An Underdog’s Credo: “Choking vs. Panic”

As I mentioned on the welcome page of this blog, it’s taken just over five years for me to get it up & running. 

I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve attempted to start a blog, only to stop just shy of “going live”.  It wasn’t until I actually decided to go back to school, that I finally gave up on the idea.  I reasoned with “so much on my plate”, there just wouldn’t be any time.  I shoved all my ideas and well-laid plans into a few storage bins.  They remained there until late last 2015……

My goal for this blog, has simply been to finish what I start and cross something off my bucket list. I’m proud to say, I finally succeeded in producing forward motion in the direction of this goal.

I’m actually making slow and steady progress in the direction of my goal.  I regularly dig through these old storage bins in the back of my hallway closet for another source of “inspiration”.   While I’m grateful to not be stuck anymore, its taken me some time to understand exactly what was stopping me to begin with….

FIRSTLY, “What stopped me?”

Transactional Analysis on Stuckness…

attachment 3My therapist has nesting dolls in her office, and utilizes them to illustrate various ego states from transactional analysis.  When initially considering this issue of stuckness, my therapist’s nesting dolls came to mind.   Resistance from this theoretical perspective can be “explained as a battle between inner parts: one part wants to change, while the other does not…” (Ingram, 2013, p 234).   According to transactional analysis, within us exist ego states that represent experiential realities from various stages in life.  Within each ego state is a typical coping style or pattern of relating to those around us. As I recall, two in particular have been engaged in a perpetual lifelong battle….

My Hurt Child

The child ego state can be thought of as an inner mental recording of painful childhood experiences.  When encountering triggers that remind us of these events, we’re sent back in time.  Emotionally, we can re-enact these early experiences with those around us. For example, within me lives a “hurt child” who was bullied kid and had no friends.  This hurt child asks, “I know I am bad; what’s wrong with me” (Ingram, 2013, p. 295).  She is submissive, insecure, with no sense of self.  Filled with a sense of shame, she seeks validation and acceptance from others – wherever she can get it…

My Critical Parent

The parent ego state reflects messages we receive from authority figures in our lives and standards of conduct we were taught.  My own critical parent, consists of messages from my parents that emotions were bad and creativity was a waste of time.   My critical parent consists of message from parents and teachers who ignored and overlooked the bullying.

My critical parent might say “you should take those pounds off. What’s wrong with you?! Your an indulgent loser (Ingram, 2013, p. 295).”  
My hurt child will be filled with feelings of insecurity as a former “ugly duckling”.  Shame takes over in reaction to the random characteristics that happen to define my meatsuit

Malcolm Gladwell: “Choking vs. Panic”

The insights from transactional analysis described above, are useful in developing a historical context for my history of life-long stuck-ness.  Underlying this perpetual resistance was unresolved trauma, that I would later come to understand as PTSD.  Still, I have more questions:

In particular, how can I be certain I won’t get re-stuck? After all, the PTSD isn’t going away, and the triggers are still there….

Today, after “clocking some hours” at my internship site, I decided to dig in those old storage bins, and do more blogging.  As an INFP, I find it is a relaxing activity at the end of a long day.  Serendipitiously, I happened to come across Malcom Gladwell’s titled “The Art of Failure”.  In it describes the differences between choking & panic:

“If panicking is conventional failure, choking is paradoxical failure. (Gladwell, 2000)”

In order to explain what is meant by this statement, it is important to first understand the difference between explicit and implicit learning:

EXPLICIT LEARNING:   commonly utilized with novices and involves the conscious utilization of intentional focus & deliberate action.  For example, I don’t play golf, and if somebody teach me, I’m paying attention to the particulars of how to hold the club.

IMPLICIT LEARNING:  common with experts and occurs at a subconscious level, outside one’s awareness.  An unexplainable knowing guides our process, and we’re kind of “in the zone”.  I do this when I play the violin.  I’m not paying attention to the music, I’m not really aware of how I hold the violin or bow.  My fingers somehow know what to do.  My attention is instead on the music and playing what I hear and feel within me.

Choking:  Thinking To Hard

Choking is a paradoxical failure that comes when we are expected to perform and our brain freezes. This happened to me whenever I had a violin recital.  My teacher liked to schedule them at the local churches on Sunday.  Since we lived in a small town, it was inevitable that a classmate, (or two), were present.  As a bullied child, I was pretty much a social leper.  Fear rushed through me, and I my mind completely froze as a panic overcame me.  I tried so hard to do my best, I paid attention to my fingering, and tried focusing on the sheet music before me.  It never worked, I was “overthinking things”….

Panic: Not Thinking at All

With panic the fight-or-flight system takes over and we begin acting on adrenaline and instinct.  Whereas choking is about loss of instinct, panic is a reversion to instinct.  When we panic, we focus only on our end goal, and can’t generally see beyond our fear.  It is conventional in the sense that it is a byproduct of knowing being thoroughly educated in how to handle a situation.  For example, my son went into cardiogenic shock as a child, d/t an undiagnosed heart defect.  I panicked yet somehow managed to make it to the hospital – by the grace of God….

SECONDLY, How can I know it won’t happen again?

attachment 2I’m finally reaching the end of my educational journey, and look forward to launching a new career. The road hasn’t been without its hitches.  I wonder, from time to time, if I’m hitting stuck-ness again. Recently, I started my first internship class, and found myself teaching five group therapy classes independently.  The first few weeks were quite rough and riddled.  However, I’m relaxing into the role.   I have to admit honestly, there isn’t anything  I can look to for a guarantee I won’t get re-stuck.  Only a personal commitment can do that:

An Underdog’s Credo…

I am an underdog.

An underdog is an unlikely hero who rises from “modest beginnings” despite mounting challenges.  Overcoming “less than” conditions with few expectations of success at the outset I have stuck with it like a turtle.  Slowly but surely I’ve moved towards my goals.

I stick my neck out.

As that little engine that could, I overcome self-imposed limitations, and messages from everyone who doubted me.  I choose today to meet insecurity head on with passion and determination.  This happens everytime I chose to not let past mistakes define me.  I have faith in my abilities and the motivations driving me forward.

I have everything I need to get there.

Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, I have everything I need to make things happen, I just need to believe in myself.  I now realize the key to empowerment is self-responsibility as I decide to critically examine my own self-imposed idiocy.  I become what I believe I am, and get what I believe possible.

I commit to owning my truth.

There’s more than a grain of truth to the saying that we perpetuate what we deny.  Owning my truth means understanding how I exist as a creator of my life.  If I do become what I believe I am, what do I believe I am?  If I become what I believe is possible, what is possible?  Where did these messages come from???

I understand that stuckness is a matter of my own doing & opportunity for personal growth.

I’m not running from somewhere or going to anywhere.  I’m at peace with where I’m at.  Stuckness for me has been a byproduct of a failure to understand the motivational forces goading me forward.  When based on insecurity and a desire to prove myself worthy, I end up creating more to be insecure about.  Today, I’m in a different place.  I’m content with where I’m at.  I’m good enough as is.  My life is splendid and I have a lot to be grateful for.  I flow in the direction life takes, and face every day fully present, and see it as an opportunity for personal growth.

I choose opposite action away from old habits & towards my personal goals.

The good thing about making mistakes, is you have them as a template for what doesn’t work.  I’ve gone down that road, where old habits, and personal insecurities have taken me.  The benefit of 20/20 hindsight is the clarity that comes with m extricating my head from my rear.

I do not fear failure, it is an opportunity to grow.

Insecurity is no longer a ruling force in my life.  I don’t fear failure since it no longer equates with the idea that I’m a “loser”.  I also don’t equate success with the idea of being a “winner”.   My value is independent of any success vs. failure tally.  Failure present an opportunity to learn.  Success presents an opportunity to reflect upon the journey to “here”.

I’m not worried about the goal itself, I focus instead on the journey.

My mother has a saying she likes to repeat often that “its not the journey but the destination that matters”.  I love this statement, and live by it.  Focusing on end goals, takes us away from the present. In the end, the present is all we have.  There is too much in this moment I have to be grateful for, I hate the idea that anything might take me away from it…


Gladwell, M. (2000, August, 21)  The Art of Failure. Retrieved from:
Petriglieri, G. (2007). Stuck in a moment: A developmental perspective on impasses. Transactional Analysis Journal. 37(3), 185-194.

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The Art of Failure

In my career counseling course, I had an assignment which required me to review my career path.  While I’m glad to have finally “landed in the right direction”, finding my way to here has taken some time.  I end up with a bachelors in the social sciences after making a decision on this major, midway through my third year.  I graduated, with no marketable skill or career experience, and landed in a slew of dead-end clerical jobs.  With marriage and kids came the need to find a job that worked around my husband’s schedule.  We were financially strapped in these early years after a series of hospitalizations due to my son’s illnesses.  To make a long story short, due to financial need and others pragmatic considerations, I landed a weekend night shift job at a hospital.  In retrospect, my career path has been random and directionless in nature.  I’m like a feather in the winding following the wind’s direction to wherever it leads me…

Running From Failure

352202In reality, my lack of direction as a “feather in the wind” appears to be a function of my own inability to understand the unseen motivational forces in life.  It seems my desire for success, was more of a fear of failure.  In other words, as a moved forward in life, I was motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of painful experiences which scared me.  In this respect, I wasn’t looking to my future and acting on present concerns as much as I was running away from the past.   In these journal snippets I’ve included, I’m following through on a 453002journaling exercise from a DBT skills class I took about 5 years ago.  Here, I am journaling on a “what if” premise where I act strictly based on insecurities.  I then imagine the opposite of this scenario, where I acted on a “blind faith”.   It seems the price of seeking approval and validation from others, in my life has been an overriding concern.  The act of throwing this shit up here (from my journals) and starting a journal is a big step in the opposite direction.  It means putting myself out there and risking judgment of the two or three readers who might actually look at this.

It is for this reason I seek an alternative path

Examining These Unseen Motivational Forces…

When I started this blog, I was in the process of working on those things on my list I never got around to like: (1) going back to school, (2) repairing my relationship with my sister, and (3) getting into better shape.  While I began to see real progress towards most of these goals, I noticed I still hadn’t gotten around to starting this blog.  I dug out the old plastic bins from a hallway closet containing some of my writing and well-outlined content for a blog.  I decided I would simply work my way through these stacks of material and create blog posts from them.  What I hadn’t expected, is that this endeavor would cause me to reflect upon the course of my life.  When reflecting on journal entries like the one above, I see two key driving forces that guided my happenstance path toward today.   Firstly, I’m running on hope for something “more”.  While this isn’t a bad thing, something more is needed to create forward motion.  Radical acceptance – best reflected in the serenity prayer – is that missing puzzle piece.  I review these insights below…

Running on Hope….

In these old plastic bins sitting in the hallway closet, I found a copy of a book titled “So Far From Home” (Wheatley, 2012).  While I actually haven’t read this book cover-to-cover yet, it contains a description of hope that is worth mentioning.  Firstly, the author begins by noting what’s good about hope: “Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well.  Hope is just a feeling that life and work have meaning” (Wheatley, 2012, p6)

As I understand this definition of hope, it is an appreciation for what gives our life meaning.  The problem with hope – when no other motivational forces are present – is that it leads to ineffective future forecasting.  Wheatley, (2012) makes the following comment in her book about hope’s double-edged sword:

“Hope is such a dangerous source of motivation. It’s an ambush because what lays in wait is hope’s ever present companion, fear: the fear of failing, the despair of disappointment , the bitterness of exhaustion that can overtake us when our best, most promising efforts at rebuked, undone, ignored, destroyed. As someone commented, ‘Expectation is premeditated disappointment'”(Wheatley, 2012, p6).

Radical Acceptance

imageUnderlying my failure to create headway towards these life goals (until recently) is a refusal to deal with reality on reality’s terms. In dialectical behavioral therapy, a concept is taught to clients who are coming to terms with the a painful truth: “Radical acceptance means that you accept something completely without judging it” (McKay, et al, 2007, p6).   The serenity prayer summarizes this concept succinctly…

Willingness vs. Willfulness…

The problem with “radical acceptance” is in learning to apply it “in real time”.  While sitting here and engaging in an armchair discussion of this concept is easy, upholding this stance with life coming at me is difficult.  It is for this reason, I find it useful to compare two approaches to life in the table below.  One approach is a willful resistance, the other is a willing acceptance….

Willfulness is a resistance and conscious denial of critical components of life.
Willingness is an acknowledgement of the realities of my life today – without judgment.
Willfulness is a desire to engage in life only on my terms with an attitude of “needing to be right”.
Willingness can be seen in a desire to respond to a situation as it requires with a desire for effectiveness.
Willfulness causes us to remain stuck as we sit on our hands and refuse to make necessary changes
Willingness provides us clarity as we engage fully in the situation, with an understanding our role in things.
A willful mind fails to understand that acceptance does not equate to endorsement of what happened or that “they are off the hook”.
A willing mind understands that forgiveness and acceptance are essential to letting go of hurt and begin healing.

…”failing with style”


McKay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Wheatley, M. J. (2012) So far from home: Lost and found in our brave new world. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Retrieved from:


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