Woody Allen once said ‘what if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet!’. I love how he makes life feel a little less serious. We could all do with a dose of that. Life’s hard enough without making it harder for ourselves.
“We make stuff up. Instead of using our genius minds well, to decide where we want to go and how we’ll get there, we tend to use it to limit ourselves.”
In my experience as a coach, life often feels harder when we want to change direction and create something new. Almost immediately, our thinking spirals to all the reasons why it won’t work and why we can’t do it. But most of our predictions never happen.
We make stuff up. Instead of using our genius minds well, to decide where we want to go and how we’ll get there, we tend to use it to limit ourselves. Ever found yourself dismissing a great idea because ‘who am I to do that?’, wanting to write a book ‘but who’d read it?’ go back to university ‘but I’m too old’, apply for that great job ‘but I’d never get it?’
It seems the moment you decide you want something, the unhelpful thinking kicks in. ‘I can’t’ you tell yourself. And none of us are immune, we all do it.
We have an inbuilt protection buffer to keep us safe from feeling uncertain and inadequate. For example, if you apply for the role and you don’t get it, your self-esteem might suffer, so you don’t apply. You decide to stay stuck doing a job you despise than put your hand up for the new one, because it’s safer. Not comfortable, but better than feeling a failure.
When I ask my clients what they really want, they often struggle to tell me. There’s a simple reason for this. Most people focus more on what they don’t want, than what they do want. We are prone to being more risk averse. Biologically speaking you’re trying to keep yourself safe (and it works up to a point) but it also keeps you stuck.
When I persist with my question, I generally get an exasperated response – “I’ll tell you what I want” people say, and they do, closely followed by “but the reality is…” as they go on to explain (within the blink of an eye) all the reasons why they can’t have it.
“Everything after the BUT as they say…”
Whenever a person tells me why something is not possible, I get to see what’s keeping them stuck.
‘But the reality is’ acts as their disclaimer. It’s a carefully constructed argument (a story really) explaining why it may be possible for other people, it’s not possible for them. I’ve heard it so often I want to scream “that’s not the reality. You’ve made it up. There’s no such thing as reality, it’s just how you see things and perhaps how you see things is faulty.”
Of course, I don’t scream this at people, not for fear of offending them, but because it’s simply not helpful. Our brains have a design fault. We make stuff up and then we believe it. And once you believe it – you’re stuck with it.
When I suggest looking at other possibilities people insist “no you don’t understand – that’s how it is.” Full stop. End of conversation. If I, (crazy coach) suggest they cannot know with absolute certainty that their predictions will come true, I get the is she for real look, of course that’s how it is – pfft!
Now I’m not suggesting you can instantly grow 12cms taller if you’re genetically endowed otherwise, or that everyone can win Lotto. I am though, interested in you following a purpose driven life when it calls you. So, I will not let you get away with telling yourself fibs about why what you want is not available to you.
I care when you’re talking about the work you really want to do (which couldn’t possibly exist); the kind of relationship you desire (all the good ones are taken); and reeling off 20 good reasons why you can’t start your own business (the wife/husband, kids, mortgage…).
“Your ‘buts’ show me your walls, your prison, your blind spots. At the same time, saying them aloud provides the juice to move you forward.”
Your ‘buts’ show me your walls, your prison, your blind spots. At the same time, saying them aloud provides the juice to move you forward. While some ideas are fleeting, others will haunt you until do something about them. It’s my job to hold a mirror up, so you can see which are which and how you’re keeping yourself stuck. You get to see that there’s really no such thing as reality, you create our own. When you unquestionably believe your own BS, you create a monster, a set of limits for your life that ends up owning you.
And that’s where practising mindfulness comes in. It won’t make the unhelpful thoughts go away, but over time you get to see what’s going on more clearly. You come face to face with what’s holding you back. You see your passing thoughts as not necessarily right, true, or even helpful. By exposing your barriers and brick walls, you’re able to step back and look at them objectively and dispassionately. You’re kinder to yourself and things don’t feel so overwhelming. Eventually, you have more choice over what you focus on and what you entertain.
Of course, you can decide not to do something, but at least you’ve held your decision in awareness and made a conscious choice. That gives you more freedom.
Try this out. Ask yourself ‘what do I really want?’ and then answer this, ‘does someone else have it?’ If they do, it’s possible for you!
Then make a list of all the things you’re telling yourself about why you can’t have it and challenge yourself boldly. Ask ‘am I 100 % certain this is true, or will definitely happen? Could I have made this up? What other possibilities are there? What purpose does this thought serve? Is this really keeping me safe, or is it stifling my life?’ Sit with these questions and see what shifts.
And if you find yourself saying ‘yes, but I can’t have it because the reality is…’ then have a bit if a laugh at yourself, because you just made that up.
And if you want more momentum – get in touch.
Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers programmes across New Zealand and Australia to produce unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being.
Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) used to align values with behaviours and transform workplace culture. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.
It’s all about changing the way you work to positively influence workplace culture.