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In the Moment, Issue #003 -- Why do we struggle?
January 29, 2012

Issue 003 January 2012

Why do we struggle?

Wow, just made it again before the end of the month! As you may have noticed, I don't operate like most monthly magazines which bring out the February issue in the middle - or even at the beginning - of January. I am still struggling to get it done by the end of the month. But that word 'struggling' is maybe inappropriate as I wouldn't call it a struggle exactly. It may be true that I often find I'm running out of time to get the issue out before the end of the relevant month, but that's not to say that I don't enjoy the process. Generally with me, the things that take the longest are the things I enjoy doing and I tend to spin it out so I can keep going back to it.

Which brings me to this month's topic which is about struggle and, if we do it, why?

Just at the moment I have so many different things going on in my life that I am having to focus very hard on remembering to put myself back into the moment. Despite all my best efforts at planning things so that they don't all happen together it seems that life had other plans for me.

First I had intended to have the roof on the cottage I am renovating before the winter. Not to be. A disaster with filling the walls, lots of escaped concrete everywhere and three hours by the light of a single torch to shovel up all the spillage and put it where it was meant to be, ensured that everything is now some three months behind what I'd intended.

A family wedding, for which I am making dresses and taking photographs is now looming as I try to sort out the cottage and get it watertight. Not only that but my job is making all manner of out-of-the-ordinary demands on me due to various reorganisations that have been imposed upon us. I actually need more hours in each week when I can do those things I need to do, but I have no holiday time left to take and, even if I had, to take it would mean that I'd be behind the next time I went to work.

But I also know myself. I know that much of this current busy-ness is of my own making. I chose to renovate a cottage myself. I offered to make those dresses for the wedding, and it was I who managed to become involved in all sorts of different projects at work. I just didn't perhaps expect them all to come to a critical stage at the same time.

On the other hand, I have learnt that I need some pressure to perform. If I have too much time to do something I can't activate myself. I need to put myself under pressure in order to get going. So I follow this cycle through my life of periods of pressure followed by periods of nothing. I know that for me it has to be this way and I have learnt to accept it and enjoy it. Over the years I have come to accept the raised arousal levels which used to lead me into anxiety before I was older and wiser. Now I view them as exciting rather than scary. It's the difference between the person who loves the exhilaration of the roller coaster and the person who resists it feeling tense and terrified all through the ride. I learnt that if I were on the roller coaster anyway, I may as well accept the feelings and even enjoy the sensations and the ride rather than spending a very traumatic few moments resisting and feeling anxious.

A core value of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is Acceptance. This means that instead of battling to get rid of raised negative arousal, such as anxiety, when experiencing it you accept it for what it is and allow yourself to feel it. It's only when we battle to stop or get rid of negative emotion that it gets power over us. The more we focus on it, the stronger it gets.

Not everyone would enjoy living by my system of 'flat out' then 'flake out'. For many people a slow steady pace is preferable. We are not all the same in the way we prefer to do things. What is important, though, is that we each understand ourselves and work to our strengths rather than following a plan which is not a good match for our personalities. What motivates one person doesn't work for another.

It is true, however, that just at the moment I have more going on in many spheres of my life than even I would possibly choose. To cope I have to consciously keep grounding myself in the here and now. When I catch myself thinking ahead of all the things still to do, I make lists. Once something is on a list I can let it go out of my head because I know it's scheduled. Not that I am always able to do those things on schedule. But I just keep focusing on now, knowing that I am perfectly safe and that even if I fall behind schedule the world won't end (and if it did I wouldn't need to worry anyway!). I am doing all these things because I chose to do them.

Even though very busy I aim to keep my awareness on what I am actually doing and not allow my thoughts to wander off and start thinking about what I'll do next, what else I have to do, etc. Life is what is happening NOW. In addition, when I have chosen to do something either because I want to, or even because I have to, I avoid allowing myself to start wishing I didn't have to do it, or asking myself whether I really want to do it. Once you've chosen to do something there is no point giving yourself negative feelings by asking yourself whether you want to. Just get on with it or, better still, see if you can find something positive about it to focus on.

Get to know your own preferred way of doing things. You may not always be able to do things your own way if, for instance, the demands of your job mean you have to do it differently. But we all have large areas of our own lives over which we can exert control. Therefore when you have a choice, make one. When you have no option. accept it and just go with the flow. Develop an awareness of when you struggle with anything, then stop and ask yourself why you are doing whatever it is. If the answer is because you have to, then stop resisting (because if you feel struggle you are probably resisting and wishing you didn't have to do it). If you don't have to do it, ask yourself whether you want to - and if you don't want to then don't do it!

Most resistance comes in the form of thoughts so you are the only one who can control them.

I learnt the power of acceptance of what appeared at first to be negative arousal some years ago in New York and got hooked. I'm someone who won't go on hairy fairground rides like roller coasters because I don't generally trust the safety of them. When I was a small child I recall hearing about a big accident at a local holiday resort. Probably because I was so young, that news made an impression on my mind that still remains there and since there is no need to go on fairground rides in the course of a normal life, it's not something that ever bothered me. On the other hand, I enjoy the experience of such rides. The best solution, therefore, is a simulator. On a simulator you get more or less the same experience in perfect physical safety.

This particular simulator showed a scenic trip by plane around New York. It all began calmly but as the trip progressed the pilot became increasingly manic. He began by doing loop the loops and then progressed to dive bombing the streets, scattering pedestrians as they tried to get out of the way. This went on for a while. Then on one particular street, as he zoomed down it, a large truck started to pull out from the left. As the plane approached you just knew the pilot was going to try and fly under it and that he wouldn't make it. At that moment - and I'll never know what made me suddenly think this - I realised I was pushing my feet hard into the floor and gripping the arms of the seat willing him to stop.

"What the hell are you doing?" I thought to myself, "It's only a film!" As I had the thought I deliberately released the tension in my arms and legs. I was suddenly overcome by a huge surge of excitement rather than fear almost willing the plane to crash.

I don't recall what did happen at the end but as we got up to leave my son turned to me and said, "Mum. that was embarrassing." "Why?" I asked. "Because," he went on, "everyone else was groaning in fear and you were cackling like an old hen!"

I watch passengers on planes gripping the armrests as the plane takes off as if their actions can in some way help the plane off the ground. Far more fun to just go dead weight, sit back in your seat and allow the plane to lift you into the air. After all, if it is going to crash it won't make any difference to the outcome whether you are relaxed or terrified.

Saying of the Month

Life's not meant to be a struggle - so don't


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