“If you do not change direction, you might end up where you’re headed.” -Unknown (often falsely attributed to Lao Tzu)
Everyone I talk to, seems to be convinced that they’re the only person on the planet who doesn’t have their sh*t together. Because everyone else seems so happy and in control (Instagram pictures don’t lie, right? Right??), they’re deeply ashamed of their own struggles.
It’s just not true! Everyone struggles and feels powerless sometimes, especially in the face of things we would like to change in our lives.
There are, however, ways to make change easier. They’re not always the flashiest or most glamorous techniques, but if they cause our lives to improve in exactly the way we choose, wouldn’t they be worth looking at?
The following are three tried-and-tested techniques to get out of your own way and stop feeling awful. One caveat before I begin: Reading this article isn’t going to change anything. Only implementing the steps I describe, will make a difference.
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Things that keep you stuck #1: Your all-or-nothing attitude keeps you feeling bad about yourself
If you’ve ever been on a weight-loss diet, you’re probably familiar with this one. You’re doing the first week according to plan and lose a few pounds. Fantastic! The next week you’re invited to a party. Halfway through the evening, you crack and eat a bowl of potato salad. Then you think: “It’s all ruined now anyway!” and proceed to also eat barbecue, finger food, and generous helpings of dessert.
If you’d stuck to just the potato salad, it would have been no big deal. It’s because you felt that once you’d broken your “winning streak” of perfection, nothing mattered anymore, that you went on that binge and probably ended up gaining back all the weight you’d lost up to then.
I have a bit of a dramatic streak and therefore, I love sweeping changes. Nothing inspires me more than making plans and writing lists and imagining exactly how I’ll do everything perfectly from now on. It just sounds so tempting! However, it doesn’t matter if this is about food, exercise, passions, or anything else – it’s doomed to fail.
In contrast, the way I established a routine of practising the piano after 15 years without a piano, was by making room for 15 minutes a day, which gradually expanded to take up more time. Whenever I don’t feel like practising, I go back to the 15 minutes.
Do you understand? The idea is baby steps. You can do anything in small increments. 10 minutes of dusting the bookshelves is better than no dusting at all. One healthy meal a day is better than none. Sending a quick message to a friend is better than no contact whatsoever.
“Go big or go home” is one of the worst, most damaging sayings I know. Throw it out the window and introduce 5 or 10 minutes of change every day. A month from now, you won’t know yourself.
Picture by Fernando Jorge on unsplash.com
Things that keep you stuck #2: Trying to do too much
One of the things I often ask my clients to do, is to look for inspiration from historical figures. Almost every art, field of study or discipline has seen a few giants in the past, who achieved unimaginable triumphs or created great works of art.
There’s no doubt that they were great minds and strong characters – but they also had support. Most of these creators – men, mostly, because women weren’t supposed to be artists or inventors – relied on wives (or mothers) and/or servants to look after their every need.
A poet of the nineteenth century certainly laboured over their words, but d’you know what they didn’t do? Wash their owns clothes (or their dishes), cook their own meals, clean their homes, go to yoga, pick up the children from school, attend parent-teacher-conferences, go to the bake sale, buy fresh fruit and veg from the farmers market, …
I don’t mean to diminish their achievements. What I’m saying is that maybe you should stop feeling bad about yourself for not composing operas when even Mozart, who often had financial problems, had a wife and servants to look after his many kids so that he could compose, conduct, rehearse, and generally be a full-time musical genius.
What can you do now, in the 21st century?
- Radically simplify your life and kick out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for your survival or your family’s.
- Look for help. I don’t know why it’s so frowned upon these days to get a cleaner at least once or twice a month. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and it is very much worth the reduction of your stress levels.
We may be used to multi-tasking by now, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. The more you simplify and focus, the more those few focused activities will thrive. As a bonus, you’ll feel at peace and good about yourself.
Things that keep you stuck #3: Responding with more control instead of more ease
Life is unpredictable and even the most organised people sometimes face unforeseen circumstances. When things go wrong, or even if they simply don’t go the way we expected them to go, our first impulse is to tighten our grip. We try to regain a sense of security by controlling things. Nine times out of ten, these attempts fail spectacularly.
Why is responding with control a bad idea?
- It adds stress. Unforeseen events are unsettling enough on their own. Rather than calming us, trying to exert control just serves to make us more tense and add more pressure.
- It’s futile. Life has a habit of being larger than any single one of us. We can’t possibly control its eventualities. Sh*t happens, as they say. Imagine you’re swimming in a sea and suddenly there are a number of mighty, rolling waves. Are you going to frantically scream at the sea to be calm, or would it be better to allow yourself to be carried up and down by the waves until they subside?
- It redirects your focus. The only thing – or rather, person – you have control over, is yourself. You can’t dictate all the circumstances but you can choose your reaction to them. That’s what you should focus on; that’s the area that deserves your effort and energies.
Instead, when you feel like life has dropped you into the quicksand, let go. Respond with ease. Depending on the situation, do whatever is appropriate out of the following:
- look where you can help
- look after yourself
- see the funny side
- be prepared to be flexible and change your plans.
Life happening is the norm, rather than the exception. Learn to “ride out the waves” with grace and ease, and you may eventually even find joy in the process.