You’re in a town you don’t usually visit and you go into the bank. You usually bank online but this day you go into the bank. While you’re in there, the bank is robbed and you are shot in the arm. Nobody else is hurt.
Were you lucky or unlucky?
This scenario is based on the research of Richard Wiseman, an English psychologist. I’m sharing it with you because the chances are your mind did something specific when you answered the question.
You created an alternative scenario against which to compare what ‘happened to you’. If your alternative scenario was better than what happened, you’d answer “unlucky”. If it was worse, you’d say you were lucky.
Our alternative scenarios shape how we see our experiences. They have immense power to make us miserable or even make us quit – and they’re figments of our imagination!
I was reminded of this lesson when I read Christian Mihaj’s post on The Art of Blogging about how the climb to the top of the ‘successful blogger’ mountain is supposed to be a difficult one. Gathering an audience has proved much more challenging than I expected and I’ve been tempted, on more than one occasion, to give up – because my comparison stories were of everyone else finding it easier, getting better results and simply being better than me.
Mihaj’s post reminded me that every difficult thing I’ve ever done was:
a) more difficult than I expected
b) made worse when I tortured myself with scenarios in which I was the problem.
About a year after adopting my kids, I wrote a blog about how I wished someone had helped me understand how catastrophic everything would feel – that my identity and my life as I knew it would have to break and reform and that it would be the most mentally painful experience of my life. I wished I had know to expect utter devastation – to know it was normal – because instead of thinking it was a normal part of the process, I thought I was having trouble because I was a horrific person who would never be a good enough parent. The alternative stories were more torturous than the actual situation. More importantly, they slowed my progress.
That’s why I’m writing this post. So many times, I gave up on my goals to quit drinking and change my relationship with food because the stories I told myself were about the ease everyone else was experiencing. The difficulty I experienced made me think I simply couldn’t do it. Now I realise the difficulty is not just normal, it is proof that I’m getting somewhere.
When numbing is a part of your survival strategy, so many subconscious habits have to be broken and parts of your identity have to be smashed to smithereens before you come out the other side. You’re not just changing how you live, you’re changing who you are.
I’d argue if it feels easy you’ve got more work to do.
I’m also writing this post because I think it’s useful to be able to talk about how difficult we’re finding things and, in doing so, help each other out. Again, we’re good at this when the challenges are physical but less so when they’re mental. There’s an event in Scotland called ‘Tough Mudder‘ – an obstacle course through mud. Nobody expects to do it alone and people actually stop to help each other, even though it costs them time. That’s part of the fun. Knowing everyone is in the pit with you and it’s supposed to be difficult, is what gives you the strength to keep going – and maybe even smile and make a friend while you’re doing it!
Maybe if we’re more open about how normal it is for mental challenges to feel difficult, we could have the same fun – we could enjoy the exhilaration of effort and the joy of camaraderie as we look around and see that there are thousands of people in the pit with us and every one of us is there because we’re working towards a goal. That story feels a lot more powerful to me than the alternative.