When we view our problems, the obstacles in front of us, as a huge boulder to move before we can get back on track to moving forward, it becomes, far too often, overwhelming. Instead, break down the problems into chunks, because that is usually what they are, an accumulation of problems that form into an unmovable boulder. So, break them down into smaller problems and deal with them one at a time. I know this sounds obvious, but after working with many clients, I see this roadblock to forward motion, over and over.
Is Life Happening To You?
Every one of us have problems. There is no one that can say that their lives are perfect and that’s okay because if it was perfect all the time, we would not appreciate the good times, we would just take them for granted. We have a range of emotions for a reason – to give us variety so we can experience all sorts of feelings. If you feel your life is happening to you and not for you then maybe you feel you lack control over problems and circumstances? Maybe you feel helpless in your struggles and there is nothing you can do about them? Perhaps you feel a victim of your circumstances?
When you feel that your life is controlled from external forces (outside of yourself), you will always feel like a victim – feeling fearful and anxious because you blame someone else or bad luck for your problems and hoping someone will come along and fix it. The problem with this is, you are putting other people in control of your happiness. In psychological terms this is known as external locus of control (Locus of control originated by Julian Rotter 1954). Thinking this way causes negative feelings, pessimism, anger, resentment, low energy and even ill health. There are two types of locus of control and the other one is internal locus of control (inside of yourself). You feel that you are in complete control of your thoughts, feelings and behavior and the outcomes in life. You believe that life is happening for you and not to you.
Taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behavior gives you complete control to act – your mental, emotional and physical energy will be focused on finding a solution to your dilemmas/problems. Responsibility is what separates the two types of locus control. Once we focus on what we are responsible for, we take action, the fear and anxiety dissipate because we feel in control of our circumstances. We are doing something about it and not sitting waiting for the worst to happen. It provides a great sense of relief and you gain clarity to solving the problem.
We can’t control everything in life, but we can control how we respond to them. Try to find the lesson in each problem and reframe your words – stop using the word ‘problem’ and change it to ‘challenge’ or ‘opportunity’. These are more positive words and don’t sound impossible to tackle.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein
Stressing about our problems causes us to react in habitual ways and we can’t access our internal resources to find the solutions. So, we need to respond skillfully instead of reacting mindlessly. The following mindfulness technique isn’t to change how you feel but to come out of automatic pilot and bring your awareness to things just as they are. It is to be fully in this moment and be in observation mode rather than reactive mode. Notice the sensation in the body, your thoughts, your emotions – have they changed? It’s okay if they haven’t, you are still doing it right. The idea is to notice and not to change the experience. Through this practice we move the locus of control from being outside of us back to ourselves.
Mindfulness exercise: STOP Technique
S- Stop: for just a moment. Don’t react. Give yourself the gift of brief reflection.
T- Take a breath: Breathe in and out. Track your breath. Sense the chest rising and falling.
O – Observe your experience: Notice the sensations in the body. Observe the thoughts or the story going through your mind and appreciate that thoughts are not facts. Explore your emotions and get a sense of where you are in this moment.
P- Proceed: Move forward in a way that feels right to you and is consistent with your values.
Remind yourself that you only have a problem when you can’t do anything about it. If you are not taking action, you may be making excuses to not do something about it out of fear and feeling powerless. Take your power back and take action. Trust yourself.
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