A survival mechanism is a way of being we have developed over the years, since we were a kid, to “survive” in our society. Just like animals develop survival mechanisms (in the jungle in South America, a certain type of frog is bright colorful (actually beautiful) and can’t really hide and its survival mechanism is its poisonous skin, whereas another type of frog which is not poisonous at all needs to be “invisible” and therefore has the appearance of a leave and is really hard, almost impossible to spot), human beings develop ways of being in the world to protect themselves and do well, depending on their culture, their education, their experience of life, etc… Some will stay invisible like the frog, while others will be very competitive trying to be the best at everything they do, some will not allow anyone to tell them what to do while others will spend most of their time pleasing others, etc…
It’s not a bad thing (although we tend to think it is), it’s just what worked for us. And, at least in coaching (which is Present-Future focused), it doesn’t matter so much why we developed it. What’s important is to be aware of it, to see if and when it is empowering us, and when it is not empowering us or when it is limiting us, and then intentionally choose.
Today I want to introduce you to Apathetic Hercules, one of my survival mechanisms (yes, it’s fun to give them a name!). Apathetic Hercules is highly determined, competitive and trying to be the best at anything he does, thinks/feels he doesn’t need help, that he’s strong enough to deal with anything, that actually he should be able to deal with anything (otherwise it means he is not perfect). He is usually good at what he does, and he can leave his emotions aside to feel stronger. In this post, I will focus more on the Hercules part than the apathetic part.
Like any survival mechanism, there are some benefits to it, which is why we have developed them. In this case, it helped me be put the work, be persistent and be a successful student and swimmer at the same time, have a successful career so far. It helped me thrive to a certain point.
And like any survival mechanism, there are also some costs to it. For instance:
- It’s hard to receive unsolicited feedback from someone that I feel is not “legitimate” (someone who is not my manager, my mentor, my coach). What I mean by that is that I won’t tell the person to shut up, but I will be internally triggered and I will justify myself and explain why I do what I do etc… which in the end prevents me from really taking the gold that is in the feed back
- I can step over the things I learn, as I understand them rather quickly and then unconsciously think I got them figured out. So instead of letting them sink in, applying them, embodying them, mastering them, I will understand them intellectually and switch to something new and never really get the gold of it, missing out so much. It’s a little like wanting to climb the Everest: I will think I am already there instead of taking the time to hike there.
- I might not dare to say that I don’t know/understand and ask about something, and then stay with my ignorance
- The flip side of it is also disengagement: if I see I can’t be at my best, do great, I won’t engage. For instance, I won’t attend a running race if I am not prepared to do a good performance.
- When interacting with others:
- when you have several “Hercules” in the same room, the interactions can be tensed: they are usually addicted to being right which prevents them from being open to others’ point of view. This limits the ability to co-create something even better than what each of them have in mind.
- If a Hercules, interact with someone who is not at all Hercules, the other person might feel disconnected, either admiring the person and thinking they will never be “that strong/perfect”, therefore feeling not worth it, either rejecting the Hercules.
Of course, Hercules types are frequent amongst leaders. That part helped them get where they are. I come from the corporate/project management world and I know a bunch of them. We all know some archetype of Hercules (the bossy manager who thinks he knows it all, who has a top down approach to everything, who is not open to any feedback or new ideas, etc…) but often, it is more subtle, like in my case. If you want to see if you have some “Hercules” survival mechanism, check the following:
- Do you catch yourself thinking, when someone is giving you some advice: “who are you to give me some advice? I know what I’m doing, I got it all figured out”
- When someone is telling you that something is good to do (listening deeply others, delegating, taking a look at yourself, etc…), do you tend to start by “yes I’m doing this” and justify that you are already doing it, while maybe admitting that you could do more of it ?
- Do you have a tendency to step over things quickly (“OK, I got it, what’s next”)?
- Do you have a hard time to ask for help?
- Do you have a hard time to admit you don’t know or to ask for something?
- Do you tend to think that others have a problem but not you? For instance, do you see what I am pointing to in this post and think, “not me”. Maybe you are right. What I can say is that it’s taken me some work to see it, so my invitation is to take the time to take a deep look 😊
Actually, I believe most of us have at least a little bit of it. And it’s OK. Once again, there is nothing wrong with it. There are some great benefits to it. The issue is that when it is automatic and you don’t distinguish it, it gets in your way without you realizing it. The whole point of doing this coaching work and taking a look at oneself is to be aware and choose rather than it be automatic. And the tricky part is that it is hard/impossible to see by oneself. It’s taken me some work with seasoned coaches to start seeing this for me, to admit it and to share it.
The costs of having our survival mechanism take the wheel automatically can be very important. Some business deals haven’t been closed because the “Hercules” part thought he had it all figured out and didn’t listen to some good advice or didn’t want to compromise. Some people have been fired because they didn’t want to take a look at themselves. And some relationships may fall apart. I can see where I have overlooked some strategies in my business because of my Hercules part. I am not better than anyone else. Now I am just more aware and therefore more at cause rather than at the effect of this survival mechanism.
So, do you have some Hercules in you? To what extent? What are the benefits? How is this getting in your way?
On a side note, we usually say in coaching that our ideal client is us, so my “Hercules” clients are tricky to enroll since their first reaction will be: “I don’t need help, I am doing very well by myself” (which is true by the way), or “I understand this coaching I read about it, that’s all I need”. See the point? If this resonate with you and would like to explore, let’s schedule a phone/skype call.