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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Secret phrases for secret agents doing things secret agent style!

Okay, just so you know.

This is definitely one of those things that makes sense in my head, and possibly nowhere else.

But it’s about play and destuckifying and the experimental approach, and so many other things we talk about here. Extrapolate and adjust, as necessary.

The background.

I am phobic and weird about oh so many things, really you don’t want to know and I don’t want to make a list so let’s just drop this making certain types of phone calls.

It’s a fear. But it’s not an irrational fear because I don’t believe in irrational fears.

Anyway, it sometimes makes it hard to be me.

And even though I know a lot about sneaking around fear in general and this fear in particular, sometimes it still hits me, and I can go into serious avoidance mode for way longer than is comfortable.

The idea.

Last week I was using the Deguiltified Chicken Board (part of my Kitchen Table program) to brainstorm some creative ways to actually make the damn call, since it really needed to be made.

Here’s what I came up with:

The plan! I will pretend that I am a spy and that the interaction is happening in code.

I will write down the code sentences to be used.

Then I will hide in the closet and make the call in a sly, secretive manner. Oho!

To be clear, I did not actually think this was going to work.

Generally, nothing works, other than using every techniques I can think of and processing the process and talking to the monsters until the situation destuckifies itself.

Which is time-consuming. Awesome, but time-consuming.

The result.

Super spy method turned out to be way more effective than anticipated. Also more effective than it should be.

I had my code phrases ready (writing them was fun), and something about Being Prepared made it easier.

And in a matter of minutes I had two appointments made and on the calendar.

Compared with weeks of avoidance, this is really, really good.

Sample secret agent phrases.

Spy moves! I have spy moves!

And a dictionary.

What I say:

Hi, I was hoping to get a trim, this weekend if possible.

What it secretly means:

Pssssst! I am the one you should be talking to. Let’s exchange the papers. I will come in, pretending to get a hair cut, and then something outrageous will happen. Let us make haste! The future of the world depends on it!

What I say:

Good morning. {breathe} This is Havi Brooks and I’d like to set up an appointment with Dr. X. And I have two questions about that. {breathe}.

What it secretly means:

Fiends! They tried to follow me, but I outsmarted them. Please direct me to the nearest safe house.

And now I have Spy Cards. Yay.

They aren’t really cards. Yet.

But that is the name of a new document in the black binder that is the Book of Me. It’s there to remind me that this sneakified goofball approach is weirdly helpful, and that I should stick with it for now.

And it tells me what my Useful Phrases are. It tells me that being a spy helps me stay in my force field and use my ninja moves. Fwaaaaaaaaah! Dance of Shiva!

Calls are so much easier when I use my Spy Cards. And hide in the closet.

I still don’t like making calls. I still resent the fact that I don’t have a personal assistant to do everything for me.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll go on phone sabbatical the way I’m on permanent email sabbatical. Ahhhhhhh.

But right now is right now. And right now these calls are happening. And this is a pretty big thing.

Play! And the comment zen blanket fort.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. It’s a process.

Related to that is the fact that people vary. And our stuff varies.

The important thing is not one technique versus another, but the approach. That is, playfulness, curiosity, scientific exploration, observation and the willingness to be wrong about what we think we know.

If you would like to play, I would love that.

You can come up with secret agent phrases of your own, whether for phone calls or conversations or any situation you like.

Or invent your own experiments for making a hard thing possibly more doable.

Also, is always reassuring to be actively reminded that I am really truly not even close to being the only person in the world who is intimidated by picking up the phone.

Closet-hiding awkward phone-avoiders unite! And sparklepoints for everyone!

47 Responses to Secret phrases for secret agents doing things secret agent style!

  1. Sari O.
    Twitter: Sari_O

    Ooh, I love this. In a getting-tingly-all-over-when-reading-despite-not-actually-having-tried-it way. I’m also someone who has, erm, issues with calling people. Now I’m almost sad for not having a phone call in my iguana pile to try this out on. It’s almost like there are silent quotes around the code words – “Good ‘morning’ *wink*. I would like an ‘appointment’ *wink* for tomorrow.” Fun!!

    Thank you for making me smile, wink and squint in a very conspiratorial manner!

  2. Bullwinkle says:

    /snicker I’m imagining my boss, who finds me hiding in a closet to make a phone call. (He’d be totally o.k. with it.)

    In my humble experience, I can either do phone sabbatical OR email sabbatical. I have not managed to do both at the same time. (I have managed to seriously limit (to less than 5 the number of people who have remote access to me. But that is kind of extreme. (Can you imagine their lives: have you heard from her this morning? Have you heard from her since X?)

    Otoh, code phrases rock :) /secret spy handshake to you!

  3. Tori Deaux
    Twitter: ToriDeaux

    “Pssst… The green cow has eaten the maple oatmeal” (which secretly means “Yeah,*having* to pick up the phone for many things can send me into a screaming tizzy and others have admitted the same to me, so you are definitely not the only one.” )

    Last time you mentioned it, I looked it up. And it turns out it’s not just you, me and the friend who admitted it to me years ago – It’s really common! Which is strange, since it almost NEVER gets talked about in the media. Maybe that’s because we won’t pick up the phone to talk about it?

    Of course, that’s because we’re spys, and we have to keep so many things secret and talking in code doesn’t make for good media interviews. Media silence is a small price to pay to maintain our secret identities.

    Also? This means we must all have SHOEPHONES!

  4. Eve
    Twitter: evejacques

    Havi, ONE MILLION SPARKLEPOINTS to you for doing this very hard thing in a hilariously awesome way! *hugs* I share some of these pnone fears and it makes me feel so much better that you’re out there acknowledging it and well, allowing it and taking (hilariously awesome) action – I shall have to try this. I wonder if it would work for feared emails too?

  5. Eve
    Twitter: evejacques

    Did I say ‘pnone’? I did. I said ‘pnone’! :D

  6. seagirl says:

    I got rid of my landline phone when I moved – the only people who called me were my crazy landlady, debt collectors for the people who used to have my phone number, and a woman who thought I was Betty and called about lunch every week.

    I now only talk on the phone to my clients (I like them). I text my friends and my hairdresser.

  7. Ingrid
    Twitter: theonlyingrid

    Last round, I had to have my sister and one of my friends help me make the doctor phone call series- my sister helped me call the insurance so I could know who I could make an appointment with, and step by step (no surprises) how it would go. My friend sat with me while I made the appointment. Luckily the office seems very friendly, I’ve been twice. (and all is well :) )
    My Gentleman friend had to make a doctor appointment, and while he is SUPER BUSINESS AMAZING and makes phone calls ALL the time for his job, and has a very sexy voice (Though it doesn’t help making appointments, I’d guess), even though all that, he still was relieved to have ME make the phone calls for his appointment. Sadly, I won’t be able to do it today, but I will be a cheerleader virtually.
    You are probably in the vast MAJORITY on this, I would guess.

  8. Andi
    Twitter: annaline_39

    What a great way to handle these iguanas! Though I have to admit, I would have to clean out the closet first to be able to make the phone call. Which is another thing entirely :)

  9. pearl mattenson
    Twitter: pearlmattenson

    Ha perfect timing. I had a shiva nata epiphany that resulted in a secret code. I was sitting on an airplane going through levels with my fingers and realized that there are so many times when I need is a FREE INDEPENDENT ZONE. A place real or in my head that is just me, no need to take care of anyone or consider anyone else’s needs but just operate from the place of Free and Independent. And so FIZZIES were born!

    Now, I when I tell myself it is time for a “fizzie” I can give myself permission to be in that place.

    Power to the codes. And shh!

  10. jilliankay says:

    that is genius. it makes me wish I were phobic about phone calls so that I could join in the fun! hmmm….i will keep my eyes out for cross-application…

  11. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    @Tori — Holy cats, shoephones! Now I have all these Get Smart jokes swirling in my head. The next time someone throws a shoe at me, I can pick it up, hold it to my ear, and say, “Hello? Hello?!…*shrug* Wrong number.” Or maybe I’ll just say, “Missed me by that much!”

    But I digress. Or do I? I like the idea of playing secret agent. Let me just don my trenchcoat and dark glasses, and I’ll be ready for my next dangerous assignment!

  12. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    Oh, and a fedora. Definitely a fedora.

  13. Abby C. says:

    Oh, Havi, I haven’t been back to Fluent Self in way too long!

    This technique is AWESOME, as I also have alot of monsters surrounding making phone calls. I’ve not always been successful at negotiating with these particular monsters so it soooo nice to have a side route I can try.

    Spy time!

  14. Jules says:

    ok, so I am too phobic about phone calls. Can somebody explain to me why??? Please!

    @Havi, you say you don’t believe in irratonal fears. It makes a lot of sense. But the phone!!! I’m still stuck on this one, I really don’t understand why it’s so scary. I think it would make it easier to deal with it if I understood why.

    (can’t even blame the past lifes, because I’m pretty sure even in past lifes nobody died from a phone call)

    hugs to everyone else who finds it’s hard to use the phone. Makes life a lot harder at times. Will try to use the spy code. Thanks you Havi.

  15. Shannon
    Twitter: clover

    Spy calls! Hooray. I think I need to try this. Also turning Voicemail Inbox Of Doom into something less icky like Secret Dead Drop Location.


    Green laser star-points for you!

  16. Ty Barbary
    Twitter: tybarbary

    Oh this is full of so many kinds of awesome. Go you, Havi, for being brilliantly playful.

    I don’t have a phone phobia so much (so many years of having to use the damn thing on the job – now it just irritates me, rather than paralyzes me), but man, the idea of being very visible in a group of people (in person) has gotten scary over the past couple years. (Probably because I have been such a devout asocial hermit that I lost my experiential proof that it’s okay to be seen.)

    I will totally apply your method to that, and pretend I am an undercover spy, infiltrating this group to learn their most quirky secrets.

    Or at least to do something other than go into silent-staring-listening-mode in the most comfortable corner I can find.


  17. R says:

    I second the motion! Closet-hiding awkward phone-avoiders unite!

  18. Miranda
    Twitter: aliteralgirl

    Love this! I do worry I’d start giggling and blow my cover, though.

  19. Barbara J Carter
    Twitter: barbarajcarter

    Oh man, I’m so there! I’ve always been phone-phobic.

    I have a whole bunch of iguana phone calls.

    Like the uncomfortable Call your parents (or sister) because they haven’t heard from you in months call (which always ends awkwardly, because I still don’t know how to end a “just-chatting” phone call). “Oh gosh, look at the time…”

    Also there’s the much-dreaded Call to tell the person you’re not going to hire them call. Which often becomes the Apparently I didn’t hire you because you haven’t heard from me in weeks non-call. Not good.

    I definitely have to rehearse what I’m going to say before making the call. I love the idea of secret codes on cards!

    • Beth says:

      This is years old but just in case it helps anyone –
      – I’ve got a friend coming round soon so I’ll have to go (friend could be visiting tomorrow, no need to specify)
      – I’m really tired, need to go to bed soon
      – oh I just had a knock at the door, got to go!
      – oh my mobile’s ringing, got to answer it (cellphone for Americans)
      – going out soon to do some shopping

      ‘Soon’ definition very stretch-able in these contexts.

      Or there’s always ”well it’s been great to talk but I need to get on, speak again soon!”

      It gets easier with practice :-/

  20. Ealasaid says:

    Ohmygosh, genius! I am SO using this next time I’m freaking out about a phonecall.

  21. Tara
    Twitter: taraswiger

    If you haven’t watched Phineas+Ferb yet (yes, a cartoon!), I *strongly* suggest that it is the most perfect show for a Secret Agent. Because.
    (Are you ready?)
    There is a Secret Agent Platypus.
    Yes. And he has secret slides and chutes and lairs.

    And it is wonderful.
    Also, he gets songs (he doesn’t sing. He’s a platypus. Of course) about his adventures and the band is The Love Handles. It’s not just one guy.
    But Perry the Platypus is just one guy.



  22. Tara
    Twitter: taraswiger

    I just remembered!
    I have a secret phone code, too!

    If I give you *my* number, it’s secret code for I really do not want to talk to you, because I never pick up my phone or listen to my voicemail. I’ve attempted to convince you to email me, but since you insist on calling me, I’m giving you this.
    If I give you my Jay’s number, it’s secret code for I will suffer the phone for you. Probably because it’s a situation where we have NO choice about the phone. Take this number and know you are cherished and loved and that I actually enjoy your voice.

  23. Rhiannon
    Twitter: rhiannonlaurie

    This first part has to be said in a monotone, because it’s too weird for me to figure out my emotion about it:

    I am freaking out about making a phone call right now. That’s why I’m hanging out on the nets instead of making it. So how perfect that I hung out on this part of the nets (it’s the best part)?

    And now for excitement! My secret code:

    Hello Y, this is Rhiannon. You contacted me some time ago about my gardening services. More people were interested than I anticipated, so while I’ve heard great things about your garden, I don’t have the time to garden for you.

    Means: “My position has been compromised. Shred the documents and meet me at the backup location stat!”

  24. pink
    Twitter: tarynblake71

    Oh I must try this on the dreaded “I want to cancel your service” calls that I need to make. I hate hate hate those, because the people seem to have about a 20 step script to use to try to talk you out of it, and I always want to get snippy except it’s the company, not them, and they probably just want to make sure the heating bill gets paid and are probably quite lovely in their real lives.

    Now I just need code. And a trenchcoat. And a shoephone.

  25. Andi
    Twitter: annaline_39

    and Emma Peel’s wardrobe. And Steed’s bowler. :)

  26. Caroline
    Twitter: Cazzylina

    Ooh, I’d adore the bowler. Maybe with a couple of parrot feathers, being piratical types.

    I had a phonecall to make, but couldn’t think of any codes. So I used plaincode. The scarier part for me is when the workman-type contacts me back and then we will have to make arrangements to Board the Ship.

    But my spy-self will have several hidden weapons and ninja-calm to fall back on so that maybe having a person in my house won’t be quite so impressively discomforting. Chuck all the contraband over the side in nets, that kind of thing.

    Thinking back, my old phone anxiety may have been not-knowing what the other person was thinking, how they were reacting to me, since so much of the visual communication is lost; gestures, body language, rude faces I kknew they were pulling behind my back. When I worked on a helpline I was trained to always smile when answering the phone, as it can be heard in your voice, and people will still respond to that. Thinking about it within this metaphor, that has become my secret disguise. Because now THEY don’t know what I’M actually thinking!

  27. jenny
    Twitter: jenipertree

    Not be be all product endorsing, but that is why I love the iphone.

    Because it is the really handy gadget takes pictures (pictures!) and has a timer and notes and the internets and and

    oh yeah in a pinch it could be a phone if I turned that feature on.

    The real life shoe phone.

    And my code, like Tara’s, is to give my husband’s number if they might really want to talk to someone and a message has got to get through. He’s reliable in a way that I am not.

  28. Christine Myers
    Twitter: ladychrismyers

    Joining the secret agents known as phone-call-making-avoiders black ops division. Which doesn’t really exist, right? Or does it. . .? *wink*

  29. Halo
    Twitter: Haloquin

    Oh oh how! Yay!!! I am so happy to have read this… I used to be a spy (and a stage magician, who uses magic words instead of secret code, which are also secret and for different things and equally as awesome)… though I’d use it to gather information and secretly bamboozle the (very tolerent) grown-ups. I like to know whats going on, information gathering good.

    I love the concept of using code to do something you’re not able to do otherwise.

    Using practical magic (still being a magician, just not a stage-based one) I get things-that-must-be-done-and-I-am-resistingwhen I re-frame them. Your metaphor mouse has been an inspiration, and sometimes I actually remember to do them as a magic spell for, well, an example: if its house cleaning I’m cleansing, or making the space nice for Pixies and ghosts, and the house-pixies help with this.

    Since I do genuinely believe in magic this is both metaphorical and real, and helpful regardless of the truth of either.

    This has brought back so many fun memories of playing spies now! Heehee! Thank you!

  30. Amber
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    I love this! Seriously, seriously love it. I may need to start making my own phone calls from the closet, in fact. Plus, it may make it harder for my kids to find me and interrupt if I do that, so added benefit!

    What I really just said, in code:

    Your message has been received. Backup is on its way, make your wait to the nearest safe house and wait. You will know your contact because she will be wearing a purple scarf.

  31. nat says:

    good thinking 99s!
    yesterday i bought a broom and forgot to take it out of my car. a student today told me “oh, so instead of a spare wheel, you carry your magic broom around!” of course! i said, i should be more careful with my powers. you can’t tell anyone or you will wake up and find your body full of eyes and a pair of wings. no one likes flyes. you´ll be in grave danger.

  32. Sue T says:

    Havi, this is wonderful!
    I am absolutely amazed by all the commenters. You guys!

  33. Mary Tracy
    Twitter: MaryTracy

    Hi Havi, first time delurking. Your description of “secret agents” reminded me of Keri Smith’s “Seasonal Secret Spy Disguise” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kerismith/3068910182/) seen in practise here (http://www.kerismith.com/blog/secret-spies-from-poland/)

    She’s a terrific artist and I think you’ll like her. It might be worth checking her out ;)

  34. Petite Viking
    Twitter: petiteviking

    I practice scary phone calls and conversations ahead of time pretty often. Figuring that I need A Plan for those phone calls I’m phobic about was a pretty important moment in my life a couple of years ago–up til then, HusbandMan got made to do my doctor calls or they didn’t get done. Plans are important, spy code or no.

  35. Liz
    Twitter: lizemmettmattox

    I too wish for a personal assistant to make the dreaded phone calls for me. One of my epiphanies lately is that I can be my own VA in some cases.

    Like making appointments I really don’t want to make. Or calling for information I feel stupid for having to call about. Etc.

    Back in my temp days, I’d make all kinds of appointments or call all kinds of people for info for the head honchos- and it never really bugged me to make those calls.

    So just this week, I decided that if I couldn’t actually have a VA to make the calls, I’d just pretend to be a VA.
    When you’re chief cook *and* head bottle washer, you can wear whatever hat you want at any given time!

    I actually said to the person on the other end, “Well, I’m calling for my boss and she was wanting to know blah blah blah.”

    Totally worked. I’m thinking I need a VA costume of some sort to help increase the VA mojo.

    When/if the VA act loses its effectiveness, I’ll try the secret code phrases!

  36. Waverly says:

    All these years I thought I was the only one who was phone-phobic and was so embarrassed by it that I never admitted it. Now I realize I wasn’t talking about it because I’m part of a secret organization of anti-phone spies.

    Many many good ideas to help me, including closets, using secret code and pretending to be my own VA! Thanks!

  37. Winnie says:

    Hi Havi & fellow secret intelligence,

    Because of my work, I make a lot of phone calls. I admit that some calls are NO PROBLEMO, and then other calls inexplicably become… the PITS O’ DOOM, where I’m convinced that I will suffer an agonizing death if I fall in (ie: make the call) and thus avoid at all costs.

    So wow… lovelovelove the idea of the spy method. I’m drawing hearts on all my spy cards with invisible ink, dusting off my fedora from my closet, and adjusting the heel on my shoephone.

    Havi, I discovered your blog recently and have been addicted to it for the past month…your words have touched me to pieces. And I just want to say: keep up the good work, GO GO GADGET-SELMA!… and muchos gracias to you (and all the spy-folks).

  38. Leila Lloyd-Evelyn
    Twitter: LeilaLEvelyn

    Oh my goodness this is good! I realised I get really scared, to the point that I never want to make those calls, about finding a workshop space. It’s different making calls for other people, bosses etc but a whole different ball game when it’s for me.


  39. Leela
    Twitter: LeelaSinha

    I have odd phonaphobia. Sometimes I get scared to call anyone. Mostly I get scared to call strangers. I love my clients and I love talking with them on the phone. I love my sweetie and love talking with her on the phone. I detest calling strangers to make things like doctor appointments. And I love the idea of being a secret spy. Like the days when I sleep in something that COULD be Outside The House clothes and decide in a rebellious morning to just Keep Wearing It. It’s my secret pajama disguise. No one knows it’s pajamas but I’m all cozy and warm inside.

  40. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    Nope, not remotely the only one.

    Sort of thought, “Ooooooohhhhh,” when I read “phone sabbatical.” That’s the stuff.

    In many respects I’m there already… except for pesky appointment-making. Kind of laughed when I read the getting a trim call only because I bypass that one by rolling the dice with walk-in joints.

    Love that the secret agent approach worked for you.

  41. Eve
    Twitter: evejacques

    I just used secret spy tactics to get past a fear of bumping into colleagues in the kitchen while making breakfast (I’m stressed this morning and making conversation, moving around other people in confined spaces, answering questions about my eating habits and being looked at are not appealing to me.)

    There’s a hidden camera in the kitchen, and making a bowl of bran flakes and a mug of camomile tea is my secret signal to my contact to infiltrate the building disguised as a delivery man!

    Thanks, Havi, I’m a lot less hungry right now because of you :)

  42. Paulita says:

    I love the idea of hiding in a closet while making calls. Whew!

  43. Judy
    Twitter: judy_mac

    So LOVE this, Havi. Used it this morning to make a call and it worked (YAY!). Thanks much for making all us phone-a-phobics know we’re not alone!

  44. […] I greatly appreciate being able to work in my *own* space. Perhaps I’ll experiment with code words. The thought makes me a bit giggly, which is a good […]

  45. […] Fix the Fourth – Write the reminders in code. (This is adaptation of one of Havi Brooks’ techniques for getting through hard phone calls.) […]

  46. Super secret-ish spy stuff. Meeting in dark, back alleys. Conducting clandestine operations. Hoping the phone line isn’t tapped, but if it is, that they can’t break your code.

    Too funny.

    My oldest daughter sometimes has, er… issues with using the phone–both ways–placing or receiving calls. I had to laugh when I came across your article here, so I sent it to her.

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