I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to keep up a positive attitude, keep taking action, “release the limiting beliefs that are holding you back”, discover how happy and resilient people think and change your thoughts to be like theirs, etc. etc.  And that’s worth a third “etc.”, because there is an abundance, no, a glut, of such advice out there.  It seems to be the latest thing in psychology.

I won’t lie that small actions (e.g. “I’ll just go for a walk for 10 minutes”) can get you through those feeling-like-concrete phases.  And seeing a new perspective on something (change in thought or belief) can free things up a little, at least temporarily.

But what about when it feels like you are repeatedly dragging, or slowing down, or the risks you are taking are not getting any easier (unlike the typical situation where practice makes you more comfortable with it?)

Or you are noticing a tendency to find something wrong with and reject all the advice that people give you on what to do?

Maybe it’s time for a constructive tantrum.

Ask yourself, what are you sick and tired of doing, trying to do, or feeling like you have to do? 

No rationalizing out of it by saying “that’s just the way it is, and I have to accept it”.   We are talking about telling the unvarnished truth about your feelings, here.

It sounds a little backwards, but I’ve done it to positive effect.  It seems to release energy and allow for new perspectives, or creative synthesis (resolving two things that you previously thought were contradictory, opposite, either/or).

Here’s an excerpt from Barbara Sher’s book Wishcraft, in the chapter entitled “Hard Times”:

“Now, little by little, if you can – and you almost always can – start having fun with your negative feelings.  Exaggeration, self-parody, melodrama, defiance, and obscenity are all useful weapons, and anything is a fair target:  yourself, me, your goal, mother, flag and country.  ‘The truth is, I hate studying.  It bores me and I can’t concentrate and I hate you for suggesting it.  I like things fine just the way they are.  I’m too lazy to bother with all of this.  I think I’ll eat a lot of chocolate and get fat.’  Say anything, as long as it’s a mean, miserable complaint with some punch to it. 

Did you notice that your energy level went up?  Does your goal suddenly look a little less impossible?  You haven’t solved anything yet.  The strategic problem is still there.  Your doubts are still there.  So why are you laughing?

Because you’ve dug down through all those heavy layers of ‘I can’t’, and struck a defiant gusher of ‘I don’t want to and I won’t.’  Depression is an energy crisis, and negativity is energy – pure, ornery, high-octane energy.  It’s just been so repressed and tabooed that we’ve forgotten something every 2-year-old knows:  how good it is for us to throw a tantrum.  We’re all such good little girls, such brave, stalwart little boys, such polite little children – and inside everyone of us is an obnoxious, exuberant little brat, just squirming to be let out.  I’ve got one.  So do you.  That brat is your baby, and you’d better love her, because you ignore her at your peril.”

Did you identify what you are sick and tired of, or refuse to do?

Now, acknowledge it to yourself, or to someone else. 

If you say it to someone else it is very important, obviously, not to surprise them with it, rather to explain to them exactly what you are doing.  Tell them you don’t want advice or for them to feel they have to help you fix it.  This is not about solving the problem.  It is about listening to you rant until you are finished, and maybe even cheering you on.  Barbara Sher’s suggestion on what to say:  “This is Hard Times.  I’m mad, nervous, fed up, and for the next five minutes I’m going to go totally bananas.  Don’t pay any attention to anything I say.  You can stick your fingers in your ears if you like.  It will all be over in five minutes.”

Try it and let me know how it goes.

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Especially during a life transition, you may have noticed that some days you feel great, energized, like you can get anything done, and you have plenty of positive energy to share with others around you.  And other days….you feel like a block of concrete.

[You will see me use the term “advisor” in this and other posts.  It is my generic term for therapists, life coaches, career counsellors, friends, bloggers, self-appointed experts (heh):  anybody who takes it upon themselves to support another individual in their process, whether they get paid for it or not.]

When you are in a down phase, you’re just not using the resources available to you.  You may literally not even see them.  Everything looks impossible.  The well-intentioned mistake I think a lot of advisors make at that point is to see what works for others – taking action and using resources – and then repeatedly urge the downster to get out there and use those resources.  Perfectly logical.  After all, it works for other people.  But that’s not necessarily what the person in a down phase needs.  Not at that point.  (The majority of challenges in advice-giving result not from untruth, but poor timing.)

My observation and experience is that if advisors do not first meet someone where they are at emotionally, the person will not really be listening.  They hear the words, but shut off, or tune out.  They might look polite, but inside they are not able to make use of what you’re saying.  What I mean by “meeting them where they are at” includes empathic listening.  Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is a good resource here, but I prefer Elaine Aron’s “attunement” process described in The Undervalued Self.  Simple, difficult, and rare.

Anything other than meeting the client where he or she is at, subtly preserves the dominant/subordinate dynamic between advisor and advisee, i.e. “I know what’s best for you better than you do”. 

So you might wonder, what’s the problem with that?  Maybe the advisor does know better!  The problem is, most people resent the implication that they don’t know, and will therefore resist the advice given.  (I believe they resist it because deep down inside, they know their own truth and answers, although they may not be consciously aware why they resist.)

True, one needs to have some degree of faith in the process, and the advisor.  Otherwise, why consult someone?   However, the advising process is more effective when it honours the individual and their autonomy, or more importantly their inner knowing of what is right for them in that moment. 

Imagine what society would be like if we revered each others’ wisdom, and each person’s knowing what is right for them in the moment, even if it looks unappealing from the outside.  This is not to justify self- and other-harming behaviours, it is to really try to understand other human beings.

Most people would agree that in our very information and knowledge-based culture, we mostly live day-to-day “from the neck up” (unless of course you’re an athlete or dancer).  And few could argue that mental and emotional stress has a physiological effect on the body (e.g. tight jaw, tense muscles, heart palpitations). 

So, a number of activities and treatments exist that use mind-body integration for pain relief and stress management (e.g. yoga, osteopathy, Bioenergetics, Feldenkrais, Network Spinal Analysis, Somatic Experiencing).  It is said that other animals “shake off” the physiological stress response, but not humans (one explanation is here:  http://www.traumahealing.com/somatic-experiencing/art_chapter1.html

But how do you develop a…“mind-body connection”?  After all, it has to become more than just a nice-sounding theory that you agree with.  It has to be a real experience in your life. 

This can be difficult, because on first paying attention to your body (during yoga class, meditation involving body awareness, etc.), you may realize just how UNCOMFORTABLE it actually feels to be in your body!  The good news is a large portion of this ickiness probably comes from (learned) inauthenticity, not living your truth.   Not having the freedom to feel your emotions, move your body as you want to, think your own thoughts.

The good news is, you can learn to use your suffering (physical or emotional) as a gift.  No, I am not preaching at you to make lemonade out of your lemons.  Nor do I think that you simply need to make a “choice” for how to respond to your circumstances as many self-help gurus would have it.  This concept of choice is worth a full post of its own, in the near future.  For now, suffice it to say that as soon as all the preconditions to you being ready to make a choice occur, you go right ahead and do it.  We generally don’t decide to hold ourselves back in life on purpose.  I have more faith in people than that.

I’m using my career dissatisfaction to help others going through similar experiences, and I’ll be honest, most of the time I don’t see the blessings in the pain.  I still don’t understand why it had to go the way it did, and to be honest, attempting to understand that at this point would lead me into the “premature spirituality” trap (“you chose your parents before birth, your soul chose the experiences it ‘wanted’ to have”, etc.)  These meanings can’t be forced or even rationalized, only revealed. 

One of the ways I work towards that revealing, towards a state of being where I can use the suffering as a gift (or at the very least to process it and get through it) is mind-body awareness activities.  For me that is yoga and Network Spinal Analysis.  You can find your own that work for you.  I would go so far as to say that career change (or other life change) can’t take place without mind-body integration.  Hearing your own truth (as told to you by physical pain, stress, uncomfortable emotions) can be difficult.  But once you do, the change that results is lasting. 

What do you think?  Have you had transformative results from mind-body therapies or practices?  Or have you tried some that didn’t seem to do much?  What role do you believe that your body and its messages play in your career/life development?

During a walk last night I came up with the idea of posting some favourite quotes on my blog.  Since the quotes are usually thought-provoking as opposed to “motivational” I thought I would call this feature the Daily Demotivator (in the spirit of www.despair.com)

Instead I am taking it one step further.  The time frame is weekly instead of daily, but you can read the quote, and if you are so inclined, take the challenge along with me this week, and post a comment and let me know how it goes.  I will let you know how mine goes too.

Here’s this week’s quote.

“There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us.  The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense.  At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control:  we do not have the idea; it has us.”

– Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards

Which idea or concept is so rooted for you that it is beyond question?

The assumption I am going to question this week is “I have to feel confident in order to sell my services.”

Questioning doesn’t mean you must take action, i.e. go out and attempt to prove the assumption false.  Do that if you want to, but spending a little time each day thinking about it is acceptable too. 

Contemplate other possibilities. 

And if you can’t think of any other possibilities, think about the possibility of other possibilities.

The idea is to create some wiggle room, throw in some doubt, create a little space around it.

Here are some examples of assumptions you might question.

I can’t quit my job, I need the money.
I need to love myself first before anyone else will love me.
A good woman is….
A good man is….
I need to do ________ before I can be happy.
If I leave my current career field, then my expensive education getting trained in this field was a waste of time, money and effort.
I can’t ask for help on _______, I have to do it alone.

Let me know how your experiment goes.  “Horrible” is an acceptable answer, because then we can talk about it and at least you’re aware of how deeply rooted whatever-it-is is for you. 🙂

I have noticed something interesting when listening to and reading the stories of “successful” people (by conventional definition:  money, power, status), what they say about themselves and the advice they give to others.

There are some things that are stated outright, and some that are only hinted at.

The advice given is usually something like this:  discipline, perseverance, hard work, commitment, never give up, wake up at 4 in the morning and run marathons, etc.

And yet if you listen to the anecdotes from their lives that they tell, there is one obvious factor that is mentioned in passing but RARELY, at least from what I’ve heard, specifically drawn attention to.

These gurus and tycoons do not start their advice with “You will never succeed in the world of business if your emotional needs are not met at home and in your community.  Never give up on finding a group of people who support each other’s success.  Stop at nothing to find a loving caring family, whether it is your family of origin or not.”

Yet, when they tell stories about their lives these people are right there in the background.

Yes, they do talk about finding mentors.  And yes, the concept of the mastermind is out there, and they do say “if you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people” but there’s something about the way this is presented that strikes me as…detached.  A signed contract to use each other, rather than actually caring.

People who have succeeded (again, by conventional definition) can take credit for reading external conditions accurately, anticipating trends, leadership, and innovation.  And yes, plenty of hard work.  However, no person or event is disconnected from, or unrelated to, the environment in which it occurs.

Government regulations allowed them to do what they did, their business partners supported them, their spouse and family supported them, their employees did the work that supported them becoming successful….

When a person (or a company) succeeds, people want to look at it, figure out why and how it happened, so they can reproduce those outcomes for themselves. 

There is nothing wrong with analyzing an event, breaking it down into its parts in order to have someplace to start.  However, you can’t recreate yourself as that person or company, nor can you recreate the people who were around them who participated in the opportunities they had.  Nor can you recreate their exact environment.   

We (humans) have this compulsion to understand our world, but as science gets more and more advanced and we learn more and more, it appears we start running face into the parts that can’t be explained, or duplicated.  In this reductive “science of success”, is there something about the whole that is lost?  

We can analyze “successful” people, and see what they have in common, but are the common variables necessarily the relevant variables?

And hey….why do we idolize multimillionaires anyway? 

If you are one of these people (you are one of these people if you read books that have at least two of the words “millionaire”, “wealth”, “rich”, “grow”, “think”, “mind”, or “secret” in the title), I think you have to ask yourself, do you really want to be like them?  What is it that makes you not want to be yourself? 

Do you not trust yourself enough to know what to do, and others are only too happy to try to supply the answers for you (at a price)?

Who says that in order to succeed, you have to do it exactly the way they do?

When talking to the people that come to my Meetups, I hear things like this. 

“I like to read self-help books, but I have trouble turning dreaming into doing.”
“I know I need to change jobs (or career field), but I don’t know what I want instead, so it’s easy to procrastinate.”

If you listen to the “traditional success literature” (you know who I’m talking about), the answer would be to put your nose to the grindstone to develop the “universal characteristics of successful people” (discipline, motivation, commitment, “positive attitude”, perseverance, etc. etc. etc….)  

My view is the reverse.  These beneficial traits and behaviours are a consequence of something else.  And that “something else” is community.  Not just any community, but the right kind.  Supportive, dynamic, trusting and real. 

You already have everything you need in you (and more).  You’re not broken, you don’t need to be fixed, and you don’t need to work on wrenching your personal characteristics by force of will over to something they are currently not.   You just need the right environment to let what is already in you, flourish.   

Community may be able to transform your career and life if:

–          You change jobs, but then notice it’s “different job, same pattern”.  For example, the same interpersonal struggle with your boss.  Maybe you notice that you get bored easily, and here you are, bored again. 

–          You have a lot of great ideas but they don’t make it off the journal paper into the world.

–          You do start making changes, but your energy fizzles out, or you reach the point of a challenge you don’t know how to solve and abandon the project.  Then you start again, and stop again.  It never quite gets past the critical threshold. 

–          You acquire numerous opportunities that you could follow up on (job leads, affiliates, mentors, “you-should-talk-to-this-person”s, resources) through networking events, friends and/or family….but you don’t follow up on them.

Maybe one of the following things is true about you….

  • You don’t feel passion, purpose, energy or alignment with your values at work, but you keep your job because you need to pay the bills. 
  • You don’t like your job, but you don’t know what else you’d do instead, and not knowing makes it easy to procrastinate.
  • You are ready to make a change, but go through many brief starts-and-stops because you don’t receive enough support from people around you who are committed to the status quo.

Whatever the reason, you know life could be more fulfilling, but dreaming doesn’t turn into doing.  Or, you know exactly what you want to do, and you are on the edge of something beautiful and terrifying.

So why haven’t you gone for it?  Is it because you lack some superhero personal qualities that only successful people have?

The truth could be that you are missing two very simple and easy, but often overlooked, factors in life success.

  • Self-awareness:  you grew up surrounded by ducks, and were taught to act like a duck in order to succeed, even though you are really a swan (or maybe an ostrich).  Unlike the fairy tale, we humans can go much longer even fooling ourselves about who we are, and then wondering why we lack vitality and passion.  Until now.
  • Community support :  the myth of the self-made man is everywhere in North American culture.  It isn’t true.  All “successful” people have a support team.  If your tribe doesn’t exist yet, create it yourself.  Or join mine.

We live in the Information Age.  Every process, from sales to sex, has been broken down into its constituent parts so that, in theory, anybody can pick them up and follow the same series of steps and get the same results as the proprietor.

Sounds empowering, right?  It is, in the sense that it demystifies success (and knowledge).  Now anyone can have success, not just a chosen few.

But what if the steps happen not to work for you? 

Either start asking questions, and feel alienated if the guru gets defensive. Or, in my opinion more damaging to self and others in the long run, pretend it worked for you (and bully or lecture anyone who questions you).

There are a couple of things at work here.

The steps that work for the expert may not necessarily work for you because you are a different person.  More importantly, following someone else’s steps doesn’t necessarily help you discover your own resources, your own unique strengths. 

Followers of “7-easy-steps-to-success” also never get to experience the temporary breakdown, the state of chaos and uncertainty that I believe is necessary for creativity. 

If you approach your chosen guru or trusted expert expressing uncertainty, uncomfortable emotions, and chaos….does he or she blame it on your failure to get with the program, and try to whip you into shape to get back on track…

Or does he or she congratulate you?

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