You’re Doing Better Than You Think
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who’s going through some stuff… She’s realized that she has some self-sabotaging behaviours that keep resulting in things she doesn’t want. Basically her people pleasing patterns are starting to bite her in the ass and despite all the stuff she’s trying to do to stop the pattern from getting the best of her, she’s been struggling.
Of course after awhile, just like anyone would, she started wondering if it was ever going to get any better. As we talked further about it I discovered that she was looking at things from the perspective of ‘once the drama stopped things would get better’ – basically she holding out, waiting for life to get better, so things would get easier for her. She said: “I’m looking forward to smooth and small speed bumps. Not these mountains I feel like I keep running into.” (And again, don’t worry, I got her permission before I quoted her.)
Have you ever found yourself in a similar frame of mind? Waiting and wishing for things to smooth out and get easier? I think it’s fair to say that most of us have felt that way at least at some point in our life – that everything was ‘happening to us’ and that we couldn’t wait for things to get better. Maybe you’re even in that place right now?
Thinking about that perspective immediately made me realize how common a thought process that is, and then at the same time how defeating that perspective is. Stay with me here…
The first red flag in my mind about that perspective is it puts you (the thinker) in the victim hot seat. You are ‘at the affect of’ the circumstances and therefore you are essentially powerless to do anything for yourself to make things different: “things are hard and will stay hard until they get easier.” Powerlessness SUCKS – no two ways about it – and feeling stuck in that place sucks even more.
The second, and even bigger red flag for me about that perspective is that it sets you up to feel like you’re never making any progress. We humans like to feel as if we’re making progress in our lives. Most of the time we do that by setting tangible goals for ourselves; hitting a goal weight, getting out of debt, getting promoted, buying a house, getting married, having kids (although I think those last two are both dangerous ways to measure your success – at least from a well-being standpoint.)
Since we naturally gage our progress and success by tangible milestones, it stands to reason that we’d do the same thing with our personal growth and self-awareness. “I will have finally learned how to ‘do life’ when things are smoother and easier for me.” Until then you’ll feel like a failure and like you’re not making any progress…
Flag on the play!!
That is NO way to go through life! Always feeling like you’re never getting anywhere and that you’ve gotta keep striving and figuring it out; like where you are right now and the way you’re ‘doing life’ is bad or wrong or should be different. No wonder the world of personal development can seem so daunting and overwhelming! If you’re waiting for life to get easy before you feel like you’ve made any progress, you’ll always feel defeated. And the thing is, I don’t think life will ever be that way – smooth and easy – and I think it’s that illusion that creates upset, disappointment, and keeps us struggling.
In my mind, we need a significantly more empowering perspective to hold when we’re in the process of learning about ourselves and working through our sh*t. So with that in mind, here’s a perspective that might make a difference and allow you to feel better about the work you’re doing and the difference it’s making in your life:
It’s like learning to surf.
Huh?? Think about it… When you first go and learn to surf you have to learn some of the basics like learning to get up on the board and hold your balance. Once you’ve got that nailed, you get out in the water and give it a try. As you get better at getting up and balancing in shallow water and small waves, you progress to bigger waves with bigger challenges and you keep practicing and building on the skills you’ve already learned. As you take on the bigger waves you can see your progress so you feel successful.
If the first time you went surfing you charged out into 15-foot waves, it’s pretty unlikely you’d ever feel successful let alone enjoy surfing – you’d be falling off the board and getting smashed by waves left and right. Anyone in their right mind gives themselves the space and permission to need to learn and practice the skills of surfing before they start judging themselves as an expert.
Sadly though that’s how we tend to look at life and our own personal development, like we should be experts at it right out of the gate. When we look at life like: ‘Once things are smooth and I only have small speed bumps, that’ll be proof that I know how to ‘do life’ well” we’re essentially running out into huge surf and telling ourselves that we’ll only be good surfers if we can hot-dog on the heavies.
The thing is, it’s easier to mark your progress with something like surfing because you can tell when you’re successfully getting up on your board or balancing for longer periods of time; you can tell when you’ve moved onto bigger waves and are feeling more comfortable on the board and in the deeper water. The markers of success aren’t as clear as that when you’re looking at self-awareness and personal development… there aren’t any waves or balancing acts to clearly track your success with.
You have to learn the process first. You have to learn what works and what doesn’t. You have to learn your own style and where your strengths and weaknesses are. And just like learning to surf, learning to ‘do life’ is a process.
The other thing this idea of ‘I will have successfully learned to ‘do life’ when things are finally smooth’ does to people is keeps you stuck. When you keep looking at how things aren’t working for you right now – the way you’re ‘doing life’ is getting you nothing but struggle and heartache – you end up staying stuck on the metaphorical beach or in the shallow water.
You end up trying to refine your approach based on the things you think you know instead of looking for the greater learning that’s available.
Who do you think is going to do better: the novice surfer who takes and applies the surf instructor’s lessons? Or the surfer who continues doing things their way trying to figure out how to make their ineffective process work?
I think what people do is get caught up in trying to surf their way instead of listening to the lessons the instructor offers – in this metaphor the instructor is basically Life. They keep falling and failing, wondering why it’s so hard. If they’d just stop doing it their way and surrender to the lessons, they’d make faster progress and the learning wouldn’t be as painful when they faced their next challenge or new and bigger waves.
In life, as in surfing, there is a natural progression. In surfing you can gage your progress by the increasing size of waves you can ride. In life you can gage your progress NOT by how smooth things are, but by comparing how you’re reacting to challenging or uncomfortable situations now versus previously and as well you can look at your current actions compared to earlier in your journey.
If you used to react with defensiveness and now you’re getting better at calmly asking questions, getting clarification, and taking responsibility for where you’ve mis-stepped – THAT’S PROGRESS!!
If you used to constantly give yourself away in relationships, people-pleasing like crazy, and now you’re practicing setting and holding boundaries – THAT’S PROGRESS!!
If you used to ignore your intuition and red flags when getting involved with people or situations and now you find yourself slowing down, asking questions, and sometimes saying ‘No’ – THAT’S PROGRESS!!
If you used to feel like you were constantly struggling and feeling disempowered and you now find yourself looking for what you can be responsible for, what actions you can take, and actually taking the action (instead of just thinking or talking about it) – THAT’S PROGRESS!!
Those are all metaphorical big waves. You’ve progressed from dry-land surf training to the riding the bombs. You gotta give credit where credit is due. If you’ve been learning to ‘do life’ and you’re responding differently to the world around you now than you did when you started, pat yourself on the back and cut yourself some slack.
The thing is, you’re always going to be looking for bigger waves and the perfect ride. It’s part of your DNA somehow… always hunting for the bigger challenge. If life were always smooth and easy, you’d be bored out of your mind – I promise you that for sure. What you’ll get better at is where you put your focus and effort. Instead of focusing on trying to make something that’s not working work, you’ll listen to those that have gone before you and to the lessons life has to offer instead of insisting on doing it your (ineffective) way.
How’re You Doing?
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