The RAT Trap

By Guest

We love to be "Right," we love to hear ‘yes your advice helped me, you are right and I am wrong.’ Being Right is a very seductive state of mind. But watch out it’s the Ego self that wants to be right and uses a lot of energy to argue for it’s limitations and ultimately to protect itself, and the existing status quo.

When everything in life is going well, and we are going through normal, familiar and comfortable experiences, it is quite difficult to distinguish your authentic self from your ego self. However, as soon as you experience has its challenges, difficulties or people who are blocking you from what you want to do or are telling you how to do things, these become like a red rag to a bull. Being in these circumstances activates our survival instincts.

When you have to leave your comfort zone, this is when you tune into a voice. "A voice?" I hear you say. Yes, that voice. The voice that is a running commentary in your head. The one that goes something like this . . . "Oh no, I am going to have to speak aloud, or share views in the scary boardroom, oh no perhaps I will need to get up and go to the front and do the whole presentation . . . " and then the voice that gives you a lot of suggestions to get you out of this uncomfortable situation. "Maybe you should go to the bathroom and avoid having to talk, look away so you won’t be asked.' Sound familiar?

Meet Your Rat

This is a good time to introduce you to a little character. Imagine a very large RAT. Yes, I said RAT – imagine the whiskers and the long, pinky, thick tail. Now imagine it gnawing away at your thoughts, your dreams, your best-laid plans.

Gnawing away at everything and anything. This RAT is my metaphor for RATIONAL MIND. The rational mind has one main role in life, and that is to keep you safe or, to put it a better way, keep you surviving. The primary driver and agenda for the RATional mind is – YOUR SURVIVAL. If life presents us with a risky choice, this RAT gets very loud in our heads and begins to chatter away to us at a million miles an hour, normally arguing for our limitations.

Your RATTY tape recordings

I want you to imagine your RAT sitting in your brain between your eyes. Like a secret video camera, it captures on tape every experience you have ever had in life that made a deep impression on you.

The RAT sits in the middle of two piles of videotapes. The pile on the right is everything in life you did badly, where you failed, screwed up, hurt yourself, or looked stupid. I’ll call these ‘toxic trauma tapes’.

On the left, RAT has a pile of tapes of you being great, successful winning and achieving. I’ll call these your ‘big you up tapes’.

The toxic trauma tapes

Every time life presents you with similar, undesirable circumstances; RAT replays that toxic tape, and you automatically relive all the feelings, emotions and physical sensations. The toxic trauma tapes stored on the right are very deeply recorded in your memory banks and these tapes are very difficult to erase. RAT’s intention is to keep you safe and stop you from repeating the same mistake that historically caused you pain or embarrassment. To make the message even more powerful, RAT is simultaneously giving you a stream of negative and limiting self-talk to stop you in your tracks and cause you to make a different decision. Decisions that will keep you in your comfort zone and safe.

For instance, let us say that you were poor at reading as a child and now as an adult you have been given an opportunity to make a presentation to a group of people from a stage. At this point RAT pulls out the tape of you at school when things did not go well for you. RAT wants to remind you of all the thoughts and feelings you had back then by way of stopping you going through the same negative experience. RAT may begin to give you reasons why you should not do this: "You can’t stand up on stage and present to this large group of people, are you mad? Do you remember the last time you were asked to do that by your teacher at school and you made a real fool of yourself and fluffed all your words?" At this stage, you may even start sweating, and feel hot under the collar as RAT replays for you all the sensations you had back in your childhood when you were last asked to stand on a stage. This is an outdated survival strategy that does not serve you in your adult life, and it is imperative that you see it for what it is.

The ‘big you up’ tapes

On the other hand, we must remember that RAT also has a pile of tapes on the left-hand side. These are all the experiences where you looked cool; you were winning, tapes of past experiences where you were successful. Those of us who have had a life of positive and good experiences have an easier time, as RAT will replay encouraging self-talk. For example: "Yes go ahead and ski off that black run, you are really good skiing – remember the time you did a similar thing on that school trip and you won the school ski race?’ On these occasions RAT can be your best friend, encouraging you to take a risk based on past (positive) experience.

Getting out of the toxic RAT zone

Many of the people I meet have all sorts of fears and phobias, and if they listened to their RAT they would never put a foot out of their comfort zone.

According to Daniel Goleman, in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence, we are constantly scanning our environment looking for threats. To be precise, the amygdala (an almond- shaped part of the limbic brain), is standing guard like an emotional sentinel, challenging every situation, every perception, with one question in mind, the most primitive: IS THIS A THREAT TO MY SURVIVAL? Is this something I should fear? If we get a YES, the amygdala reacts instantaneously and triggers our fight, fright or flight response. The amygdala – RAT if you will – pulls the adrenalin lever, sounds the alarm, and our entire system prepares for the onslaught of the perceived attack and gets ready for survival.

When they are learning new concepts and having to examine deeply held beliefs that do not serve us anymore, this is when we can become attached to our internal commentary persuading us to REMAIN IN THE COMFORT ZONE.

Fear and Excitement Are One and The Same

Fight, fright or flight sensations, as they are sometimes called, occur when RAT picks up on threatening danger signals:
- A physical threat; for example, we are about to be mugged, or we are about to crash the car.
- A mental threat; for example, someone is saying NO to us when we are trying to get our way.

Physical sensations of Fear                       Physical sensations of Excitement

Heart beating faster                                  Heart beating faster
Sweaty hands                                            Sweaty hands
Butterflies in tummy                                 Butterflies in tummy
Shallow breathing                                    Shallow breathing
Moist hands                                              Moist hands
Dry mouth                                                 Dry mouth

In other words, adrenaline being pumped through the body always creates the same physical sensations. However, RAT puts the experience through different software. When RAT wants to get us out of a dangerous situation, when our very survival is at stake, RAT pulls on the adrenalin lever and gives us all the physical sensations listed above. Not only that, he adds in some very powerful instructions: "This is scary let’s get you the hell out of here, run for your life!"

But if RAT feels there is no danger presented, and indeed this is an exciting and enjoyable experience – like driving a fast car, a roller coaster ride, great sex, skiing down a black run – RAT creates the physical experience (we only have one kind of adrenaline) and sends you positive messages. "This is exciting; you can enjoy this. When was the last time you felt this? Life is super, full of adrenalin and vitality, this is great, my heart is thumping ... this is so exciting."

Regardless of whether there is a positive or negative experience, RAT is a very powerful advisor. With every experience, the physical sensations are the same. It’s pure adrenalin rushing through your body. The only thing that’s different is the tape RAT is playing for you. Clever RAT can convince you that black is white and white is black depending on the circumstances you find yourself in. RAT is very efficient at keeping you conscious of anything that threatens your survival.

Where does all this wiring come from?

When our ancestors were confronted with a threat to their survival in the form of a grizzly bear, tiger, or some other salivating beast, it was appropriate to sound the alarm, sending messages that enabled us to survive the imminent threat.

We do not come across many saber-toothed tigers in the boardroom or in life (though it may seem like it . . . ), but our responses to any perceived threat to our survival are still there. We are hard wired to survive. However, we are over-surviving, and it’s causing many people a lot of stress.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between real, close and present danger and a threat to our ego. Like our ancestors, most of us are scanning our environment for threats. As we do, we respond to this by going into over-survival mode and it becomes as if our very life is being threatened. Everyone’s threshold for fear and pain is different; some people find simply walking into a room where there are people they don’t know threatening. Social situations can make some people feel very uncomfortable, and their RAT can get very loud at these times. Others of us may find boardroom meetings scary. This is not only stressful but renders us powerless to see the real opportunities life has to offer us.

If we hit a barrier, for instance let’s say we find out we have made a serious error at work which in turn has an effect on everyone else in the department, the situation could be perceived by RAT as a life or death situation. In order to keep you safe, RAT plays a tape of your experiences – from the ‘I do not want to repeat this’ pile – that puts you back in an experience of fear. This, in turn, triggers the physical sensations of fight, fright or flight. This physical experience is coupled with negative and disempowering thoughts.

So how do we stop Rat in its tracks and BREAKTHROUGH?

The five most common emotional barriers managers hit are:

APATHY – one of the lowest human emotional states. The physiology of this state is low to no energy, slumped in the chair or lying down. Your negative thoughts might be: "What’s the point? I can’t be bothered with this anymore. I have failed. I am worthless! I have let everyone down."

GRIEF – a slightly higher energy level and in this state we might have thoughts like: 'It’s not fair, will it be ok?, why me?, why is this always happening to me?'

FEAR – in this state our energy is held in our stomachs, we can lose our appetite, and our thoughts might be: "Will I survive?, what if I lose my business?, what if everybody wants out?!"

ANGER – a much higher energy state and in this negative emotional state we’re having frightful thoughts like "I will kill them, I am furious!" We pace up and down, as we feel so full of explosive negative energy. This energy can then turn in on itself and become…

PRIDE – the highest energy state of all the negative emotions, and broadly an expression of "I CAN’T" and "I WON’T": "How dare they?, who do they think they are?/do they know who they are dealing with here?, I am not apologizing, they are in the wrong, and I am right."

It takes a lot of emotional energy to be angry or in fear. The way to breakthrough is to transform your thoughts and channel your energy. A great way of doing this is to physically move – go for a run and clear your head. Then, once you are feeling more positive, more helpful thoughts will start to come into your head. This is when it’s important to set a short-term goal and achieve it. Success breeds success; this could be something as easy as walking the dog.

Now you’re ready to start using the Motivational Breakthrough method. There are four stages to this model:

1. Once you have IDENTIFIED what your barriers are you can break through this cycle.

2. You DECODE your thoughts and feelings and acknowledge that you are trapped.

3. You focus on a SHORT-TERM GOAL (e.g. if you are in APATHY in bed you focus on getting up and going to the shower).

4. You raise your energy and TRANSFORM the negative self-talk to positive self-talk, e.g. "I can get through this, I have done it before and will do again." Remind yourself that this too shall pass.

As you transform your thoughts, you transform your emotions. Your physiology and focus are more positive; you are walking tall, smiling and expressing energy. You are now in the positive emotions of ‘I can’ and ‘I will’. This is a wonderful space to be in and, once there, you will want to stay there.

You can hit any one of these negative barriers throughout the day. Your skill at managing negative self-talk and your willingness to express energy and focus on a small, short-term goal will assist you to move through these states quickly and not wallow in a self-limiting stream of thoughts. Enabling you to channel your energy into succeeding with your new business!

Andro Donovan is sought-after speaker, executive coach and author of Motivate. She specializes in helping entrepreneurs, CEOs and other professionals to become more effective leaders by creating a stronger sense of meaning and purpose. Over the past 25 years, Andro has worked with thousands of individuals to help them gain greater influence, effectiveness and perspective. She is known for the life-changing retreats she offers in exotic locations around the world, where she creates safe environments for deep personal transformation. Andro helps audiences focus in on their unique contribution and express their talents to their fullest. Motivate Yourself – Get the life you want, find purpose and achieve fulfilment by Andro Donovan is out now. For further information about Andro visit go to

By Guest| June 20, 2017
Categories:  Live

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