Overtime, you’ll start to find that it’s getting easier and easier to maintain pole position in directing your own life and your efforts and energy to where you really want to get. You’re starting to be more aware of what you do and don’t actually like, what you do and don’t actually want to do, and what activities and people fill you up, energize and empower you, and which ones really don’t.
With practice, you’ll get more and more adept at noticing when your backseat driver is surreptitiously back behind the wheel, pulling you down into pointless distractions and off into tangential dead-ends, goading your critters into a fury or trying to ship them out - permanently - to Australia.
The good news is that most of the time, he’s not going to be able to mess with your head the way he used to. You’re onto him now, and most of his sneaky tricks, and you’re starting to be able to ‘choose against’ much, much more, and more easily than in the past.
The bad news is that the backseat driver still has access to your two biggest nuclear buttons, and the more you start trying to pull away from him, the more he starts to use them against you.
These two buttons are marked ‘fear’ and ‘anger’, although most people don’t actually realize that these are the two raw emotions powering up those babies.
Many people prefer to call these buttons by fluffier names like stress, worry, indecision, mild upset, disappointment, etc. But if you dig a big deeper, you’ll always hit the bedrock of either anger, or fear, lurking underneath. It’s like when the boss calls you over for a chat, and your stomach instantly lurches into your shoes.
We can call that ‘butterflies in the stomach’, which conjures up the most fragile creatures in the world whispering gently around out intestines, but what are we feeling really?
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY FEELING?
“The boss wants to talk to me? Why? What did I do wrong? Is it that unauthorized phone call to Honolulu I made three months ago? Did someone complain about me? I bet it’s Jill! She’s had her eyes on my project for a long time. She’s always stabbing people in the back. She’s such a cow. I can’t believe she’d go this far though, unbelievable…”
Step back, and let’s observe what’s going on here. It started out as fear, and then very quickly the anger and self-indignation rushed in like a tidal wave, together with a solid (but completely unproven….) assumption that Jill has done the dirty on us somehow, and dropped us in hot water.
Then you get to the boss and you find out he just wants you to know you have a week of leave to take, and you need to do it pronto, by the end of the year. That’s it?!? You worked yourself up into a state over that?!
What’s going on here? Suddenly, you feel like you’re four years old, all lost in the world and completely overwhelmed. You need your mommy, right now. But now you’re 34 years old! And mommy isn’t available to soothe your pain and kiss is better. What makes all this even worse is that you’ve convinced yourself you’re an enlightened human being now, and that you’re meant to be past all these charged emotional outbursts.
The people who buy into that story get so badly stuck because they’re effectively closing themselves into a cell with no light, no window, no door. If you tell yourself that you’re enlightened and you can’t get angry or scared even more - even though you’re clearly doing precisely that - how can you ever get out of the problem?
If you can’t recognize the street that lead you down this blind alley, how can you retrace your steps?
True emotional freedom requires us to be honest about what’s really going on. It requires us to stop daintily hopping over words like stressed-out, healthy venting and a bit worried to actually call the emotional spade a spade: we’re angry, and we’re scared.
And sometimes, it’ll go the other way around instead, and we’ll be scared and then angry. And sometimes, a few other things will get drawn into the mix, too, and we’ll find ourselves feeling angry, scared, resentful, jealous and hating.
But underneath it all, it’s really all just a reaction to losing control.
Don’t panic when you suddenly discover you have no idea what you yourself really thinks about a whole bunch of stuff, or that you have no idea what you really want to do with yourself, or why.
Instead, just turn your attention to taming your inner critters. The way to do this is to just start noticing how they react to your situations and experiences. Does the thought of having to give a big presentation, or attend a job interview send them scurrying back into their box, or climbing the walls?
What makes them soften up and relax a little? Long walks on the beach? Long talks with someone a little wiser? A little light reading or a hard work-out? As you get to know your critters better, you’ll soon start to figure out that certain people literally have them eating out of their hand, while others put their backs up and get them baring their teeth and growling up a storm.
Relating to your deeper feelings as critters that need to be house-trained can give you a very helpful handle on how to deal with being plunged into feelings of frozen overwhelm or hepped-up over-excitement. But where critters beat dogs hands down is that with a bit of practice, you can actually get them to talk.
Actually, that’s not exactly true. The critters are talking to us all the time, just we haven’t tuned our ears to hear them. But listening to what they are saying can quickly become one of the most profoundly satisfying and useful skills you’ll ever learn in your life. Because critters often hold some of the most valuable pieces of insight and wisdom.
Up until now, you couldn’t hear them because the backseat driver was filling your head with all its dictates, and arguments and worries and concerns. The critters couldn’t really get a look in, unless they went ballistic one day and bit someone’s head off (and let’s face it, that used to happen much more than we like to admit. That’s part of the reason we shoved them in the Porta-Pet in the first place.)
And initially, you may have to take them out for walks muzzled, until you really learn their moods and their foibles, and what sorts of things can set them off and trigger an attack stance. Over time, if you observe them carefully, and really start to listen to what they’re telling you, and showing you with their reactions, you’ll start to build the most rewarding relationship of your life.
The more you care for your critters and tend to their needs, the more they’ll come to trust you, and to go to bat for you when you need them.
Your critters have a much keener sense of smell than you do; they can sense danger - and also snuffle out genuine opportunities and hidden treasures - a million times better than you can.
But you have to be the one holding the leash and taking them for a walk, and not the other way around.
Over time, you’ll discover that you’ve come to know your critters so well, and that you’ve trained them so ably, you very rarely have to worry about them losing their heads and chewing their way through the neighbors’ prize dahlias. Instead, you’ll be able to easily put their talents and abilities at your disposal - as long as you learn their limitations, and respect their requirements.
If your critters hate big, loud, superficial parties, don’t take them to those things even if it seems like a great idea. If they hate being cooped in a stuffy accountant’s cubby hole, you’ll have to find a different job to do, or a different way of doing your job, that will take the critters into account.
If the critters hate sitting through a six hour Thanksgiving feast with your nearest and dearest, you’ll have to decide to either box them back up out the way for the afternoon (and then deal with the consequences of doing that later) or bring them along but leave at the first sign they’re getting a little antsy.
You’ll learn so much about life if you start to listen more to your critters. But that doesn’t mean they’re always right, or completely infallible. When you’re out searching for clues, or trying to track something or someone down, the bloodhound will be invaluable. But no-one sane ever takes their dog’s advice about what stocks to invest.
So don’t expect more from your critters than they’re capable of giving you.
Learn their strengths, respect their weaknesses and you’ll be rewarded many times over.
But don’t expect your backseat driver to like your critters, or the other way around.
One of the backseat drivers’ favorite ploys is to spend a few moments inflaming and inciting your critters, until all hell breaks loose and they’re pooping all over the place and otherwise wrecking the joint. At that point, the backseat driver will try to convince you that you can’t deal with these critters by yourself - I mean, look at the terrible mess and destruction they’re causing!! - and that you really need him, the backseat driver, to get things back under control.
How’s he going to do this? By banning the critters to the back of beyond, crating them up and shipping them out.
That’s how they got into that Porta-Pet crate in the first place, and that’s why they’re going so bug-eyed and wild now you’re finally trying to spring them out again.
From their side of things, whenever the critters have to deal with the backseat driver again, it’ll bring out the very worst in them. Whether they deal by gnashing their teeth, running away or freezing in place - maybe, a combination of all of these things - depends on a whole bunch of things.
But the more you’ve invested in your relationship with your critters, they more they trust you, and the more you really understand and value them, the easier it’ll be to get things back under control again when they do go a little beserk again. And that is inevitably going to happen, because animals inevitably act like animals, not angels.
So to sum up where we’ve got to:
The more you get to hang out with your critters, the more you’ll start to find that you want to hang out with people who like, even love them just as much as you do. Or at the very least, who can tolerate them without blowing a gasket.
There will still be times when you have to Porta-Pet them, but increasingly you’ll find that you’ll want to keep those occasions to a bare minimum, and to also keep those times as short as possible.
Because while you can function superficially without your critters, your critters can’t stay sane for long without you, and they’ll be sure to let you know how much they missed you when you get around to visiting them again.
It’s a great feeling to finally feel yourself properly in the driving seat. You set the destination, you decide where you want to go and how and why, there’s no-one holding you back now, or ordering you around.
Which is when most people discover the next hurdle on the path: now they are starting to get some mental clarity, and a break from the backseat driver’s incessant instructions, nagging, small talk and general freak-outs about all things large and small, they find
they have no idea where they want to go. Or why. Or how they actually feel about the process of trying to get there.
It’s like that 17 year old who finally gets around to asking the cute girl out for a date, and after months of planning and hoping and waiting finds he has absolutely nothing to say to her when the big day comes around.
If you’re not prepared for this part of the journey, it can easily tip you head-over-heels and have you scrambling to invite the backseat driver back into the car again, so you can get past that panicked feeling of having no frigging clue about what you actually want to do in life, or how.
“Sure, I had all plans to drive down South and visit a bunch of cool canyons but now that I can actually just go right ahead and do, I’ve got cold feet. I’m not sure I want to spend a month of my time on a road-trip right now. I’m scared of what I’m going to find if I go. I’m even more scared of what I might come back to.
“Maybe, this emotional freedom is more hassle than it’s worth, and it’s easier to go back to just following orders and dreaming about freedom in theory…”
This is a really normal response, to that first taste of freedom.
That's why so many long-term prisoners baulk when they're finally released, and will do anything they can to get themselves back into jail as quickly as possible.
You’re being stampeded into a panic about what’s out there, and you’re probably also stressing about how you’re going to cope, and feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the things that you kind of relied on the backseat driver to take care of for you.
This is when it starts to dawn on you that kicking that guy out of the car was empowering, but maybe also the dumbest thing you ever did in your life. Because now there is no-one else to blame, there is nothing else to hide behind and the buck stops with you.
If you’re not prepared for that heady kick-back from your first real taste of freedom, it can knock you out cold. So many people turn tail and run when they’re finally given the key to open the door, and get out there a little, but that’s only because no-one ever told them that this feeling of overwhelming panic is just a stage.
If you sit quietly, and wait it out, it’ll pass. For some people, it may take a few minutes for the freak out to start to fade away, for others it may be more like a couple of hours, or a couple of days. But it won’t be more than that, and if you can get through this stage, you’ll be through maybe the biggest milestone on your quest for emotional freedom.
It’s like when you bring that cute puppy home from the pound in its plastic travel crate. The first time you open that box up, that cute critter is going to power out of there like Usain Bolt.
It’s going to run up the walls, wee in the corners and generally make you wish you’d just said ‘no’ to all the wheedling to get a dog.
Alternatively, it’ll push its way back, far, far back, against the wall of the carry crate, and not hell nor high water will get that animal to venture out into the wide open space of your yard. But just leave the door open, go about your business, and slowly but surely, he’ll start sniffing around and when he gets a little hungry, or he needs to attend to some present business, he’ll come out and make your acquaintance.
Whichever way your own internal ‘critter response’ is going to play out, trying to stuff the dog back in the box and shipping it straight back to the pound is not the answer.
You wanted that dog in your life because you wanted the benefit of getting your face all licked off when you open the door after a hard day’s hustle, and you wanted something warm and cuddly to hang out with and talk to. Maybe, you also wanted Buster in your life to give you a greater sense of security, and like someone, something, has got your back.
A dog can do a lot of good things for you. Persevering through those often difficult few days and weeks when you’re starting to get to know each other, and starting to figure out what each of you can bring to the relationship, and how best to relate to each other takes time and a lot of patience.
The same is true with your internal ‘critter response’. Those guys have been all boxed-up inside of you while the backseat driver’s been calling the shots for years. Now that you’re finally swinging the cage open, you can expect to feel messy and chaotic for a while, or panicked and all crumpled up at the back, scared to put a foot wrong.
But with a bit of coaxing, a bit of training, and a lot of patience, your critter response will turn around from crazy-making overwhelm, to giving you the best, most loyal and lickable best friend you ever had in your life.
Another stunt the backseat driver likes to pull is telling you about stuff that happened to other people, that is highly unlikely to happen for you.
You’ve met the girl of your dreams, you’re ready to pop the big question, and here he pops up with a million examples of people whose marriage went sour to try and convince you’re making the mistake of your life. But those people aren’t you! And even if they come from similar backgrounds - even if they come from the same family - they still aren’t you.
So what that you grew up in the same home? Do you like exactly the same things? Do you work at exactly the same job? Do you have exactly the same personality, abilities or goals in life?
Nope? So don’t listen. That advice is talking about someone else, it’s not talking about you.
When you’re dealing with a healthy personality, the other person gives you space to express your views, put across another opinion, and generally listens in a respectful way to the points you’re trying to make, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.
You won’t find any of these things happening by the backseat driver. The BSD doesn’t care what you really think and he’s not interested in having a real discussion with you. Remember, this is all about who gets to be in control, and while you’re the one actually steering the car, there can’t be two of you setting the direction.
The backseat driver wants you to see the world the way he does, and to act and react the way he would. Full stop. There’s nothing to talk about here. And the way he’ll pull you around to his way of thinking (once you’ve figured out that he is not you) is by grinding you down with an incessant monologue about what he thinks should be happening.
“You shouldn’t be so nice to people, they’re taking you for a ride. You should put yourself first, because if you don’t look after number 1, no-one else is going to. People are just looking for a chance to stab you in the back and pull one over on you. You can’t trust anyone. You should stop making an effort with those people. Everyone’s just in it for themselves, they’re all selfish, self-centred people.”
Is there a place for to respond, during a rant like this? Nope. Understand that trying to bring the backseat driver around to your point of view is a complete waste of time. So then, why bother arguing with him in the first place?
It’s because you’re not having that argument to persuade him of the truth.
You need the argument to persuade yourself of the truth.
Which is when the backseat driver will try another strategy out on you: As soon as he sees you’re starting to pull away from all the mind-control and automatic obedience to what he thinks you should be doing, he’ll try to rush you into making rash decisions.
“Do it now! Buy that massively overpriced house now, because if you don’t, someone else is going to step in and get the deal of the century! Tell your sister what you really think about her now! After what she’s just done you will never have an opportunity to tell her the real truth about herself, and if you don’t set things straight, how is she ever going to know how much she hurt you and how horrible she really is? Quit your job now! You can’t stand it anymore, it’s such a grind, the journey in is so tedious and horrible. Who cares about money when you’re so miserable? There’s more important things in life!”
Notice the backseat driver is hugely convincing, at least in the moment. But what’s missing here is the necessary give-and-take that will enable you to really explore all sides of a decision before really making your mind up. Sure, the decision itself is important, but what leads up to making it is probably even more so.
Because once you’ve explored all the angles, and really thrashed things out, and taken the possible consequences into account, only then can you really make a decision that you’re probably not going to regret, however it ends up turning out.
If a real person showed up and started trying to fill your head with nonsensical doubts and worries; or started picking holes in everyone you know and everything you’re trying to do, you’d (hopefully) run away pretty fast.
Who wants to take advice from someone like that? Who wants to have someone like that in control of their decision-making processes and view of the world? The guy is nutso! So the first and crucial step to breaking free from the backseat driver is to stop automatically agreeing with everything he’s telling you.
How do we do this?
After we’ve spent a bit of time really noticing the sorts of things he says and when, and how we start to feel after listening to one of his monologues or rants, the next stage is to start challenging the argument.
Try this: When the backseat driver is trying to convince you of just how terrible a particular course of action is going to be, or why you really are the ugliest person in the world and you’re never going to get a girl-friend, start to challenge the narrative.
Think of all the ugly people you know in the world who are in a relationship right now - there’s millions and billions of them. So many people with bad skin, crooked teeth, excess poundage and terrible haircuts have found their other half. Many of them have a thriving home life and happy families.
Why couldn’t that be you too?
Warning: the backseat driver will not take to this at all kindly, especially at the beginning, and will try to cower you into silence by going into a big list of ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE WRONG WITH YOU.
“You don’t have the job or the bucks that guy’s got. You haven’t got his group of friends, or his batting average. You don’t know how to ski. You live in the wrong neighborhood. Your family is way more messed-up than his is. You come from a broken home and no-one ever loved you right…”
On and on it goes. And the key to withstanding the backseat driver’s onslaught and to finally breaking free from his control is to not take him seriously. Remember, you are dealing with a loony tune here, a nutjob.
This is not someone that you want or need to take advice or opinions from in any way, shape or form.
Again, the only reason that you’re listening to the backseat driver is because you and him are the same person. But that’s not true! The real you, the true you, is so much wiser, smarter and nicer. And we’re going to learn how to get the backseat driver out of the picture so that real you can start to find their voice, hold on.
Because the real you is the only expert you really need, and the only source of advice you should really be listening to.
So, how you can tell the difference? Understanding when it’s the backseat driver talking or when it’s the real you talking is the key to starting to think straight, and starting to tune out all the chaos, upset and ‘noise’ that the backseat driver, or BSD, is filling our minds with.
Yes I can see, just keep backing up. You’ve got plenty of room behind you.
You should just drive down to Eilat; it’s so much easier than flying.
You should dye your hair blond.
You should dye your hair black.
You should take the overnight bus — its 11 hours but you’ll sleep practically the whole time.
Just glue it back together. She'll never notice the difference.
Tango Orange is a perfect shade for your bedroom, because it’s so happy!.
You can’t get chicken pox twice.
Don’t bother checking where it is on a map, I'm sure it's really easy to find
Shake it off. It doesn’t look broken and a sprain actually hurts worse than a break.
They always put the sell-by date really early, so people will throw it away and buy more.
Go running later, when it’s dark — that way the park will be less crowded.
You don’t need an electrician for that — just do it yourself.
You shouldn’t eat more than a couple of grapes at a time, it’s so easy to over-do it with fruit.
Next time the chatter starts up, with all its doubts and judgment calls, ask yourself if the backseat driver is qualified to give you his advice on this matter?
If you’re trying to buy a new sofa, what does this guy know that you don’t? Does he work in the business? Did his grandparents craft sofas by hand back in the old country? Is he a fine furniture connoisseur?
Nope? So don’t listen.
It’s not coming from a credible source.
Ok, let’s recap where we’ve got to so far on our road-map to real mental health:
1) There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you. All of your problems are being caused by the backseat driver.
2) The backseat driver is working night and day to fill your heads with needless and frivolous confusions, doubts, worries, criticisms, worst-case scenarios that never happen and a general view of the world as bad, dangerous and nasty.
3) The backseat driver’s greatest achievement is convincing us that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he addresses us as himself, he uses our own phrases and foibles against us.
4) The true essence of a person is not defined by what job they do, where they live, how much money they make, who they love or who loves them, what they succeeded at, what they failed at, or what they look like.
5) A person’s true essence is made up of every thought, word and deed they actually put out into the world, both good and bad. We can only really know what our true essence actually was at the very end of the journey.
Now we have those ground rules set down, it’s time to take a look at what we can do to try to turf that backseat driver out of the car, or at least, to get him muffled enough of the time that we can actually start enjoying our lives a whole lot more. The first thing is to just start noticing he’s there.
Notice what chatter he’s filling with you head with when you pick up the phone to make a call:
“Uhoh, my mind’s gone blank. I’ve got nothing to say. I’m going to sound really stupid. They’re going to think I’m retarded. I can’t the words out properly.”
When you’re browsing in a store:
“That sweater is so pretty. But it’s costs a fortune. It probably won’t look so nice on my anyway. I’m just going to end up looking like some fat version of Taylor Swift if I try to fit into that. I wish my arm-flab didn’t jiggle so much. Man, my legs are so hairy, and I look like a guy. I need to take better care of myself. I can’t do it. I haven’t got the time to work out, I haven’t got the money to really buy the clothes that would suit me. Man, it’s really hot in here, I’m finding it hard to breathe…”
Little wonder you’re finding it hard to breathe in the store! You popped in to try on a sweater and now the backseat driver is having a field day finding more and more reasons why you should hate
yourself and how you look!
He also starts up when you’re trying to decide what new car, or new sofa you want to buy:
“The brown leather looks nice…but it’s scuff really easily…and start to look shabby after a year or two…but it’s got a 10 year guarantee and it’s from Italy so maybe that’s ok…but look at the price they are charging for that! I could buy two sofas for that…and if I make the wrong decision I’m going to have to live with it for years…and I’ll get so blamed if I pick a duff couch…and spend our hard-earned money on something that’s going to look bad so fast…but this company has a great reputation, and it’s got a 10 year guarantee…”
Round and round it goes for days, week, months and for some unfortunate individuals, even years.
Years of indecision, worry and guilt that they might ‘pick wrong’ and suffer the consequences for eternity.
See what that backseat driver is doing here? He’s turning everything into a ridiculously big deal. He’s blowing everything out of proportion and painting a picture of ‘reality’ that is anything but real.
The only way to really attain true inner peace is to stop paying attention to the backseat driver.
Try this: next time he starts up, asks yourself what you’d think if a real person came over to you and started telling you all this stuff. Do they sound balanced? Sane? Rational? Like someone you’d really want to pay attention to and take seriously?
This takes a bit of practice, and the main barrier to starting to put that much-needed distance between you and the backseat driver is to understand that he is not you. Where he came from and what he’s doing in your headspace we’ll get to a bit later on, but for now this is the main work to do:
Stop taking that backseat guy so seriously.
If someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say?
Most people will answer by talking about their career:
“I work for a multi-national company.”
“I manage 500 people.”
“I’m looking for a job.”
“I’m studying at Harvard University.”
“I’m an investor.”
“I’m a stay at home mother.”
“I own 139 properties.”
Some people define themselves as ‘victims’, just the product of their circumstances:
“I always do everything for everyone but all I get in return is being [turned on / shunned / criticized / abused / made to feel bad / taken for granted, etc].
“I’m a survivor.”
“I’m a single mother raising my children alone.”
Other people will define themselves by a particular character trait:
“I’m an introvert.”
“I’m a nerd.”
Some people will define themselves by their marital status, especially if they’re divorced or widowed.
Still others will define themselves by their religious beliefs:
“I’m an atheist.”
“I’m an orthodox Jew.”
And then you’ll find those who don’t know how to answer the question, so they try to dodge it:
“I’m nobody special.”
“I don't know.”
“I’ve never really thought about it.”
“Isn't it the eternal question as Paul Gauguin beautifully depicted ? “ Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
But are any of these responses really capturing the true beauty, the true essence of who you really are?
Even if you answered very fully:
“I run a successful accountancy practice in Connecticut, and my hobbies include writing free verse and playing the oboe. I’m married to a wonderful woman - my second marriage - and we have two teenager children. I’m a big believer in an open economy, I usually vote Republican, I’m quite a deep personality who thinks a lot about the meaning of life and often worries that I’m not quite doing what I should be with my life, and my favorite author is Thomas Hardy.”
Ok, so that’s a pretty [full] response, but if we’re honest, we can see that it doesn’t really capture the essence of a person.
So who are we, really?
There’s a short answer to that question which will do for now, but we will get into the longer and more complex answer a little later on, but slowly slowly. We can’t move too fast with this stuff without triggering off an all-out war from the backseat driver who’s got us all fooled that he is really us.
So for now, let’s try to define who we are by who we aren’t.
We aren’t our jobs.
People change jobs all the time, housewives become CEOs, car mechanics become taxi drivers, lawyers become authors or chefs. Especially in today’s hustle economy, no-one can really define themselves by their job even in the short-term, because the job, and the role a person performs in society is constantly changing and evolving.
So we aren’t our jobs.
We aren’t our circumstances.
There are so many rags-to-riches stories out there, and probably even more riches-to-rigs stories. Today’s front page socialite who has the world at her feet could so easily be tomorrow’s washed-up drug addict who’s continuing to sell copies of the National Enquirer for very different, unglamorous reasons.
Circumstances can and do change. And this tends to be the rule, not the exception in our lives. Sometimes, we perceive those changes as positive, like when we move up the property ladder to a bigger house, or when we get a promotion, or get some other lucky break, or enjoy some other delicious moment of serendipity when our circumstances fill us with joy.
But if you define yourself as a loser and a victim, or as a winner and a superman, then what happens to you when your circumstances change?
Let’s consider the case of Christopher Reeve, the powerfully-built actor who embodied the conventional idea of how a ‘superman’ should look and how he should act. On screen, Reeve was the caped crusader with supernatural powers who used his physical prowess and really handy flying abilities to save the world from baddies and natural disasters.
Off-screen, Reeve seemed to carry a lot of his character with him, and was a highly-successful, attractive and physically active man. Until that fateful day when he had a terrible accident whilst riding his horse and broke his neck.
Overnight, the muscular, powerful ‘superman’ turned into a total quadriplegic, almost entirely reliant on other people to help him do even the simplest things in life like eat and get dressed.
Most people would have been absolutely crushed in this enormous reversal in their circumstances. But Reeve wasn’t most people, and he rose to the challenge of expressing the essence of who he really was in completely different, non-physical terms.
For the decade of life that remained to him after his accident, Reeve was a tireless campaigner for disability rights and for disabled people.
It’s maybe the biggest irony of his life that he pulled off his most heroic role, and the biggest positive and lasting impact on the world, when he was physically paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.
A superman indeed.
But the point is, we aren’t our circumstances. Whether or not you have wealth, health, good fortune, a big house, good looks, loads of friends, physical prowess, intellectual abilities - all of those things can and do change from day to day, sometimes subtly, and often less so.
So we aren’t our circumstances.
We aren’t our collected personality traits, either.
While this has the surface appearance of being a little closer to capturing the real essence of who we are, it’s still got the same limitation that applies to the other answers we’ve discussed: people’s personalities can and do change over time.
If a person is continually trying to work on themselves, and continually trying to uproot negative character traits, beliefs and behaviors, overtime their personalities will become more sparkly, spiritually shiny and beautiful.
And if we’re not trying to do that work, than typically overtime, our backseat driver will keep diverting us down more and more emotional dead-ends and black holes, and we’ll increasingly find ourselves sharing a ride with more and more feelings of anger, bitterness, resentments and regrets.
Which doesn’t make for a nice day out, by any measure.
So when some people say things like: “I’m just an angry person”, what they’re really trying to do is control their environment by getting themselves stuck in a persona that actually, really isn’t the true them.
“Watch out, I’ll get angry if you try to pull me out of my comfort zone, or expect me to change how I see the world, or react to things!”
It’s like posting a ‘Beware Dog’ sign on your perimeter. Statements like this are warning shots to try and keep people away from the real essence of who you are.
But guess what: you really aren’t the person who’s sticking those signs up - the backseat driver is.
And plenty of angry people calmed down and stopped been so aggressive and edgy once they learnt where their feelings of anger were really coming from, and how to deal with them properly.
And most importantly of all, when they realized that calling themselves ‘an angry person’ actually didn’t’ reflect the true reality of who they really are.
When you give your child a loving hug, are you an angry person?
When you say sorry to a friend for forgetting to calm them on their birthday, are you an angry person?
When you make a huge effort to cook a nice meal for your family, are you an angry person?
The honest answer has to be no. In that moment, with that action, you aren’t being an angry person at all.
So then, who are we, really?
If we’re not the guy in the backseat, and we’re not a collection of our successes, failures, job descriptions and labels, then who are we, really?
Who we really are:
Who we are is expressed in our collective impact on the world, both for the good and for the bad.
The key to dealing with the 'backseat driver' is to understand how it actually operates.
The backseat driver:
- never stops talking
- doesn’t give you a moment to relax, digest, contemplate
- encourages you to spend as much time as possible checking pointless stuff out on your mobile phone
- plays both sides of the equation [like egging you on to 'speak your mind' about an issue, and rationalizes why it's actually good and correct for you to spew poison at other people, and then puts the boot in once you've actually done that, and makes you feel really bad and ashamed of how you just acted.]
- makes you feel ucky
- makes you feel like you can’t do without him.
- is a worry wort - as soon as you deal with one issue, and safely put it to bed, it throws up the next one to panic you about.
This probably sounds all to familiar, because all of us have to deal with the 'backseat driver' to some degree or another, and this is the way it operates for all of us. So for now, don't stress that you've got a huge issue that can never be fixed. It can, but first, we’re just here noticing the problem.
Here's some other stuff that the backseat driver does:
Really? Out outlook is what is shaping this reality, and not the other way round. But by controlling the way we process our experiences, and by filtering all of our experiences through it's own, warped lens, the backseat driver reinforces its version of reality, and maintains it's control over us.
But guess what:
That crazy little guy isn’t really us! And it's not really giving us a true picture of reality.
So then the question begs to be asked: who are we, really?
Let’s find out.
“If you take the next left, it will get you to the store 10 minutes faster…Hey, you’re revving too much, the engine can’t take it! The aircon is up to high I’m getting chilblains just sitting here…do you know how much gas that thing sucks out of the tank? This trip’s gonna end up costing you a fortune…You’re going to get stuck behind that tanker going uphill, you should indicate now and get into the middle lane…the cops usually park right behind that next bend with a speed-o-meter, hit the brakes so you don’t get fined…”
Few things are more irritating than having a back-seat driver along for the ride. There they sit, picking holes in your driving style, your sense of direction, even your choice of music. Ask the backseat driver why they do what they do, and they’ll tell you straight out: they’re just trying to be helpful. And they really believe it!
But going anywhere with a backseat driver is invariably exhausting and draining. They don’t shut up… they’re forever looking for one more thing to worry over, one more thing to criticize you about, one more way to make you feel small, stupid and entirely reliant on them and their superior advice and experience.
Backseat drivers take all the fun out of the journey.
Now, it’s hard enough to deal with a real-live person stuck in the back of your car trying to call all the shots and not giving you anytime or space to think things through for yourself in a calm, relaxed fashion. But there’s a big secret you should know about yourself: You’ve got a back-seat driver calling the shots in your own head 24 / 7 and you never get away from them.
And that’s not all. This backseat driver is so cunning, it’s managed to convince you that the person who’s doling out all the criticism, and worry, and doubt and harsh judgments about you and the rest of humanity is actually…you.
“I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I forget to call the insurance guy to renew the policy on time. Now, I’m going to have to re-do all the paperwork from scratch, I’m so retarded!”
Or, try this:
“I can’t believe I was dumb enough to try to avoid paying the tax I owed. Now, I’m stressing about it all the time and I sit in the office convinced the IRS are going to burst through my door any minute and arrest me. They’ll splash the story all over the local press and my wife will divorce me…”
Or how about this:
“Man, why did I eat all those fries and pizza? I really feel like I’m going to throw up now! I’ve got no self-control, I can’t seem to get a grip on my life, I’m such a loser.”
He's convinced us that HE is really US!
Do you see what’s happening here? The backseat driver has us convinced that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he uses our catch-phrases, he knows all our secret fears and weaknesses, and he has absolutely no qualms about using them against us to get us to do what he wants.
And what is it that this internal back-seat driver really wants from us? In a word: control. He wants to control the way we see our lives, and the way we relate to other people, and the way we react to the different circumstances we get sent to deal with.
He wants to convince us that the world is full of bogey-man waiting to get us, and monsters under our bed who want to spirit us away to the netherworld, and nasty people who are just itching to kidnap our children and steal our lifesavings.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking to yourself: “But isn’t that true? Isn’t that a rational opinion to hold, that the world is a dangerous place and home to milllions and even billions of psychos, derango-s and otherwise criminally insane, crazy people?”
Let’s be clear no-one is arguing with the idea that the world is full of loony-tunes. Everyone walking around on planet earth has got their own issues to deal with, and their own craziness to face down. But top of the crazy-making list is this:
People think that their backseat driver is really them.
That’s why they have ceded almost all their power, control and inner vitality over to that little crazy guy sitting behind them who is calling all the shots in their lives.
So what can we really do, to try to get rid of this pernicious backseat driver who seems to have opinions about everything and everyone, and who makes judgment calls 24/7 and doesn’t give us a moment’s peace and quiet, even (or maybe especially…) when we’re trying to settle down for the night?
Just as we’ve got into our favorite pair of pyjamas and started to drowse off over an interesting bit of bedtime reading and reached to turn the bedside light off - that’s when it starts reminding us that we forgot to hang the washing up, and it’s going black and moldy in the machine. Or that we forgot to respond to that niggly work email, and now all the endless possible responses are going to be cycling through our head, bothering us and stopping us from going to sleep all night long.
Let’s be clear that this crazy little backseat driving guy is really good at what he does, he’s an expert in keeping our heads too stuffed up with worries and problems and doubts and arguments and criticisms to really take a breath and to actually think.
But it’s time to turf him out of pole position, and to reclaim control of the vehicle once again
These days, it seems like you need a bunch of letters after your name to have a right to an opinion on anything.
“You can’t eat carbs for breakfast! The latest research shows that eating carbs for breakfast will severely impact your digestive system and make you sluggish and slow the whole day.”
“But, I really like my Weetabix…”
“Who are you to have an opinion like that?! What’s your alma mater? What do you know, really? I’m telling you that carbs are bad for breakfast - and I’ve devoted the last 10 years of my life to researching this issue - and you’re still telling me that you enjoy wheat-based cereals first thing in the morning?! Why should I take you seriously? Who are you, to be arguing against the science?”
All the experts out there are pretty busy these days telling us what to eat for optimal gut health, and what gloopy stuff to smear on our skins to combat wrinkles, or zits, and how to raise our kids so they won’t turn into psychos.
The list goes on and on.
Uhoh. Here comes one now.
“Wait a minute, who gave you permission to write about all this emotional health stuff? Where’s your credentials? Where did you study? Who are you, anyway?!”
Hopefully, we’ll get to a much deeper answer to that question as this series of posts unfolds, but you should know that regardless of all the experts out there who are trying to convince you that you can’t so much as pick up a pair of slacks or buy a new toothbrush without their ‘expert’ advice and opinion, really there is only expert you should be listening to on a regular basis: yourself.
Not because you have a million shiny PhD diplomas hanging on your wall (although that’s nice if you do); and not because you’re a self-made millionaire, or a fashion icon, or a pillar of society, or because you happen to bake the best pecan pie this side of the Atlantic.
All that stuff is nice, sure, but the reason you are the real expert about your own life is because you got given that job to do, and every ability you need to carry it off properly. This book isn’t about teaching new truths or new wisdoms that you’ve never heard of before. It’s about revealing that truth deep inside of yourself that you actually already know and recognize to be your own.
Really, you know better than anyone else in the world what you should be doing with yourself, what’s good for you, what you should be aiming for and getting the heck away from. And you for sure know what to have for breakfast.
So this series of posts isn’t so much a journey of discovery as a journey of helping you to reclaim what is already yours, and to find what you already possess deep within.