Whether you’re a “plan-ahead planner” like me, or an “addictive over-achiever,” or even a “procrastinator-extraordinaire,” we all suffer from walking ahead of ourselves on a fairly regular basis.
What that means is that at some point during our days/weeks, we spend a quantity of time thinking about situations or conversations that are looming on our horizon. Some of us do this almost constantly, while others dabble – but no matter how much or little, any time spent thinking about (playing it out in our heads) an upcoming situation or conversation we expect to have is time spent not paying attention to the NOW.
While I might justify the benefits of thorough planning ahead for everything from the next day to a trip months away, others can equally justify their choices to play it by ear and “wing it.” There’s pros and cons to both styles. But even if you “wing it” I guarantee there are numerous times you think about how you want a conversation or event to happen. This sets up expectations that, if not achieved, can cause disappointment, anxiety, or the dreaded “confrontations” that so many claim to hate.
I’ve talked before in my blog about confrontations and how they do not have to be seen as a negative (Confrontation Or Communication), so that aside, my issue today is that moving further down your path – in your head – sets up a false future that often doesn’t match up to reality. Experiencing repeated situations or conversations that don’t live up to your imagined outcomes can cause self-doubt in your choices. The irony here is that we’ve imagined how things will go – forgetting that the imagination is supposed to be creative and not realistic!
So how do you stay in the present – stay focused on the path directly in front you in the now? That’s a question that millions tackle on a daily basis. What I do know is that for me, when I catch myself playing things out ahead of time – I stop and focus on what I’m doing NOW and do my best to keep my attention there, and only considering what needs to be done as the very next step.
One of the tricks I learned during my Dramatic Arts training is to NOT try to ignore the pink elephant in the room. The more you try to ignore it, the larger it grows. Instead, we learned to turn our focus to something in front of our face that we create right on the spot. I would imagine a purple giraffe and delve into the details of that giraffe, which would cause me to completely forget about the pink elephant.
While it takes practice, this trick works great when applied to the topic of this blog. Just today at the gym I found myself focusing on a conversation I want to have with a friend. I was rehashing all my bulleted points, filling in their imagined responses. I shortly realized I wasn’t paying attention to my workout. I shifted my focus to analyze my form and the tempo of my movements and in short order I was thoroughly engrossed with the exercise at hand and enjoyed my workout all the more.
Try it for yourself and let me know the results. I guarantee the next time you find yourself traveling down the road in your head, just pull over and think about something relevant to right now – delve into the details of that and you’ll quickly shift your focus away from that false future that you were creating.
Almost everyone I talk to in my capacity as a life coach and friend has said to me at some point “I just don’t like confrontation.” If you read my March 2013 article Confrontation or Communication (and if you haven’t you might want to) then you know that the word confrontation has a bad rap. More to the point, 90% of the time when you think something is, or will be, confrontational, what’s really at stake is that you need to tell someone something you know they don’t want to hear and therefore assume they will become defensive, which makes you offensive – or the bad guy.
But I’m here to tell you that while truth is hard, truth is always better and more beneficial than passive aggressive attempts to soften a blow, or worse yet, sheer avoidance. So take stock of your life and relationships, and see if there’s something you need to say to someone that you’re just not saying.
Are you afraid you’ll feel guilty – that’s usually what holds people back from sharing a important truth? Let me remind you that guilt is an emotional trigger designed to let your heart know when you’ve been ethically or morally wrong to another (or yourself). Telling the truth about your feelings, especially if done with tact and respect is never ethically or morally wrong. As for tact and respect, that does not mean candy-coating or making the ‘lead’ be so buried under tangential fluff that the recipient never really understands your feelings. How you keep tactful and respectful is by staying succinct, on point, and keeping it about facts and YOUR feelings.
Say for example your friends or family want to come visit for a week-long vacation. You haven’t enough room to house them all comfortably, and you have too much on your plate with work, kids, after-school activities, budgetary concerns, etc., so it would be highly inconvenient for them to stay in your home for an entire week, especially when you are not on vacation too.
You’re reluctant to tell them the truth and hurt their feelings, disappoint them, or screw up their plans, especially since it would feel like the dreaded “confrontation” because they’ve made it clear that this is happening regardless of your feelings. That is of course, because you haven’t been upfront with your feelings!
So you say something like: of course you’re welcome, but I can’t take any time off to be with you and we don’t really have enough beds for all of you. They say not to worry, they don’t mind sleeping on the sofa or floor and will be gone most of each day sightseeing . But you know that you’ll feel the stress of wanting to keep your house clean, keep your kids on their routines and schedules, and just have your own space after a long day of work.
Then you try the more direct approach, though still veiled: any chance you can schedule this for the week of [blank] because they kids have no school then and I can take some vacation days or even join you at a hotel and have a staycation? Once again, they appreciate your idea or concern, but assure you that this is the best for them and they’re okay with you not being available.
Either way you been passively vague about how their visit would affect you, and neither approach took care of your needs. Now my response from the start would be I would love to see you but I have to be honest the weekdays are just not good for us to have guests. I hope that doesn’t mess up your plans, and if you need any help finding affordable hotels in the area I’d be happy to get you some recommendations.
Most people will appreciate that you didn’t martyr yourself and in many cases they would feel the same way about a disruption to their work/school week. Others may not, but again I remind you that you have not been wrong to them, you’ve been honest and right for yourself and your family. If they are disgruntled by this it’s because they wanted or needed to save money and you’ve thrown a wrench into that. But is it fair that they put a strain on your resources and family’s’ needs because they want a vacation they can’t fully afford?
I understand that with family these concepts are often unimaginable due to the idea that family means unconditional acceptance and family-imposed burdens are a fact of life. But I feel that even with family, once we’re all adults, we have the right to put our needs and feelings first if the opposite would cause a detrimental disruption to our lives. Of course, I’m not talking about emergencies / crises – that’s when we do whatever is needed to be there for each other. My family and friends know that’s my code. But when their needs are voluntary or elective, then I speak the truth. Ultimately I do believe your friends and family will respect you for it, and if not, at the very least, you’ll have a less stressful week! Think about it, and as always I love to hear your perspective.
I have been preparing my 9 year old daughter for several years now for one of the less favorable rites of passage that elementary girls encounter as they grow towards teen years … that of mean girls. Sadly the inherent competitiveness of females towards each other starts this early and I have recently realized that for some, the feelings of petty jealousy do not stop at any age.
I see signs of this girl vs. girl competitiveness from the playground to the workforce and at parties and social gatherings. It starts with the physical assessment – are they prettier than me, is their body in better shape, are they dressed too provocatively? Then it progresses into a fevered quest to find out some personal information that will prove their life is not better than yours, or that they are NOT as good as you – commonly known as gossip. Lastly communication breaks down into a series of anecdotal recounts of one’s life to one up the other – often using voice inflections heavy with condescension and superiority.
I watch this in action frequently at the gym and restaurants. A 20-something “hottie” will saunter past a group of over-weight “mom” types. First come the glares, then the whispers, and finally loud encouragement from the “pack” that they’re each doing great. Of course, this dynamic happens in the reverse too. Often it’s the heavier girl at a nightclub who is subjected to a gaggle of anorexic Barbies walking past with their noses in the air, and their I’m so pretty hair flips. (Yes I’m generalizing and stereotyping, but I’ve seen it happen repeatedly enough to use it here.)
This constant competition between women has saddened me for years. I get that it feels like we’re all in competition for the few good men, but we’re really not. Men have just as much at stake when searching for true love, and they receive just as much rejection as we do. But the difference is that men (and boys) don’t seek to tear each other down the same way women (and girls) do.
The feelings of jealousy and inadequacy that you feel when you see someone you think is better looking or happier than you is not their fault. You should all know by now that the grass is NOT always greener on the other side. That “beautiful” person may in fact be miserable on the inside, or maybe battled cancer, or was abused by someone. Your life is your life – your body is your body. It’s up to you to make your life and body be the most it can be and then be happy (and satisfied) with it all. When you’re not up to snuff – fix it – don’t make yourself feel better by enjoying the knowledge that someone else isn’t perfect too. Bringing someone down doesn’t lift you up. These are the lessons I’m sharing with my daughter.
I have more than once met women who were absolutely beautiful on the outside only to find that their insides were shallow or mean, and that their lives were not as envious as I had thought. But this knowledge never made me feel better – it made me sad that someone with such gifts wasn’t all that I had admired initially. It made me strive even harder to be happy with what and who I am and to appreciate all that I have, and go after all that I want.
Women we shouldn’t compete – we should complement each other. My many girlfriends and I do just that. If you are missing this kind of support in your life, perhaps it’s time you got better friends – or became a better friend yourself.
Who’s got baggage – and I’m not talking about luggage as you head out on a trip – I’m talking about unresolved issues or relationships that you tote around for days, weeks, and even years? You know, those feelings of anger, depression or disappointment about something or someone that you just haven’t gotten over?
Do you chronically complain to your friends, family, and co-workers about said issue, while never do anything to resolve it? Do you re-hash conversations and actions, constantly poking at the internal scabs? Are you in a relationship or friendship that drags you down, yet you remain intent on fixing what probably cannot be fixed?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. But the more important question is what do you do about that baggage? It’s simple my friends – deal with it, or dump it.
Staying stuck on hurt feelings or problems results in only one thing – staying stuck. By choosing to deal with your feelings or a problem (i.e., face them, find a solution, and take action) you will bring a slice of peace to your life which reduces stress and puts you in a healthier state of being. If the situation or person is something/someone that simply can’t be dealt with – then just dump it or them. As harsh as that sounds sometimes the best solution is to walk away and remove yourself from the detrimental situation or relationship.
The excuses that will blast into your brain at the thought are normal fears because change is scary, and finances, when involved, are always a valid concern. But ultimately (forgive the trite adage) where there’s a will there’s a way.
Start slowly if you need to; take small situations and just deal with them or dump them. Have a heartfelt conversation to clear the air, or start saying NO when facing something negative that you tend to involve yourself with out of habit. Stop being afraid to simply state your feelings and needs.
As for “dumping” a person, obviously that’s tricky but with positive motivation behind you it’s not as hard as you think. I’m not taking about simple evading tactics (not answering calls, texts, or emails), I’m talking about letting a person know that your relationship/friendship is not functioning on a healthy level, and if they’re not willing to meet you half way to fix it, then you are no longer going to participate in that relationship.
A lot of this comes down to your willingness to just LET GO. So many of us are “control-freaks” who simply refuse to let anything go even when it’s not working. We’re certain that somehow someway we can get it right. We don’t want to be quitters after all. Yet sometimes the best choice is to quit, to walk away, let it go but not see that action as a failure. It took me many years to learn that, and now I just let the crap go and/or walk away when I realize I’m swimming against an unrelenting current.
For those of you who find it hard to not focus on the problem – work on shifting your focus onto something positive that you can control, like exercise, nutrition, or just filling your time with only people and environments that have a positive affect on your life. I am well aware that all of this is easy to say and not necessarily easy to do. But nothing worthwhile is, and I can attest first hand that with practice it gets much easier.
So take stock, and if there’s something dragging you down – deal with it or dump it.
How long have you been saying you want to get in shape? How long have you been stuck in that dead end job or still living where you didn’t want to be in the first place? For many people, the answer is a really long time – too long – but they just sit and complain about it. If this resonates with you (or someone in your life), I have one more question: what will it take to get you to get off your butt and do something about it?
Blunt, I know, but that’s me. Time spent complaining, being depressed over a situation, wallowing in your inaction is the biggest waste of life I can think of. There’s always something you can do to improve your situation. Usually what’s holding you back is your fear. Fear that changing things might make life worse – you won’t like the new results any better. Fear that you might have to have a conversation of a serious nature (also known as the dreaded confrontation). And the biggest obstacle of all – indecision.
I’ve come to understand that despite the fact that I rarely, if ever, am indecisive, many people are. There are either too many overwhelming choices to pick from, or too few. Either way, they cannot make a decision with conviction for fear that they are making the wrong choice – that another choice might be the better way. Unfortunately they forget the first rule of decisions and planning. You can always change the plan!
We’re not talking Sophie’s Choice here people. We’re taking a point A to point B choice to get you to your desired goal. If the first step of the plan doesn’t get you in line for the next, revise the plan. Movement, even if not completely successful is better than stagnation. Besides, sometimes movement even in the wrong direction, brings forth an opportunity that you would not otherwise have found.
I often use the analogy with my Life Coaching clients that they are on a ship, staring intently upon the horizon for another ship to come by so they can jump ship. But as life as proven to me and many, sometimes you have to jump ship and tread water before the next better ship comes along.
So to any of you stuck in a rut reading this, I say make a plan. Don’t second guess yourself, don’t make it too complicated or take too long. Then outline at least the initial steps (first 3-5) and then execute them in a timely fashion. I promise you the next steps will be easier. I’m always here to help should you desire it.
Time to get off your butt and do something starts NOW!
As a Life Strategies Coach, I work with clients to clean up the clutter in their lives, literally and figuratively. The “literal clutter” cleanup is easy: figure out your goals, come up with a systematic and achievable plan, get organized, and go for it! Clearing away the “figurative” mind and emotional clutter takes a bit more work. This type of clutter is usually the result of feelings not shared with a spouse, friend, co-worker, or family member. Holding on to these hurt, angry, frustrated, or confused feelings often results in low self-esteem, self-doubt, reluctance to take action, and even physical illness or pain.
The typical reason that most of us do not vent these vitriolic emotions is due to fear of the dreaded . . . confrontation. What’s so bad about confrontation? Isn’t it, after all, simply communication? Communication: good. Confrontation: bad! (Said the grunting monster.)
The problem is that most of us associate confrontation with aggression, anger, attack, sometimes even violence. According to the dictionary, the root of confrontation – confront – means: “to face in hostility or defiance, to oppose.” This is clearly what most of us wish to avoid. But it also states the following: “to stand in front of or meet facing; to present for acknowledgment.” That doesn’t sound so bad, to present for acknowledgment. To present your feelings so that they can be acknowledged. Surely that is the real core response we all seek, when “confronting.” An acknowledgment of our feelings. If you think hard about it, you’ll admit an appreciation of our feelings is far more important than who was right and who was wrong. (Do not forget, that there are two sides to every story, and the truth is somewhere in the middle!)
But where we get stuck when trying to communicate our feelings – where it turns into the negative aspects of a confrontation – is in our delivery and our recipient’s response. With attention spans so short, and everything else moving so fast in our society (from food to entertainment to cars), is it any wonder that we are predisposed to offensive and defensive modes of communication? Throw your words out there…feel attacked…respond defensively with an assault (or insult). Rapid fire words to hit where they hurt, then duck and cover. Muscles tighten, the body fills with tension.
That’s how I perceive many attempts at communication where hurt or frustrated feelings are concerned. This is not communication, it is confrontation in the “face in hostility or defiance” definition. I, too, would do all I could to avoid confrontations if that is how it would always result.
But what would happen if we all changed our delivery when a confrontation was needed? If we calmly articulated the facts of how we feel (for the facts about how you feel cannot be disputed), and did so from a perspective of understanding that the other person may well have felt their own levels of hurt or frustration.
We must let go of the battle over which came first (the proverbial chicken or the egg), and just acknowledge that both parties used poor communication or thoughtless actions. Promise to do our best to think before we speak or act in the future, and more importantly, acknowledge the other’s feelings in this situation.
Confrontation would loose its intimidating factor if it were nothing more than an intense communication between parties in which they stated their feelings, acknowledged each other, and moved on with a new awareness.
So if you have been avoiding confronting someone (in the old negative definition), try this new approach. You have nothing to lose, and plenty to gain. I can feel my muscles just relaxing thinking about it. How about you?