"Yeah, whatever Dad."
As a wellbeing coach, I teach people how to be more calm and balanced in life. And yet, when my teenage son is dismissive, I feel an uncomfortable sensation of anger in my chest and throat. And -- full disclosure -- in an effort to get rid of or avoid the discomfort of that sensation, I have been unkind or aggressive in the way that I have spoken to him. I have reason to believe that I am not the only parent who has ever done this.
I think it is important to acknowledge that no one dies of discomfort. Discomfort is a normal aspect of the human experience. We can work with discomfort in ways that do not limit our freedom, damage relationships, or derail important goals and projects.
And... it is important to be aware that each of us is conditioned to avoid discomfort and seek comfort in certain areas of our lives. This is normal and natural. And... some of the ways of doing this get in the way of important goals, values, experiences, and relationships.
For example, maybe you avoid a situation altogether or become passive in order to escape discomfort or remain comfortable. Maybe you use food, argument, agreement, compulsive ritual, seeking approval, work, sex, spending, substances, giving up, sleep, bragging, busyness, talking -- we all have our conditioned strategies. Some of them work just fine and some of them have consequences that we try to ignore or justify. And then, one day, we grow tired of doing it the way we have always done it. We see the toll our strategy is taking on ourselves and others. We are done being a slave to our habits and impulses. We feel that there might be another way, but we are not sure how to get there.
In the situation with my son, I am clear that having a strong relationship with him is what is most important to me. I value kindness and respect, and I want to honor those values in my response. I want to be kind and respectful to my son and I want to ask for kindness and respect in return. Keeping this in mind when I am feeling angry takes practice.
Reconditioning my brain requires me to be conscious of what is most important to me and conscious of my current conditioning. It requires me to take complete responsibility for how I work with what is going on inside me and what is going on around me -- without blaming anyone or anything. When I practice these things, situations that use to twist me in knots or send me running become opportunities to express myself fully, to connect with others deeply, and to grow, laugh, and cry without all the struggle. This is key to freedom in daily life.
Here's the process of reconditioning your brain so that you are not a victim to the pursuit of comfort and the avoidance of discomfort.
Get a pad and a pen or pencil. Go somewhere where you can have some quiet. Write honestly - no one else has to see it. Acknowledge the stuff you know is true, but that you really don't want to admit to yourself. Commit to the truth of your experience -- even if that is uncomfortable.
1. Identify a situation where you feel discomfort. Write it down.
2. Identify the discomfort in your body -- where do you feel it and what does it feel like? Write it down. Be as specific as possible -- often our first instinct is to say we feel it in our head. Look for the bodily sensations. It can be helpful to think about a time when you are really calm and relaxed and compare that feeling to this feeling of discomfort. Is there tension, heaviness, emptiness, tightness, fullness, movement, etc?
3. What is the story about this situation? Who is to blame? Who is wrong? Why is it a problem? Write it down.
4. When you feel this discomfort, what is your strategy for avoiding it, getting rid of it, or finding comfort? Write it down.
5. What are the ways that this strategy works? What do you get from it? Write it down.
6. What are the ways that it doesn't work? What is the impact on you? What is the impact on others? Write it down.
7. What's really most important in this situation? What do you really, really value? What do you really, really want? Write it down.
8. If you were free to respond in a way that honored what is most important to you, what would you do? Write it down.
9. What is the smallest next action that you would do to begin this response? When will you do it? How will you remember to do it? Write it down.
You have probably been practicing your old strategy for some time. It is familiar and reflexive. It is likely that you will forget to practice your new approach or you will find it awkward. That's normal. It means that you are human. Just begin again. Keep at it. This is what practice is. If we had success the first time we tried everything, then we wouldn't need practice.
Dave helps people live and work more consciously so that they can experience the well-being, growth, and connection they seek. He helps people develop practices for working peacefully and powerfully with the distraction and discomfort that naturally occur in life. He partners with individuals, couples, teams, and organizations to focus attention and energy where it will make the greatest positive difference. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org