When faced with a challenge we generally have two options. We can front up and deal with the issue at hand and resolve it right there and then or we can find any number of ways to buy ourselves the time and courage we think we need to find a suitable solution. In simple terms, we can stand and fight or we can take flight. The route we choose first is almost always linked directly to how much pain we believe the problem we are facing presents to us. Sometimes this means that we never ever get around to dealing with something because we think that burying it under all the other stuff we have in our lives to distract us will somehow make it less of an issue but here’s the thing: burying our issues is not a solution.
As human beings, we are far more adept at avoiding issues than we are at dealing with them. Avoiding difficult or uncomfortable situations is a natural, often unconscious, self-preservation response and while this tactic may provide some level of short-term relief, ultimately the issue is still going to be there when we pull our head out of the proverbial sand, however long down the line that may be. It also causes additional stresses and fears linked to the outcome we’re trying to avoid. Forcing ourselves to not feel the negative emotions that may or may not arise as a result of dealing with an issue also deprives us of the positive emotions and connection that would come out of a constructive resolution. It may sound like I’m referring only to an issue with another human being, but the same is equally true of issues around our health, our finances, our careers, exercise goals or any other major decision that lies before us. If you want to live your best life you’re going to have to learn to make the tough choice to stand and fight because ultimately this is how we win at life.
So practically, how do we do this? I’m no professional but I’ve been using the technique below for a few months to help me face a few of my own issues.
The first step is to ask yourself what you are avoiding. This process might hurt a little. It might take some time. You might choose to write the things that come to mind down. You might start creating new ways in your mind to avoid dealing with these things. It starts with answering this question honestly.
Secondly, choose one of the issues that you’ve just acknowledged. Allow yourself to feel the negative emotions that are linked to that issue. It might be fear or hurt or uncertainty or discomfort or anger or embarrassment. Whatever it is for you, allow yourself to really feel it and be aware of where in your body you’re feeling that emotion. Once you’ve sat with the emotion for a little while, it often doesn’t feel as intense. Sit with it a while longer and strangely it loses its power over you.
Once you’ve reached the point where the emotion is taken out of an issue, it’s easy to start taking action. Your mind will have more clarity in terms of potential solutions and these no longer feel unmanageable or overwhelming because your emotions are no longer leading your actions.
One example I can use is a difficult conversation I’d been avoiding because I was angry about something that someone had said at work in a larger meeting. I was so stunned that I couldn’t respond in the moment but later I didn’t know how to approach it without being overly emotional, which I felt would be unprofessional and would lead to us not being able to resolve the issue. Once I’d followed the process above, a few days later I was able to have a calm and level conversation about the issue at hand, how it made me feel at the time and how I felt we could potentially solve the actual issue that had sparked the comment in the first place. In doing so, I learnt that by having the honest conversation with the person I actually built a better rapport with them. It turned out that they hadn’t meant the comment in the context in which I’d heard it at all - imagine how it would have turned out if I’d gone in with all of my emotional guns blazing in the moment! And if I hadn’t taken the time to speak to the person once I’d processed my emotions, I’d have continued to think they’d said what they did with whatever imaginary intention I’d perceived there to be, and this would have created further unnecessary tension.
This process may not work for every single type of issue or situation, but I’ve found it a good place to start. As I’ve practiced this more it’s become easier to be more mindful of what I’m avoiding and I’m more willing to face issues as they arise because I’m now focused on the positive emotions linked to the outcomes. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like feeling like a winner?
I also ask myself three questions after every issue that I’ve tackled, regardless of the outcome:
Did I learn something from how I handled that situation?
How can I use what I learnt to act or react differently in the future?
Can I use what I learnt to help someone else?
Life always leaves us clues but we have to be willing to ask ourselves the questions and answer them honestly. As with everything meaningful in life, this requires practice and consistency. Start with the small things, create a few wins and you’ll find your confidence increasing around facing the bigger issues.
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