(By Liz Murray)
With the uncertainty that has been happening all around us, its normal to have a sense that we have little control of our lives and experience a range of less familiar feelings. For many of us, the change in routine and lack of close contact with others has had a significant impact on our mood.
We may wake up in the morning and look at the day ahead and start to think about how it will be. Feeling like it will be just like yesterday and the day before, and the day before that.
The sameness, predictability, and monotony ahead of us, sapping away any hint of excitement or anticipation of what’s to come. Day in, day out, same experiences, same feelings, same emotions. The monotony of repetition.
Have you experienced this lately?
And now there are new challenges to prepare for as the world opens again.
Why is it then, that some people appear sluggish and over it and a bit stuck, and others seem so energized and optimistic? How do we recapture our mojo and experience the feelings that come with feeling a sense of control?
It all comes down to our mindset.
Our mindset is the set of assumptions we make. These assumptions guide our beliefs, standards, and expectations about every aspect of our life. These assumptions are initially formed when we are a small child, and they vary based on the language our parents used to describe us in the situations we experienced. Our early identity of who we are, what we deserve and what we are capable of is influenced by what they tell us. As we have new experiences in life away from our parents’ we either maintain the early assumptions they taught us, or we embrace the opportunity to challenge them.
Here is an example.
Two young boys were best of friends, Oliver, and Dean. They met regularly when their mothers visited one another for lunch or afternoon tea at one another’s homes. They loved building Lego towns together and creating tracks across the loungeroom floor to drive their matchbox cars on. Outside they kicked a soccer ball around and easily entertained themselves, enjoying one another’s company.
One day they were at Dean’s house, and he was excited to show Oliver his new tree house his father had built in a large old fig tree in the back yard. Climbing up the branches Dean called out to Oliver “quick, climb up and I’ll show you my toys inside”. Oliver replied, “I can’t climb up, it’s too high and I might fall”. Dean climbed back down and reassured Oliver “Its ok, Its safe. Take your time and make sure you have steady footing and a firm grip on each branch as you climb”. Oliver was nervous, he had never been allowed to climb a tree before. After the first few branches he realized he loved climbing trees and he was quite a good climber. He loved looking across the neighbours’ fences from up high and had a great time.
He was so excited and proud of himself for his effort.
Oliver’s excitement was short lived. His mother came into the back yard calling his name. He sat silently as he knew his mother would not like him climbing the tree. Not realizing this Dean called out to her “we are up here in my new tree house”. Oliver’s mother became anxious and cranky calling Oliver to get down immediately because he might fall, and it was too dangerous.
The following week Oliver suggested Dean bring his push bike over and they could ride to the local park while their mothers had afternoon tea. Both boys set off and as they approached the park Dean became excited seeing the skate park area at the edge of the park. Dean said, “oh wow lets go over the ramps on our bikes”. Oliver replied “we can’t go over there, it’s dangerous. It’s for big kids”. Dean could not resist. He loved the ramps and jumps and had a terrific time as Oliver sat to the edge and watched. It was almost time to head back. As Dean launched off the ramp for one last jump, a skate boarder cut in front of him, and Dean swerved to miss - coming off his bike and grazing his knee.
Arriving back at Oliver’s house, the boys put their bikes in the back yard and headed inside. Oliver’s mother saw blood dripping down Dean’s leg and said “Oh no, what has happened to you. You poor thing. Come and let me have a look, we may need to take you to the hospital. What happened?” Dean replied, “Oh it’s nothing, just a little graze. I stacked it on the last jump”.
Oliver’s mother looked at Oliver, confused. Oliver hung his head.
Dean’s mother asked, “Where were the jumps?” Dean replied, “There is a cool skate park at the end of the park down the road.” At the same time, both mothers responded; Oliver’s mother saying, “Oliver, you know that’s dangerous, you are not to go to the skate park” and Dean’s mother replied, “Oh that sounds like great fun!”.
Dean was raised to believe that with the appropriate precautions, it would be ok to take some risks. He was taught that it is ok to step out of your comfort zone, and that when you do, there are opportunities to have some great experiences in life.
Oliver was encouraged to believe that risks are dangerous and that being safe was the way to be. Despite this, he learned a few things when he climbed the tree. He learned that if he is careful, there may be some great rewards in stepping outside his comfort zone. He felt a great sense of pride when he realized he could climb the tree, and he also loved seeing things from a different perspective when he got to the top.
Reflecting on this scenario, ask yourself whether there are some assumptions and beliefs you have from your childhood that are holding you back?
Perhaps there are a few beliefs you have formed, that have served you well in keeping you safe, however they have also held you back from embracing opportunities.
What are your beliefs about stepping out of your comfort zone?
What feelings come up when you challenge your beliefs?
As humans, it is part of our nature to feel fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not belonging. Fear of not being loved. We tend to stay in the fear, rather than avoid the emotions that come up when we allow ourselves to feel into the emotions. Being uncomfortable in fear is often more comfortable than the discomfort of moving through fear, because staying stuck there is more familiar than experiencing the deeper emotions on the other side.
People who seem more confident to step out of their comfort zone still feel fear. Their secret is that they are more comfortable with being uncomfortable. They move through the fear and reframe what fear means, seeing it as a challenge to work through rather than a limitation to what’s possible.
So how do we become unstuck and move through fear?
There are 3 simple steps:
Sit with the feelings and notice what emotions are coming up for us when we think about the challenge. Which emotions are we feeling?
Notice where in our body we can feel them and what the sensation is. This way we will be able to identify it when it comes up in future. How exactly do they feel?
Take some deep breaths and let the emotion be there. Don’t try and stop yourself feeling it. Let them be.
From birth, our parents learn to placate us when we are crying by trying to work out what is wrong and fixing it for us. For many of us this goes on throughout our childhood and we miss opportunities to experience the full range of emotions. Rather than learning to feel into emotions, we eventually teach ourselves to suppress them and move on. The more we suppress, the more stuck we become. They don’t go away, rather they well up inside us to feed anxiety.
One of my favourite ways, to work through some of the more challenging emotions that come up, is to make a time where I will not be interrupted, and I can allow myself to fully focus and feel into whatever comes up. I find that doing this in a warm shower allows me to be fully open and be vulnerable with myself about how I am really feeling.
I use the Feelings Wheel by Christopher Cobb (below) to identify the name of the emotions I am feeling, and I find the more familiar I become with the emotions, the more I notice the differences in the emotions I am feeling.
I also work with my Coach regularly, to help me look more deeply into my beliefs, standards, and expectations and to help me get clarity to move forward. I recommend using a Coach, Psychologist or other relevant professional to support you with this process.
Why does this matter?
Our thoughts become our mood.
Our mood becomes our temperament.
Our temperament determines how we experience the world, and the way other people experience us. It is the essence of who we are being, and it determines the mindset we live with every day.
To achieve a sense of confidence in stepping out and embracing challenges, we must first become aware of the beliefs that have held us back, and then work through the fears that we are experiencing based on these beliefs. Through this process we can feel a greater sense of control and certainty in every aspect of our lives.
Liz Murray, Focus Strategist
Edge of Possibilities
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