Are you one of those who feels like somethings always wrong? Something always needs to be different? Maybe you feel like life doesn’t seem to ever go your way?
Kristen Neff, developer of Mindful Self-Compassion in one of her talks says that for some reason humans expect life to be easier than it is. She states “no one signs a contract before they’re born that says “I’ll be perfect, my life with be perfect”. And yet [when things go wrong] we say “this isn’t fair, this is not the plan I signed up for and I am pissed off about it”.”
When things don’t go our way in life our natural instinct is to:
1. Notice it in a big way and
2. Think of it as “abnormal”
It’s this process that can lead some of us to frantically try to “fix” or create change. Sometimes with ourselves, and sometimes with others
But when things go wrong is this really abnormal? And is it helpful to frantically try to “fix”?
In my counselling practice I am always balancing the idea of supporting “acceptance” and “change”. Over the years I’ve learned that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive and for change to happen there often needs to be elements of acceptance.
Observing the intensity in the problem seems to provide a gateway into where to go next.
Step one in my practice, regardless of the symptoms, is to calm the intensity, and slow down. This often means that the individual needs to get comfortable with “not seeking” and “not desperately trying to fix”. Often these behaviours are our ways of trying to regulate our anxiety about the problem.
A trend I’ve observed is with women who are trying to make changes to their health and wellness. I’ve seen it time and time again where a client comes in and says “OK I’ve been trying to lose 20 pounds. Over the last year I’ve signed up with a personal trainer, tried the group fitness thing, I’ve been on 3 new diets… and nothing has worked”.
An example such as these what I’ve noticed is the more intensity one puts into “problem”, the less likely they are to succeed (this intense energy can show up as frantic fixing, deep shame or as complete avoidance).
But the kicker is that if your intensity if showing up as “I need to change now!” this isn’t all bad. It is sending the message that something needs to change. Just sometimes it’s dialed up so high that the change efforts are too extreme and unsustainable.
So step one is to…. Tone down the intensity. How does one do this?
First I always recommend noticing how much intensity you have towards the problem.
How many hours a day are you focused on the problem? Is it taking you away from other important areas of your life? What percentage of life force are you putting to this problem? Are all of your efforts giving you the results you’re looking for?
The second thing I recommend is to slow down, and sit with.
What does it feel like in your body when you’re experiencing the problem? What does it feel like to sit with the problem and not act? What does it feel like to slow down with it?
Some of my clients find it helpful when they first start to slow down to say a mantra.
“I see you, it’s OK” or “right here, right now I am safe”. Others say that they sooth themselves much like they would calm or compassionately shhh small child.
If this speaks to you, the next time you notice that a problem may be charged up with intensity I encourage you to give this a try as a little experiment.
A word of caution: Sometimes these concepts can be misunderstood as doing nothing. Please don’t hear this as that. This is not about becoming complacent, rather it’s slowing down so we can get out of our reactive, emotional brain and be more effective in our relationship to the problem.
A second more important word of caution: These steps don’t apply to real risk scenarios such as getting hit by a car, or having suicidal thoughts and a plan. If you’re ever considering ending your life it is important to seek help. Call your local crisis line or go to your local emergency room.
If you’re wanting to dive deeper I encourage you to seek out resources. A book that I appreciate is “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach. And you can always contact me if it would be helpful to explore these ideas with a Clinical Counsellor.
And if you’re looking to create changes to your health and wellness and would like to work with a fitness coach I highly recommend Super You. Gillian embodies the concepts I describe above, which is not exactly common in the health and fitness world.
Written by Kathy Kutzer, MSW, RSW, RCC