Is your life a stressful battle to avoid problems and you never get what you want?
We all have problems and stressful situations in our lives, even those who seem to have it all. Whether our hearts desire evades us, or it’s a lack of health, wealth, or positive relationships, or a loss or tragedy, there will be unwanted circumstances to deal with.
Problems and unwanted experiences no matter how small or large create the same emotions of fear, anxiety and stress. Fear is a protective emotion and it demands that we pay attention to the threat to our wellbeing and take appropriate action. It is also a present moment emotion, because the only time you can act to protect yourself is right now.
If you are being bullied, you need to take action now to resolve the situation. If the car broke down and you were alone and scared, you might now decide to join a rescue service for peace of mind. If your relationship has ended and you fear being alone forever, the fear is a call to action to connect to others. If you have a health issue, you immediately seek out the best healing therapy.
Fear is a good emotion as it brings your attention to the threat and is a call to action to remove the threat. It will dominate your attention until the threat is over, at which time your normal calm, relaxed state returns, and you are free to give your attention to other things. The problem is over. It doesn’t need your attention anymore. You might even feel grateful and resilient knowing that you got through it. You tell yourself that you have a strong personality and have proven to yourself that you can deal with adversity. You move on and get on with your life.
Or not. There is a trap that many fall into. Having experienced one or more frightening situations, there is the thought that you don’t want ever to go through that again. You start to look for the potential for the same problem to crop up again, so that you can head it off at the pass and avoid it. You’re on the look out for people who might bully you and are ready to make a quick exit at the slightest hint. You’re listening intently as you drive the car and any unusual rattle or noise gets your heart racing, in case something is wrong. Although you go on dates to find a partner, you’re checking for any indication they will let you down. You can’t relax, you come across as needy, so you don’t connect. You reject them to get in first.
Developing a habit of looking for the problem, in order to avoid it and prevent it from happening again, seems a logical thing to do. But it flies in the face of a well known truism. “Seek and ye shall find.” Or stated in more current scientific and psychological terms. “Wherever your attention goes your energy flows”.
If you give your attention to the unwanted, you are energising that potential and increasing the chance that you will experience more of the same. But not only that, even if you do avoid the problem, your constant awareness of the problem means you are constantly reacting emotionally to the very thought of ‘what if it happens again’ with anxiety and stress. It can lead to chronic stress and panic attacks.
A man has to drive from the village into town every day and the road is full of pot holes. He worries that he will get a wheel stuck in a hole and drives slowly looking out for them. Some boulders rolled into the road and he always checks in case there are more. He plans his day to travel in daylight only and checks the weather and avoids windy days in case a tree gets uprooted. The road gets worse over the years and he drives with a firm grip on the steering wheel and eyes riveted on the road looking out for danger. He dies and from his higher perspective he looks down and sees that there is a wide, smooth, safe new road to town. In shock he says, why didn’t I know about that? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Then he remembers the villagers telling him about it and he couldn’t hear them because he was too stressed. Then he realises that even if there wasn’t a new road, he could have called a meeting in the village hall and they could have worked together to repair and maintain the road themselves. He had been so absorbed in the problem, looking for a solution hadn’t even occurred to him.
Are you living your life focussed on avoiding problems? The result is a life of stress, even if the problems are avoided. It’s like living in a war zone where you are on the look out for danger at every turn. Not only that, there is no energy to focus on a solution (which is your preferred alternative life without the problem) and so achieving your hearts desire or getting what you really want has not even been on your radar.
Although avoiding potential problems might seem to be a good strategy to keep you safe, it actually creates chronic stress and shuts down your ability to create solutions and achieve your goals.
So avoiding predicted problems can actually make matters worse, whereas solution creation will not only achieve the ‘problem avoidance’ more effectively, but it will take you much further towards what will give you happiness, joy and success.
Notice how the solution doesn’t contain any reference to the problem. An image of abundant wealth says nothing about financial worries. An image of a loving family life says nothing about loneliness.
If you focus your energy on the solution, and create a new or repaired road to drive on, then you get to live that reality. Since you cannot be in two places at once, you simultaneously avoid the problem of pot holes and obstacles in your way. Problem avoidance strategies take you so far along the road, but solution creation takes you much further, with the potential of a smoother easier life. If you are in your desired future, you cannot also be in any unwanted situation because they are mutually exclusive.
What is your goal? A stressful life without terrible things happening all the time? Or a calm life without terrible things happening all the time, AND lots of good things happening? Once you know you have a choice, you get to choose. Knowledge is power.
The time to solve a problem is when it has already happened. The time to look the other way and create the solution, is when it hasn’t happened … yet.
Remember what Mark Twain famously said all those years ago. He understood that if you spend your life trying to avoid a problem that you fear might happen in the future, your mind and body will react as if every imagined instance has actually happened. Your mind does not distinguish between external reality, and your imagination.
“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
— Mark Twain 1835 – 1910. Writer, Humorist, Observer of Life.