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The good news: people are waking up, looking beyond their own bubbles, and seeing the world’s problems.
The bad news: people don’t know what to do .
It’s hard to admit that we don’t know what to do , to solve the world’s problems—not in any absolute sense. And personally, we don’t know what to do, when seeing how others suffer re-stimulates our own old traumas, the clinical depression or panic attacks or insomnia. We don’t know what to do, with our fear that we could be next (let’s just be real: most of us, in response to tragedy, have at least some part of ourselves that centers around our own experience and thinks, “But what if that was me? What would I do?”).
We don’t know what to do, receiving critique. We don’t know what to do, to make up for a past history of not having spoken up enough on behalf of other people who suffer, or for all the times we could have made a different choice but didn’t, or with our shame and guilt about how we continue to benefit from privilege both invisible and right in front of our faces.
If we are talking about arriving at any kind of absolute answer for perfect parity and making up for the past or knowing the exact right solutions for how to move forward?
None of us know what to do.
And as soon as we think we’ve found the person who can tell us, often, someone else is shouting that we should be doing/thinking/saying/being different about the problem.
For example: responding to Hurricane Harvey. Some people donate money and then they get told that they just donated to the worst charity ever who won’t properly allocate those resources. Or some people send resources to Houston, and are smugly reminded that with the roads and airports closed, those resources won’t get to the people who need help, anyway. Or some people start saying how they wish they could do more for Texans, and someone tells them that they are American-centric-jerks because they weren’t aware about the awful flooding that has killed far more people in several poorer countries during the summer of 2017.
This often puts us right back to square one: not knowing what to do.
When humans don’t know what to do, and feel overwhelmed, they start shutting down and they do less of anything (which is, by the way, exactly what often contributes to the problems that we face, in the first place).
So here are a few suggestions for times when there are problems, but you don’t know what to do.
1. Listen, without attachment, to the people who are asking for help. This is a skill. It’s listening to what someone’s saying, without automatically launching into your personal responses, judgments about yourself or them, etc. So for instance, when a person of color is saying, “Here’s the experience of oppression that I’ve had, as a person of color,” listening without attachment means that you listen without going into your own head and attaching to the thought, “But I never did that to you! I never mis-treated you! I want a better world!”
It also means that if you say you donated to a charity for Hurricane Harvey and then get dog-piled on about how you donated to the wrong place and clearly should have known better, you listen to that feedback and…don’t attach to “I must have done it all wrong.” You just listen. Listen with presence and a willingness to truly hear what the other person is saying. Take the information in, without judging it, or defending yourself against it.
2. Check in with your body. Sit with the feelings of discomfort that critical feedback might arise. Check in with your personal integrity, which is the master honing device. Are you in integrity? Stretch to see if you can find any place, even a small place, where the feedback or the critique is correct.
3. See it from their shoes. Try projecting yourself into what this other person is thinking and feeling, based on the words or information they’ve given you. What might cause them to think and feel that way? Can you empathize? Where’s the common ground?
4. Learn how to differentiate between critique and abuse (and…this might take some time). Critique attempts to show you where a way of thinking or approaching a problem is problematic, and suggests alternatives. Abuse gets personal, and comes from a place of tearing people down. Our defenses against hearing critique are often quite built up, so figuring out when someone is critiquing versus abusing is tough. You’ll probably listen to some abuse, before you’ll be able to figure out if it is critique.
5. Wherever you can, Repair. That can mean a lot of things. It can mean apologizing. It can mean taking an action that counters a previously taken action. It can mean self-educating.
* * *
We really don’t know what to do. We are groundless. Even when answers are really clear-cut, they are often complex to communicate to others or to implement.
So I keep coming back to a willingness to listen better (fully, deeply, truly, listen—less talking, more listening), and then seeing how I can get on down the line to Repair.
Because if I’m honest, the more I listen the more I see the need for Repair that my own defenses have not wanted to fully see.
If I’m honest, I see how in my not knowing what to do–the perfect, socially approved, beyond judgment things to do–I sometimes didn’t do anything.
If I’m honest, I see how beating myself up for past mistakes doesn’t do anyone any good (it just makes fear stronger, and ups the ante for perfectionism, who will then surely say, “You fucked it up, before, so now you need to make SURE that you get it right!”).
Listen. Educate yourself. Make apologies and amends where necessary. And give—give all that you can.
I have a book coming out, spring 2018.
Let me say that, again: I have a book coming out, spring 2018. I’ll leave it to everyone else who has a book coming out to be too cool to cop to feeling some mixture of excited, intimidated, and WTF. (Me? I’m a “WTF is this really happening” kind of girl when my own dreams are coming true.)
I was working on yet another round of edits with my publisher and not having a great time of it. The internal dialogue went something like this:
Voice 1: These sentences are so.boring. There’s no pizzazz! You should be like [insert fave self-help writer]. She has pizzazz!
Voice 2: No, it’s not pizzazz that you’re lacking; it’s vulnerability. You don’t sound vulnerable enough. You sound like you’re trying to be a big know-it-all, and you know, everyone is going to see right through you.
Voice 1: I’m telling you, it’s the pizzazz factor. There are plenty of places in this book where you openly state that you are still afraid of things and this book is about courage, not pretending to be “fearless.” In fact, you’re almost too self-deprecating, sometimes. And who wants to read a book where someone is self-deprecating and pathetic? That’s a loser move.
Voice 2: Hmmm. Maybe you’re right. People want to read books by people who have their shit together.
Voice 1: But you know, you don’t want to look like you have your shit TOO together, or else then you’re arrogant.
Notice the lack of nuance, by the way, with the voices of fear. It’s either pizzazz or boring; vulnerable to the point of pathetic self-deprecation or the accusation that you’re being an arrogant know-it-all. Fear talks in extremes, not discernment.
So I did what I’ve done for the gazillionth time since I first sat down (again) and pulled up the file with my book proposal (again) and revised it (again) and shook all the way down to my toes as I hit “send” to a publisher (again) and hoped for the best (again).
I used the very tools that I talk about in the book, tools that have become habits (aka, “The Courage Habit”).
Access the body. Listen to the voices of fear but without attachment to what they say. Reframe fear’s limiting stories. Reach out and connect with community.
Change Your Habits, Change Your Life
I need to tell you: habit-formation has radically changed my life. Figuring out how to break bad habits and create better habits, all while honoring the value of courage, has been a game-changer. It’s made my health, my life as a parent, my marriage, my business, my anxiety and stress levels—all of it, better, because instead of grappling with challenges, I have courageous habits in place for how to handle those challenges.
Swinging between two different fear-based voices that wanted to tell me how much I was failing (all because they are wounded and feel vulnerable and use criticism as a mask for feeling those feelings), I paused. I breathed. I actually—and again, the cool points go down—turned up the music and danced, badly, in my office. I listened to what these voices were saying. I reframed in the direction of seeing how far I’d come.
Because here’s the thing, even if my book ultimately lacks either pizzazz or vulnerability, even if it’s too self-deprecating or too arrogant:
It took courage to conceive of writing a book.
It took courage to sit down and research how to write a proposal.
It took courage to write the proposal.
It took courage to send out the proposal.
It took courage to go back to the drawing board with the proposal every time it was rejected.
It took courage to listen to feedback about the proposal (some of which had nothing to do with the proposal; I had one publisher say they loved the concept and discussed the proposal at length with the editorial team, but they ultimately felt my platform wasn’t big enough).
It took courage to revise and send out that proposal again, making it better each time.
It took courage to build this business and this platform.
It took courage to sign the book contract when it came through (commitment to deadlines? And giving up some creative control over an aspect of my business? Whoa.)
It took courage to write an entire book. How many people on the planet say they want to “write a book, someday,” and never do?
It took courage to be open rather than defensive about critique as I worked with my publisher’s editorial team on multiple rounds of edits (something every writer can struggle with).
It took courage to think big picture about launching and strategy, reaching out to other authors and asking if they would be part of this, assembling a launching team.
There are multiple places along the way where I could have given up, self-sabotaged, or started becoming angry and critical as a defense mechanism against fully feeling all the feelings.
Nope. I stayed the course, felt it all, walked through it all, and have been myself through it all.
Seeing How Far You’ve Come
Seeing how far you’ve come is a courage booster. Let me explain with examples. Perhaps right now you’re struggling with your marriage. Or overwhelm and anxiety. Or financial pressures.
The fears you have about those things won’t go away, and there’s no way to engineer your life so that life challenges never happen.
But you can get into the habit of facing those fears by deciding to practice courageous habits.
Stop, now, and breathe. Access the body.
Listen to what the fear is saying, but don’t believe it. Just listen.
And then try the reframe of seeing how far you’ve come.
If your marriage is struggling? It takes courage to love someone. It takes courage to fix something that’s broken. It takes courage to love yourself enough to know the truth about who you are in a relationship.
If you’re facing overwhelm and anxiety? It takes courage to be that human. It takes courage to ask yourself what’s behind the overwhelm and anxiety. It takes courage to get help.
If you’re facing financial pressures? It takes courage to look at that, straight-on. It takes courage to change your lifestyle so that you can get out of debt. It takes courage to ask yourself how you got there and not beat yourself up.
Reminding yourself of how far you’ve come is a powerful way to remember that you have the capacity to cultivate courage. Courage isn’t something you “have.” It’s not that I’m “more courageous” than someone else. It’s just something that I’ve practiced long enough that courage has become a habit, a default way of looking at problems that arise.
And this, too, is for you. You’ve come so far, that if you stop to look at the path you’ve forged, you just might amaze yourself.
In 2016, I trained for and completed my first half-Ironman triathlon, which entailed 1.2 miles of swimming immediately followed by 56 miles of biking immediately followed by a half-marathon (13.1 miles of running). I did all of this while running our life coach certification program (and all the other parts of my business), parenting, marriage-ing (I feel like that should be a word, you know?) and the usual things that we all need to manage: paying bills, doing the laundry, getting to the grocery store.
I knew, going into training, that I was going to want to quit at various points–because everyone who puts themselves through something so physically taxing is going to ask themselves, “Why am I doing this? Am I crazy?” Nonetheless, I persevered and in 2016, I did it—I actually completed a half-Ironman.
Within months of completing half-Ironman number one, I was itchy to complete half-Ironman number two.
But I ultimately quit training for half-Ironman number two.
Why? And how did I know when to quit something versus when keep going? To an outsider, certainly, it would appear as if I “just quit.” But in fact, I took several concrete steps to know when to quit something versus when to keep going.
Here they are—laid out so that if you, too, are trying to figure out whether to quit (working on your marriage, going after that degree or certification, training for a half-Ironman…), you might be able to use them, too.
Know When to Quit Using These 4 Actions
1. Know what your resistance is, to following through. Let’s say that you want to quit a degree program that you’ve enrolled in, and you find yourself not wanting to complete assignments or go to class. Instead of going, “Ah, I’m resistant, this must be a sign that this isn’t for me!” and letting that spiral and get worse…stop. What, exactly, is your resistance? Why’s it there?
I once worked with someone who was convinced that if he experienced resistance while embarking on a project, this was his deepest intuition telling him “not to do it.” From there, the diagnosis had been set and he stopped examining what his resistance was about and began accumulating ever-more evidence that he needed to quit this year’s relationship, spiritual practice, or job.
Left in his wake were damaged relationships, debt, only surface-level transformation and a spotty employment history. In not examining his resistance, much less trying to work through it, sure, he was following his whims…but that wasn’t necessarily taking him anywhere deep.
I realize that when strong feelings come up, especially feelings of resistance to staying with something, it can feel hedonistic and freeing to say, “Well, then, fugghedaboutit!”
It’s hedonistic, but it’s not very adult, and when it’s a chronic pattern, it un-grounds your life. And there’s this very lush, verdant, enlivening soul-work to be done in being willing to stay with something and see what the resistance is about.
2. Do something about your resistance to following through. If you really want to know when to quit something (or if you truly want to quit something) knowing why you’re resistant is only a piece of it—then you’ve actually got to do something about your resistance.
Again, let’s say that you want to quit that degree program. Doing the homework feels like a chore. Your mind keeps chirping at you when it’s time to go to class, “Ugh, I don’t waaaannnnna.” You examine your resistance (step one, above) and get some clarity: The reason I’m so resistant is that I just feel overloaded in every area of my life. There’s too much going on. I’m tired and cranky and this just isn’t fun.
So there it is: the voice of your resistance.
Now, though? Do something about the resistance, and be prepared to be consistent with it for awhile. Try to actually make it better!
This is the part where most people flail. Most people can come up with every “reason why” they are resistant, but when they stay in that space they’re just in the navel-gazing of their own process.
There’s a next step here, and it’s critical, and it’s the step of sovereignty over your life: pro-actively making changes.
To deal with the resistance of feeling like you’re overloaded and tired and not having enough fun, you might need to do some things, things that are very difficult and completely contrary to how you’ve done things for a long time.
Things like…telling people in your life that they need to step up and do more (even though you’ll feel “mean” when you ask them to do their part). Or leave the house even while your kids are telling you that they neeeeed you (I had to walk out the door to train on several occasions where my daughter was convinced that she neeeeeeded me and only me; every time I came home, she was happily playing with her father). If you have some cash flow, you might need to throw money at the problem.
Maybe not feeling so overloaded would be as simple as sleeping fifteen minutes longer in the morning while your partner handles the kids or getting out for a one hour Zumba class (“Oh, but I can’t ask my partner to handle that!” you protest, to which I say, “Uh, yes, you can—and hopefully you’re seeing right here how this is your work, and the voice of ‘I can’t ask for that’ probably keeps this entire pattern exactly where it is, year after year).
This is actually one of the most courageous parts of how you know when to quit something : doing all the things that it takes to NOT quit, to NOT just give up, to NOT just throw up your hands and say, “Well, I don’t think that I can do this.”
3. Evaluate what you’re doing from the wider vantage point of your life—both the temporary and the longer-term circumstances that you’re in. If you want to know when to quit something , you’ve got to factor it into the overall picture of your life.
We all have hardships and difficulties, big life shifts, things that intimidate and overwhelm us. There’s no one who goes through a year of her life without them, so it’s rarely true that you should quit something just because life is hard—everyone’s life feels hard, in some way or another.
So if you’re trying to know whether or not to quit something (like a degree program), ask yourself: am I stressed out and resistant and overloaded right now because of temporary circumstances that have the possibility of shifting?
Maybe you also just moved within the past six months. Maybe someone close to you died. Maybe you’re still trying to work through the cognitive dissonance of a narcissistic sociopath being elected to office. Maybe your kid is going through a transition that is disrupting her sleep (and yours, to boot). Maybe you’ve hit a financial cul-de-sac and it’s scary. Maybe you just really dislike the professor you’re working with for a semester or two. To know when to quit something , you have to ask yourself if the additional pressures are temporary and if you’d feel differently about them, about your life, three months from now.
And also? If you want to know when to quit something (or if you even should), it’s good to examine the flip-side of how staying in might ultimately serve your life. Would that degree program enhance your ability to make money, long term, creating more financial stability? Would you regret not following through, later, because it’s part of a larger life dream? Do you have a pattern of not finishing things you start , and would there be value in seeing this through?
A great question to ask if you want to know when to quit something is this: If I knew that everything with this endeavour would be hard, but would ultimately work out and turn out okay, would I stay the course?
If the answer is “Yes, of course!” then guess what? You’ve actually arrived at the moment of transformation: staying the course and NOT quitting is going to teach you everything you need to know about where and why you give up on yourself, across the entirety of your life.
4. Finally but most of all? Do not sabotage your options, while you’re in the process of making the decision whether or not to quit.
Do not sabotage everything by treating your resistance differently for only two weeks, and then when life hasn’t magically changed, saying, “Well, I tried to do things differently, and it STILL didn’t work!” Changing patterns of resistance takes time, so you aren’t going to get immediate results.
If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the degree program, don’t start skipping assignments or classes while you officially decide.
If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the marriage, don’t pick more fights while you officially decide.
If you are trying to decide whether or not to train for a half-Ironman, don’t skip workouts while you officially decide.
The logic in our heads when we start to bail on things is, “I just need a break, a little space to figure this out or get some rest—then I’ll come back to this project, refreshed.” Usually, however, it doesn’t work that way. For instance, students who skip class or assignments to “rest” end up needing to work harder to make up the points—that’s why the “rest” is a sabotage maneuver.
And if, after reading this, you still skip the assignments or start the fights or bail on your scheduled workouts…understand that you’re not still “trying to decide.”
You already have decided.
You’ve decided to quit. Sabotaging your options is, for most people, the first part of how they quit things.
If reading those words strikes fear in you—Oh, god, I’ve been sabotaging it! Wait! That’s not the decision I really wanted to make; I don’t want to quit this!—then I’ve got great news:
you can simply decide to get back to it, this time fully committed.
Only this time, what you’re fully committed to isn’t just the degree, the marriage, the triathlon—it’s a full commitment to seeing who you are in this process, how you sabotage yourself through resistance, what the mental loops are that play over and over again…and all the rest.
When I decided to quit training for my second half-Ironman, I figured out what my resistance was about, made life changes to see if that pushed the needle in a better direction, asked myself questions about the immediate and longer-term desires for my life, and kept at my training the entire time while I was figuring out what I wanted to do, next. Quitting became the obvious right choice for me when I saw that my body, this year, just kept wearing down and with it, my mental state was feeling more worn down—this despite consistently applying attention to my resistance and making tweaks and changes to shift it.
If you want to know when to quit something , give yourself the benefit of a process while you decide whether or not to quit. It’s more nuanced than just a feeling of resistance. What you discover from giving a process to your decision will ultimately mean more than what you finally decide.
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