My mother once told me that she sometimes skips to the ends of the books she reads because she can’t stand waiting to know what happens.
“Mom!” I said. “That ruins the whole experience of reading it!”
“No it doesn’t,” she said. “It allows me to calm down enough to really enjoy the book. I don’t have to be anxious. I know what’s going to happen.”
Although I don’t share my mom’s inclination to skip to the ending of the book I’m reading (in fact, if it’s really good, I don’t even want to skip to the next paragraph, because I know it’s going to be delicious), I get where my mom is coming from. Probably too well. I’m the girl who’s always wanted to skip to the end of her own life so I can know what happens. So I don’t have to make any choices (because what if I make the wrong one, and that creates another wrong one, and so on, and pretty soon my entire life is derailed?). So I don’t have to be in process.
But let’s face it: When are we not in process? Our lives are one giant process, and each day of our lives is made up of tiny processes. And the thing about process is, it’s a big question mark. We talk a lot about results and outcomes, but as soon as we reach one, it’s already in the process of changing. Our lives simply don’t stay the same for very long, because, if we are committed to our own growth, we don’t stay the same. And even if avoid change like the plague (and some of us do!), somehow it happens to us anyway.
But this process stuff can be really, really uncomfortable. And because it’s uncomfortable, and we read discomfort as pain, we try to do anything to get out of the discomfort.
For me, that has sometimes looked like:
* leaving a relationship before I really understood what was going on because I felt so uncomfortable, and then recreating the same relationship elsewhere;
* leaving a job before I really understood why I didn’t like it and then recreating that same job situation elsewhere;
* impulsively getting into a relationship or taking a job I didn’t even want in an attempt to outrun my discomfort;
* eating when I wasn’t hungry;
* buying things I didn’t truly want or need.
You get the idea. Here’s the thing: We can’t outrun our discomfort. In fact, if we’re in a big hurry to do something, or to get away from something, it’s a pretty sure sign that we are attempting to outrun some kind of negative emotion.
Changing the situation is not going to get rid of our discomfort. We can’t outrun ourselves. I can move to Australia or outer space to try to get away from my discomfort, and once the dust has settled, I’ll still be me.
So what’s the answer? Acknowledge that if we are going to live fully, connected to our emotions and committed to creating the lives we want, we are going to be in discomfort regularly.
Being in discomfort does not mean something is wrong.
If we’re in discomfort, we can:
* Stop (for the moment). Feel the discomfort in our bodies. It’s nothing more than a sensation. What does it feel like?
* Notice whatever emotion is coming up, and, if we are in a safe place, let it come up. Let it come up and out.
* Notice the thoughts we’re having. Our thoughts create our emotions. Our thoughts create our discomfort. Notice your stressful thoughts and work with them. Do The Work of Byron Katie, or talk to a friend or a coach or a therapist you trust who can point out to you what you may not be able to see yourself.
Being in discomfort does not mean we need to flee, look for jobs, relationships, or projects that don’t trigger discomfort (there won’t be any), or resort to the go-to belief that there must be something wrong with us. It just means we need to find a way of creating a relationship with our discomfort. Because it’s not optional – discomfort is going to be there from time to time, whether we like it or not, and especially if we choose to do things that challenge us.
Note: I’m reinventing my free Creativity Consultations, and I will not be offering them in this format again beyond the first week of May! So, if you’re struggling with a creative project or feeling stuck (or really, really uncomfortable!) now’s the time to grab one.
And: Stay tuned for my article series on Letting Go of Perfectionism — for People Who Really, Really Hate to Let Go.