Join now for the weekly e-letter in courage.
Technically, the “right” thing to do, the very “self-helpy” thing to do when one is in the midst of confusion would be to get grounded, immediately and as quickly as possible.
And as I imagine you do, too, I haaaate it when I’m feel disconnected from who I know I truly am, when I’m walking unmoored in a space of not knowing my place in the world.
A few times a year, it happens. I find myself confronting groundlessness. All of my courage and Buddhist practices rise up and confront me and I don’t feel like I can lean into any of them.
Mindfulness? Pfft. Courage? Ugh.
This is all very human, and it’s hard being a human.
What gives me comfort at such times—what I hope gives you comfort, too—is drawing power from my discontent.
The Power of Your Discontent
If you decide that numbing out is not an option, eventually, you’ll get either sad or pissed.
If you get pissed, you’ll be profoundly uncomfortable but you’ll also be firing up the burners for reconnecting with the part of you that says: No. Abso-fucking-lutely not. I’ve gone as far as I can go, and I’m not going to go any farther.
The power of your discontent—of mine—of the discontent behind any movement—is that if you keep the channel open, that discontent can transform itself.
No. No more.
At the moment when you know you won’t take it for another second, you’re officially defining your future.
This is how you start a revolution, from within.
So at the same time that I often feel lost when I’m in the midst of discontent, I’m also waiting for when the tide will turn. I know that if I struggle enough with something, and if I keep waiting, there will be this moment of transformation—the discontent into action—that hits.
When the truth-truth-truth comes knocking at your door, you know that life is about to get real.
These moments of reckoning are hard, but they’re everything when you know the gold that lies within them.
The next time you’re in the midst of flailing, keep your senses attuned for when that fierceness within you dares to rise. Don’t shut it down. Welcome it. See it as the next step in a process that says: No more.
In the moment of that first breath where you think, “Oh fuck I don’t know that doesn’t seem like a good idea wait a second,” there’s this simultaneous opportunity for courage.
Most of the time, we pass over this little opportunity because we don’t even know that it’s there. It’s barely perceptible as the body takes over and makes us quake with fear.
Fear is a direct, felt experience. It’s most obvious when it’s an elevator-dropping sensation in your stomach. It’s less obvious, but also there, when you know you have your next big idea but you “just can’t concentrate.”
And always, riding on the wild back of fear, risking being bucked off, there’s Courage.
Courage says: Maybe just give it a little try. See what happens. Push a little harder.
The fallacy is that if you miss the opportunity the first time, fear wins. But Courage is always there. She’s the mistress of power and she can always be counted upon when backed into a corner (in fact, those are the moments when she gets downright feral).
If you want to develop more courage, you’ve got to do three things: notice, connect, claim.
Develop More Courage : Notice, Connect, Claim
Notice. It’s all coming up, again—your boss is being sarcastic; your partner is resistant to having a discussion with you that could forever alter your sense of intimacy with each other; your hand is raised to share that idea—and your body starts ringing the alarm bells.
Notice that your body rings those alarm bells, every time. Notice that you are where you are—in the chair, or on the phone, or in Missoula, MT.
Breathe with this sentence: “Ah, yes. Fear is coming up, again.”
Connect. Connect with your voice and everything that has transpired for this moment to happen where you can speak up. Connect to the wild, liberated feeling of unleashing your courage. Connect to what your heart really wants.
This is about getting intentional. This is not a time to play it from the cheap seats of compromise. This is where your body might be shaking but you still own it: “I want this. I desire this.”
Claim. You claim your space. You claim your voice. You say, “This isn’t right.” You push away from the table and leave the room. You set your boundaries.
The moment will reveal what needs to be claimed. Sometimes, in the face of someone else’s chaos, what we claim for ourselves is silence. Sometimes, what we claim is saying firmly, “I’m not taking any more shit.” Claiming your power isn’t about oppression or enacting “power over” (which isn’t really power, anyway).
Presence is where you start. Action is where you end up.
Treat yourself with ease! Be gentle with yourself! Give yourself self-care! Practice compassion!
Okay, got it. I’m down with that.
And also? With those places in your life where change is most necessary?
Lean. The fuck. In. Put a little grit into it. Make it a personal mission not to let yourself off the hook on a regular basis.
Why? Because behavior patterns can be addictive, and one of the things that supports any addiction is when someone doesn’t really put some ooomph behind changing.
Alcoholics can’t say, “Well, it’s been a hard day—I’ll let myself off the hook and have a drink.” That’s the addiction talking.
When it comes to our most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I believe that telling ourselves one too many times, “Well, I’ll just take it easy” is one of the deceptive, illusory ways that old habits stay squarely in place.
All of those self-help articles telling you to take it easy? Or that if it isn’t easy, it’s some kind of sign that you’re not on the right track?
Yes, sometimes they’re spot on. But when it comes to the stuff that just ain’t working in your life, it’s time to cut the shit, and get committed to shifting.
Addictive Behavior Patterns
Addictive behavior is behavior that you don’t feel you have much control over.
Like a chemical addiction, at first a person isn’t really aware that they’re turning to the same behavior, over and over and over, until a serious problem emerges.
For instance, handling conflict in your marriage in the same way, over and over and over, is something many people aren’t aware of until serious fissures in the marriage appear.
Once those cracks appear, most people at least initially think, “I’d like to change this.” Awesome. But the next time a disagreement happens, the same patterns run and an argument happens—again, just as the alcoholic might decide to drink less—but then, they end up drinking more than they’d thought they would.
For most people caught in an addictive cycle, this is going to play out, multiple times, until the person truly sees the cost of her addiction, decides to get sober, and puts all of her effort into recovery.
For the person immersed in an addictive behavior? She’s got to truly see the costs of her behavior, decide to stop, and put all her effort into changing.
The Shame of Seeing
We don’t change because we’re afraid of the shame we’ll feel when we truly see.
Confession: I used to be one of those “bad-ass” people who would tell people exactly what I thought of them when I was upset. If you crossed me? I was going to put you in your place and let you have it. I didn’t “take any shit.”
How many friends did I lose, from this behavior? Um, a lot. It was awhile before I finally understood—if this behavior didn’t change, I was going to lose more people I cared about.
As soon as I saw that cost, and as soon as I truly saw what my behavior was doing to my relationships, what rose up next?
Incredible, crippling shame. I decided to walk through that shame because I saw that every other time, I’d run scurrying away.
When the costs and rewards are great, you’ve got to fucking double-down on change.
The Path of Most Resistance
When you really get that a behavior pattern isn’t working—when your relationships, your career, your finances, your health, your kids, your sense of self-worth—is at stake, you’ve got to pony up and commit to change the way an alcoholic has got to commit to recovery.
This is not the “path of least resistance.” It’s the path of most resistance. Your resistance is going to rise up, strong, and it’s going to be gnarly.
For awhile, when you are changing an addiction, all the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and triggers that propped it up are going to show up. For an alcoholic, it’s the thought, “A drink would be nice” and the belief “Drinking would solve this problem” and the behavior of habitually grabbing that extra bottle of wine or the trigger of piling on too much work.
For behavior addiction—let’s use the example of people-pleasing—it’s the thought, “I don’t want her to be mad at me,” and the belief “Good people always help out when asked” and the behavior of saying “yes” without thinking first, or the trigger of noticing that someone seems upset with you.
This shit is hard. It’s the path of most resistance. This is not the time to listen to the self-help sing-song of “Choose ease.”
You Can Do Both
At the same time that you’re deciding to really commit to change, you can still be kind.
You do not have to become a drill sergeant, to get yourself to change.
You can be absolutely ruthless in drawing a firm boundary with yourself—“I’m aware of this behavior pattern, and I am absolutely committed to changing it”—while also being kind towards yourself when you inevitably stumble or falter.
Abusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
Also? Excusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
The day of reckoning is a hard one, for most people. Scurrying away because it’s hard doesn’t make it any easier. Your life will always, eventually, present its bill—the sum total of all of those choices, both the choices to change as well as the choice not to.