Last month, I started to write a post for publication before Christmas. Finally, I’m publishing it today.
At the time, it was about two weeks since I started to experience some low-level, lingering lurgy. It had the irritating quality of being not quite serious enough for me to take time out and not quite, well, not serious enough for me to perform at full strength.
It’s interesting to notice that this lurgy coincided with some very difficult world events. Friday, 13th November, brought vicious attacks on the men, women and children of Paris. And as if this were not bad enough, the French president responded by launching attacks of their own. Belgium staged a lockdown. In the UK, the House of Commons passed a vote which was swiftly followed by targeted attacks on Syria. And there was more, much more.
More locally, my value-for-money courier company had failed to collect on the day I booked them for. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. Again. I wish I could say that I managed my inner state with grace but I didn’t. I responded by feeling frustrated and angry. Again.
Fortunately, Christmas brought rest, plenty of rest. Even so, I notice that for many people stepping into the New Year, there’s an uncomfortable gap between the way they are feeling and the pressure they feel to bounce back into the New Year full of energy and New Year’s resolutions.
What’s grinding you down?
I wonder if you, too, are feeling out of sorts as you read this. You’re not alone.
Perhaps Christmas was stressful for you, highlighting stresses in your family and personal relationships or the need to “go public” about your pending (or recent) divorce. Perhaps you have experienced major life events, such as bereavement or redundancy. Perhaps, like me, you are deeply affected by major world events.
Perhaps you reached the end of the year exhausted after working intensely on a number of fronts. Christmas was far from enough to restore you. What’s more, you still face the need to balance your work with your commitments to friends and family, to organisations you belong to outside of work, even to maintain and manage your home.
Perhaps you face uncertainties in your personal and professional life including potential reorganisations (again), health scares (for you or for members of your family), the uncertainty of challenges in your marriage or of children transitioning to the next phase.
Perhaps you find yourself bumping up against the same problem, again and again, in some corner of your life. This could be the repeated conversations with your noisy neighbour or the demands of a difficult boss or the misunderstandings with colleagues in department X.
It may even be that you feel weary as you face the same issues again and again and again… and not just one but all of the issues that create a cumulative cocktail of challenges.
It may be that even reading this list leaves you feeling yet more out of sorts.
Favourite ways to stay out of sorts
If you are feeling out of sorts, it may be worth asking yourself how you’re keeping yourself in a state of imbalance. Here are some of my favourite ways to do this – do you recognise any of them as yours, too?
- I keep myself in a state of imbalance when I keep pushing through. I keep doing the things that need to be done. I keep telling myself I will get better soon… things will get better soon. I keep thinking that if I just keep doing what I’m doing, something will change;
- I keep myself in a state of imbalance by blaming others for ongoing problems. I look at what other people are doing that is causing the problem and I feel frustrated. I analyse what other people should do differently. I look to other people to make changes;
- Sometimes, I keep myself in a state of imbalance by blaming myself. Perhaps I blame myself for the difficult things that are happening in my life (the misunderstandings must be my fault, right?). Perhaps I blame myself for my failure to rise above the experiences I am having;
- I keep myself in a state of imbalance when I imagine a future that may or may not happen and treat it as if it were true. When I think about what could go wrong in a conversation or generalise from current difficulties to all the other difficult experiences I have had I am creating a false reality rather than connecting with what really is true;
- I keep myself out of balance when I take responsibility that’s not mine to take, putting time and effort into sorting out problems that belong elsewhere;
- I keep myself in a state of imbalance when I fail to face the truth of the issues affecting me. The biggest failure is my failure to look the truth squarely in the face and recognise that something I want to change just isn’t going to change so that I continue to behave as though this change is both desirable and possible.
And whilst I’m doing these three things there’s one thing I am failing to do. I am failing to acknowledge and bring care to my own experience. And because I am failing to notice just what’s going on for me, the experience continues.
Bringing care and restoring our equilibrium
In the midst of writing this posting, more than one conversation I had with clients made me reflect on what we can do to bring care and restore our sense of balance.
One conversation was rooted in the recognition that our sense of imbalance comes largely from the way we are reacting to events. Restoring balance is as much about shaping a more effective inner response as it is about choosing what actions to take out in the world.
Here are just some of the things that help me and my clients to bring care to our experiences and restore equilibrium:
- Whether we are experiencing ongoing exhaustion or a sudden surge of emotion, it’s so easy to let our emotions “run the show” or to push back with self-blame or -judgement. Instead, it’s good to check in with ourselves – to notice what feelings are coming up and ask what we need right now. When I take time to do this with love, I feel calmer, more settled as heightened feelings subside;
- One of my dearest friends responds in challenging times by reminding himself that they are only temporary. Somehow, knowing that intense feelings or ongoing exhaustion will, ultimately, go away helps him to “hang in there” when times are tough;
- I find it helpful to notice what thoughts I am having and to ask myself “Is this really true?” Is it really true that I have to keep ploughing on, for example? Is it true that I am on my own in dealing with a person or situation? This kind of curiosity helps me to separate what I know, objectively, to be true from the hidden beliefs and assumptions which sometimes guide my approach;
- Sometimes, the process of asking questions reveals something that is true and that needs to be acknowledged. Perhaps, for example, you need to acknowledge the real pressure you are under to deliver more than you can possibly achieve in your contracted work hours. Perhaps you need to acknowledge that, no, you don’t have any support from your line manager. Facing and acknowledging difficult truths opens up the possibility of taking action based on knowing what is rather than knowing what “should be”. Taking action from a place of awareness is an important way to restore balance;
- As you connect with your feelings and needs and as you acknowledge the truth of your experience, it becomes easier to identify and take practical actions to move things forward. If you’ve identified an assumption that you need to do something “right now”, for example, you can check it out. It’s always wonderful to me to discover that the thing that’s being asked for is not needed until next week. Equally, when you’ve faced up to the lack of real support from your boss you can make requests for the support you need or find other ways to meet your needs, such as looking for a mentor or coach or starting the process of looking for a job which affords you the support you long for;
- When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed or triggered in the moment, the solution may seem enormous. In practice, maintaining or restoring balance often depends on identifying small practical steps. Far too much work on your plate? This may be a sign that you need to delegate more rather than a sign you need to work harder, for example. One colleague often asks “What’s the smallest and easiest step I can take right now to move things forward?”
- Sometimes, examining our thoughts also reveals a disconnect between what we know is objectively true and what we experience when exhausted, triggered or overwhelmed. Think you don’t have what it takes? Objectively, you know of your successes and yet, somehow, this knowing goes out of the window when your emotions are high or your energy levels are low. Over time, it’s possible to design a practice that helps you to feel the truth of your successes (or whatever you need to know) even in times of stress. Taking time to write, for example, can help you to capture your successes – what happened, how you felt, what feedback you received and more.
I hope you find something in this posting that helps you to restore your sense of balance. Equally, if you’re wondering if and how coaching might help you to restore balance, please contact me directly to arrange to talk.