you can apply in your everyday life. So, you can be more deliberate, and less passive and less reactionary during your own transitions in life and with your own habits in life. Now, today, I'm talking about the importance of who you put in the driver's seat of your life.
Let me explain what I'm talking about. When you drive, like literally drive a vehicle, you not only choose the destination but you choose the route, you choose the pace, you may even choose the music. When it comes to actual driving, each state has very specific rules and regulations for who can legally drive, what criteria have to be met for that person to drive, and who needs a chaperone, etc. etc.
But in our life, we don't always take the same tact when it comes to our mind. We don't often decide on purpose, who's in the mental/emotional driver's seat of our life, much less apply strict criteria and decide with intention who goes in that driver's seat.
So, if we move through life, like a minivan or bus moves through a city or through the countryside, when we aren't clear on who is driving that vehicle, we can end up feeling like the bus is driving us. Life is happening to us, without us having any say, and that kind of powerlessness is a recipe for feeling stuck without any agency. Passively being battered around like a leaf in rainwater.
I don't know about you, but life is crazy enough that I don't want to add to it feeling any more out of control than is absolutely necessary. So, in this episode, I'm going to describe what it looks like when we have certain parts of us in the driver's seat, and how to be intentional with who's in your driver's seat.
But before I dig into this, I want to define agency. According to the sociologist Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole, agency refers to the “Thoughts and actions taken by people that express their individual power. It is the power people have to think for themselves, and act in ways that shape their experiences and life trajectories.”
Now, much debated in sociology, is the degree to which individuals can have agency versus how much our social institutions and social structure dictates beliefs and actions.
When it comes to discussing agency, and being in the driver's seat of your life, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that there are undeniable social, systemic, and cultural forces at work: Ableism, fatphobia, patriarchal gender bias, white supremacy, racism, etc. etc., that are challenges to individual agency. Challenges that are inequitably distributed amongst all the people in very quiet and stealthy ways.
So, to discuss agency, is somewhat of a privileged topic, and one that I have the luxury to discuss here, since I have things like running water, a roof over my head, reliable food, and no bombs going off near my town. And even as it's a very luxurious topic to discuss, it's of vital importance to discuss.
If, when we are doing well enough to be able to discuss agency, if we don't know how to access that agency, that is how we stay stuck in the status quo. There are enough problems globally, nationally and locally, that we need to be able to be deliberate with who we put in the driver's seat of our life. We need agency so we can indeed make the most of the life we have, and maybe even contribute to helping make the world a better place.
So, stepping off of my soapbox, let's get back to the analogy that I'm going to use throughout this episode. That's the analogy of you going through life being like a car or a bus going through a town or going through the countryside.
I love this analogy of the vehicle and the driver's seat for a few reasons. Number one, you can literally picture the difference between different people driving. And when you can do this, you can easily compare and contrast what it's like when different mindsets are in the proverbial driver's seat.
Number two, in a vehicle there's the driver's seat, there's a passenger seat, and there are a lot of other seats in the vehicle. This means, just like multiple people can be present with one driver, multiple parts of us, multiple emotions, emotional, energetic, and mental states, can come along with us even if they are not the primary driver.
Number three, you can stop a vehicle and rearrange the passengers and trade out a driver if you notice you're not going where you want to go, or how you want to go. This applies to our mindset, as well.
So, let me elaborate on these three reasons why I like this analogy a little bit more. Number one, you can literally picture the difference between different people being in the driver's seat of a car, right?
One person may drive very carefully, one person may drive like Travis Pastrana, one may drive in circles in the ugliest part of town, one might drive to the same old coffee shop that you really don't like to go and just park there in the parking lot.
Now, instead of people in the driver's seat, I want you to picture what it looks like when different beliefs, or different emotions, are in your driver's seat. Let me give you an example to illustrate exactly what I mean.
You can imagine when the emotion of guilt and feeling inadequate is in the driver's seat, you'll have a very different experience than if the emotion of determination and sufficiency is in your driver's seat. When you wake up feeling guilt and low self-worth, and these drive, and you realize that you've forgotten to advance the laundry and it is sitting there in your washing machine damp.
When guilt is driving, it's easy to feel extra low. To conclude that you've probably ruined those clothes, you've wasted money, and you're just a big burden to everybody. It's easy to see all the other ways that you're not living up to how you want to be. And it's, frankly, very easy to miss interactions that would otherwise perhaps be fun when you only see how you aren't measuring up.
When guilt drives, creativity, humor, courage, they are stuck way in the backseat. Versus when a feeling of resourcefulness and determination is in your driver's seat, and you realize that same laundry is damp, you'll go, “Well, damn, that sucks. I guess I'm going to have to do a heavy duty wash. And if it's got a musty smell, I guess I'll wash it again. And if it's still there, I'm going to google how to use vinegar to fix that. And if that fails, well, that's going to suck but I'm going to figure it out. Moving on.” See the difference?
Now, reason number two that I like this analogy. A vehicle has room for a driver and multiple passengers. Just like we have room for a primary driver, and other mental and emotional states to be along for the ride, even if they aren't the main driver.
This means you can wake up and you can notice that you're overwhelmed or behind. Or you can notice that maybe you feel guilty. And because you have room in your vehicle for more than one state of mind, you can acknowledge that that feeling is there and just say, “Hey, I see you. I notice there's a heaviness of being behind or heaviness of feeling guilty.”
“But you know what? You don't have to drive today. You can just sit in the passenger seat. You can play Nintendo in the backseat. You can wrap up in a blanket and stare out the window. I will drive, and you can come along. And you can even talk to me about where you're coming from, what's going on for you, but I'm going to drive today.”
In this way, you don't have to entirely banish or eradicate an uncomfortable emotion, or a thought pattern that's not really serving you, in order to get out of bed and start with your day. That feeling or that thought pattern, it can come along just like a passenger in the backseat. Just like items in a backpack.
Maybe we don't really love carrying that backpack. We don't really love having that emotion there in the passenger seat, but it's tolerable. And since we can be in the driver's seat, that emotion can just quietly come along without having to take the lead simply because it's present.
Now, I don't own a minivan, but sometimes I will literally imagine that a lot of the parts of me, the emotions that are uncomfortable, the thought patterns that perhaps seem a little bit tenacious, they're coming along with me through my day in the back of the minivan while I am driving along.
Now, number three, of the reasons why I like this vehicular analogy for life. Just like you can pull off at a rest stop and people can get out of the vehicle and move around. People can change out who the driver is, and drivers can become passengers.
If you notice that you are not going where you want to go, or you are not going through your day how you want to go through it, you too can stop and rearrange who is driving your life or your day. You can trade out passengers and trade out drivers. And you can do this at any moment in time.
The critic is driving the proverbial minivan. And the critic driving the minivan, is giving you a tour of memory lane, of all the ways that you fucked up. It's predicting the future ways that you're going to continue to do badly. And you, as the owner of this vehicle, can notice, can get the vehicle pulled over, can get the critic to step out of the driver's seat, and you can deliberately get a more neutral mindset at the wheel.
This is what that might sound like. “Oh my gosh, I feel so awful. Wait a minute, why do I feel awful? Oh, I feel awful because I am beating myself up. I am talking to myself in such a mean voice. I would never say this to anyone else. No wonder I feel terrible.”
“Okay, okay. Critic, Judge, Inner Mean Girl is at the wheel. Breathe. Critic, I see you. Would you step aside for a bit? Awesome. Thank you. I know when you drive all I see is the negative, and honestly that's unbalanced. So, let's clear the windshield. And let's remember that it might feel hard right now, but the truth is I can figure things out. I can do hard things.”
So, now that you understand why I like this vehicular analogy, let's talk about what it looks like with different drivers in your driver’s seat. When your people pleaser’s at the wheel, you say yes when you want to say no. You go along with things out of obligation. You preferentially tend to others while omitting or ignoring your own needs and desires.
When your overthinking part is at the wheel, you analyze microscopic details without making decisions. You ruminate without taking action. This is classic analysis-paralysis.
When your all-or-none perfectionistic mind is at the wheel, all you see is that because things aren't yet perfect, you need to keep improving. You see one challenge that overshadows all the progress. You make pretty sounding plans that are actually unrealistic, and you flog yourself for not doing it right.
When your escapist part is at the wheel, you spend 45 minutes doing Wordle or solving the Mini or the connections game or that stupid tiles game. And you think, “One more won't hurt,” and you grab another drink, another brownie, or you press play on yet another episode on Netflix, even though it's 1am and you need to get up at 5am.
When your critic is at the wheel, you can do nothing right. You feel exhausted and you need rest. The critic says, “How pitiful, you don't even have stamina when it matters most.” You snap at your kid, and the critic says, “Yep, have fun paying for those therapy years for your kiddo or bailing your kid out of jail.”
When guilt is at the wheel, you feel heavy, alone, defective, less than. From this point of view, you drive slowly, like you're going through molasses. Everything is drab and dim. It's like wearing overly dark sunglasses. It's easy to take things personally, to assume fault, to feel self-conscious, and to miss out on all the neutral, positive things.
It's like getting your car stuck in traffic in a tunnel, and those tunnel lights go out, your headlights go out, it's dark, and you can't see what else is round. You don't even realize you're just in a tunnel.
Versus, let's imagine a totally different part to the wheel. Let's imagine a resourceful, scrappy part is at the wheel. So, you yell at your kid, but then you quickly go, “Oh, ouch. That sucks for everyone involved. Alright, let's find neutral. Let's make a repair. Let's apologize. This is learning. Parenting is tricky. But I'm going to figure this out.”
Or you see that same load of laundry, and it's damp and it's been sitting there, and you just quickly, matter of fact, start a new cycle and move on. Your self-talk, when this resourceful, scrappy part is at the wheel is, “Let's figure this out. I don't know how to do this yet, but I know I'll get there.” From this point of view, you see mistakes and failures as just stepping stones forward, and not stop signs or personal indictments.
So, who is at the wheel matters. Whoever is at the wheel will dictate what you see and what you do. This brings me to the idea of unblending. Unblending is an idea that is central to Internal Family Systems. Now, if you're new here and you don't know what Internal Family Systems is, you are in for such a treat.
After you listen to this episode, I recommend you go back and listen to Episode 49, which is an overview of Internal Family Systems. And Episode 75, that is all about using Internal Family Systems to understand your habits. If you love to read, go get the book that is titled No Bad Parts. It's written by the founder of Internal Family Systems, Dr. Richard Schwartz.
In a nutshell, Internal Family Systems, otherwise known as IFS, is a model in psychotherapy that sees the human mind as a multiplicity. It views the human mind as being made up of multiple subpersonalities, and each has their own perspective, own agenda, interests, values, etc.
As strange as it may sound, the basic premise of IFS is that instead of having one mind with lots of conflicting thoughts, IFS posits that we all have multiple personalities, and that these multiple sub entities, these multiple personalities, interact in our mind, much like people in a family would interact. These interactions in our mind are what we call thinking.
So, say a friend asks if you want to train for a half marathon, and one part of you says, “Oh, hell, yeah. That would be so fun.” And another part says, “But wait a minute, you don't even like to run. You want to race bikes, remember?” And another part says, “How dumb! You can't just make a decision, come on.”
IFS posits the idea that you have multiple personalities, not fractured in an extreme way like we would see in Dissociative Identity Disorder, but multiple personalities nonetheless. Using this model, with the analogy of the vehicle, check this out.
Instead of just noticing what mindset or what emotion or what belief is at the wheel in your life, you get to ask, who is driving? So, instead of just noticing that there's anxiety at the wheel, you may notice that you have a part of you that's this uptight Chicken Little, who has a penchant for perfectionism, as well as catastrophizing, as well as anxiety, as well as worry, who is in the driver's seat.
Now, this adds a richness and a nuance to who's in the driver's seat. So, it's not just a singular thought, a singular emotion. With that in mind, let's talk about unblending. To understand unblending, you have to understand what it means to be blended, in Internal Family Systems.
To be blended with a part means that that part is at the wheel. You see the world through that part’s eyes, and only through that part’s eyes. So, say you're blinded with your critical part, the critical part is at the wheel, so to speak.
When this is the case, all you will notice are the ways that you've screwed up. You will not see anything else. To unblend from this critical part, entails noticing the presence of a part, or to use the vehicular analogy, to notice who's in the driver's seat, to name it, and to separate from it just a smidge. Have just a sliver of space so that you can have perspective.
It's like taking off a pair of glasses. Instead of seeing the world through those lenses, to actually see the lenses themselves. Now, we could spend weeks, if not months, on this topic of unblending. Because it's really rich, it's really nuanced.
But in its most simple form, unblending is the idea that if you can separate back, momentarily, from a thought, emotion or behavior… If you can get just enough space, you can get a little bit of perspective. So, to unblend, it starts when you first notice who's at the wheel, who's driving right now. And I teach that to unblend you do the three Ns: that is, to name, notice, and normalize. You can do these Ns in any order.
So, to name, notice, and normalize sounds like this. Say you feel super guilty, you notice or name that emotion. “This is guilt. A part of me feels so much guilt right now.” You take a moment to identify how you experience that guilt. Maybe you notice what it's like in or around your body when that guilt is present.
Then perhaps you notice that you can step into more of a watcher or a narrator mode, where instead of being 100% infused or blended with the perspective, or the emotion this guilty part is holding, it's almost like you step back just a little. And you're now sitting across the table from a part that holds guilt. Or you're sitting next to the part that has guilt. And instead of it coloring your view 100%, it's only coloring your view maybe 50%.
You normalize it by saying, “Ah, of course there's a part that feels some guilt here. Other people in a similar set of circumstances might also have this guilt.” Once you name and notice and normalize, you unblend.
You can start relating to this part of you, instead of relating with the world from this part. When you notice who's driving, and you stop the bus, you can set that part in the passenger seat and have so much more perspective.
So, one of the beautiful ideas that comes from Internal Family Systems is the idea of having parts, but also having a Self, and “Self” being with a capital S. Self with a capital S, is characterized by certain qualities and characteristics. They are called the “8C's and the 5P's.”
I want you to listen to these qualities that characterize Self: Compassion, curiosity, clarity, confidence, creativity, connection, calm, courage, playfulness, patience, persistence, perspective, and presence. Likely, when you felt these qualities, you felt most like yourself.
In Internal Family Systems, it is said that when our parts soften back, when they get out of the driver's seat, when we unblended from them, these qualities, which I'm going to refer to as Self Energy qualities, they spontaneously emerge. The idea that I think really drives this home, is the idea of Self, with a capital S, is like the sun. And clouds in the sky are like our parts.
When parts are present, we may not see the sun. When guilt is at the wheel, we may not have perspective or playfulness. When we are blended with the people-pleasing part, we may not appreciate the clarity and courage that helps us set loving boundaries.
But when you notice that you've spent all day with yourself last on the list, and you're feeling empty and borderline resentful, and you don't know why, and you notice the people-pleasing part has been at the wheel, and you name it, and you unblended from it, and you get it out of the driver's seat, you open the door to perspective in connection to your Self and the clarity that might be missing when that people pleaser part is driving.
When you notice the cloud, you can start noticing the sun as well. So, my question for you to ponder as you go through the rest of your day is this, who is at the wheel? Who is here right now for you?
Once you know which part is in the driver's seat, you can use the three Ns to name the part, notice what it's like, notice what it makes you feel and how it makes you act, normalize it by saying something like, “Of course, this is how I've been feeling. Of course, this is why I've been acting this way. So-and-so has been a wheel for the last 50 miles.”
When you name, notice and normalize, with this very simple act of narrating, you will be able to unblend and tap into those qualities of perspective and calm and curiosity and compassionate, etc.
Now, this is not just some cutesy little analogy. The reason this is so vital is, whoever spends the most time driving is going to dictate your experience of your day and your life. So, if you don't notice who's at the wheel of your life, you're going to be in the backseat wondering why you have the view that you have, while you keep going in circles in a part of town that you hate.
Versus, when you are clear about who's at the wheel, you're going to notice more quickly the obstacles in your life. You're going to be able to recalibrate. Some days you might want your compassionate, warm, caring part at the wheel. Some other days, you might want that scrappy, determined part to run the show.
Other days, you might want to have that no-nonsense, ‘let's get shit done’ part at the wheel. It is absolutely essential that you know who's at the wheel.
So, to get back to agency, the way you cultivate agency is by recognizing who's driving, and deciding who's the best driver for the job. Who's the best driver for the terrain and the environment around you. Your ‘take names kick ass’ confident part, may be exactly who you need for the contentious committee meeting. Whereas your silly, goofy, patient part is who you want at the wheel on a lazy Saturday morning.
To recap, just as a vehicle moves through the world with a driver and passengers, you move through your life with different mindsets, emotions, or parts in the driver's seat of your life. Your vehicle, you in your life, are going to go different places, with different scenery, at a different pace, with different music depending on who you let drive.
Just like a minivan has room for a primary driver and navigator and a bunch of passengers, you can bring along uncomfortable emotions. You can bring along different parts without letting them be the main driver or the navigator.
From the Internal Family Systems model in psychotherapy, to be blended with a part means that you are going to see the world through that part’s eyes. Which means you'll have blinders on to other ways of seeing, feeling and being.
So, the concept of unblending is important. To unblend is to notice who's at the wheel, to notice a way of thinking or an emotion or an action and to name it. And separate from it just a fraction, in order to get a little bit of clarity, a little bit of perspective, a little bit of space.
To unblend is to notice that you've been taken over by a part, or hijacked, or simply, a part is at the wheel. To get space from this part, to shift to sitting across the table from this part, or putting it in the backseat while you drive.
To do this, you use the three Ns: Name, Notice and Normalize; and you can do them in any order. When you do this, you are going to cultivate deeper self-understanding and more agency.
So, that is what I've got for you this week. I hope you can let these ideas marinate. And I hope that you will ask yourself the question, who is at the wheel? Until next week. I'll talk to you soon.
Well, I hope you found this episode valuable. If you want to learn the “how” of being more aware of your thinking and your beliefs, so that you can create some real changes in your ordinary everyday life, I would love to connect.
It's my mission to help you understand why you feel and act and think as you do, so that you can be more deliberate in this one life that you have. To do that, I work with clients one on one.
And for women physicians, I also have a group coaching program that runs about every six months. For more information about private coaching, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/consult.
To get on the waitlist for the next Habits on Purpose for Physicians group coaching program, and be the first to hear about the next start date in 2024, how you can get CME, the early enrollment bonuses, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/waitlist.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.