Massive flocks of black birds descend to our trees as a massive sleet storm blows through overhead. I’m guessing it must hurt if you’re a bird because they are swarming like scared rats and running into the tin roof of this farmhouse, as if they are possessed. The sound of fluttering wings and crackling squeaks is almost defining. I feel like I’m living in the movie The Birds. I’m told it’s a migration. Maybe they are coming north in anticipation of spring.
These crazy birds remind me of how we all tend to act when hit with a sudden, urgent issue. We run around in all directions, moving just to avoid pain, but accomplishing nothing.
The other night at an art opening I encountered an old friend who was in panic mode over a custody issue that had cropped up earlier that week. Her panic was because she did not want to lose custody of her son to her ex. She told me she came to the opening to get away from the problem, but instead she brought the problem to everyone who would listen. People listened patiently for a minute or two, but I watched as they found excuses to slip away to enjoy their evening.
I sat with her, listened, and asked, “What good can possibly come out of all of this?” Of course, she could see no good.
When we’re in panic mode, we can’t see anything clearly. She kept asking, “Why is this happening to me?” Frankly, it was not the time to talk to her about how it was happening for her. She just needed a listener.
I’ve Lost Control
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. I’ve been so stressed, so consumed that I cannot think, cannot reason, and find myself useless for days. I look back on all the wasted days worrying about problems that seemed big at the time, but rarely were. I wish I had all those days back. But since that’s not possible, the only thing I can do is prevent myself from wasting time consumed in stress.
Putting It on Hold
If you allow yourself to become consumed, you actually make things worse because you can’t think clearly. You become singularly focused; you are panicked and emotional. Your brain is in fight or flight mode. So you have to prevent getting locked into panic. So the first thing I like to ask myself is, “How urgent is this, really? Is swift action required, or do I have a month or two?” Somehow, when I buy myself some time, it seems to take the urgency away from my angst. If it’s truly urgent, I move into urgent mode. Otherwise, I have time to think and tell myself I don’t need to react.
Talk Me Down
If I can’t pull myself out of panic, I ask myself, “Who can talk me down?” I have a couple of friends who are always honest with me, who have great perspective, and in times like these I need to talk to someone. And I need to do it fast, because it isn’t something I should be telling everyone at a party.
I also try to give myself distance and distraction. A therapist might call it running away from a problem, and that is exactly what it is. So I’ll cancel all my meetings and just go for a long walk, maybe take a drive, or even take a small trip. There is nothing like a hotel room with a view to give you time to think. It’s important when thinking to go through a series of thinking time questions. What am I not seeing that I should be seeing?
Next, I try to step out of the situation to see the problem from an outsider’s perspective. Usually what I realize is that it’s not nearly as big a problem as I’ve made it out to be.
What Could Possibly Be Good About This?
Most important is to see how this problem could be a good thing. Maybe it’s a lesson, maybe it’s a signal of a bigger problem. I’ve been worked up about deals being delayed or not closing, and that ended up dying, only to later find out there were massive problems we would have encountered had the deal happened. I’ve learned to pay attention both when doors open and when doors close. In the past I’d chase closed doors, sometimes to my detriment. Today when doors close, I rarely try to open them.
How Can I Benefit?
Instead of asking WHY is this happening, how about asking HOW? How can this problem or obstacle benefit me? How can it help me in ways I’m not considering? Can I write down 10 ways this is a GOOD thing? I’ve found so many times that problems happen for a reason.
If you look back on your life, there is a gift with every problem or every roadblock. It’s hard to see it at the time, but even horrific events like a death bring families together that otherwise may never have gathered. For instance, my uncle’s passing was so sad, yet spending three days with my cousins, whom I had not seen in years, was a gift. In some Eastern cultures, this would be called the yin and the yang.
Another great word is WHAT. What help is this problem providing — help I didn’t even know I needed?
As hard as it is to see things when you’re in panic mode, try to see how the problem is offering you benefits that may help you in other ways and can make you better.
Did you ever mourn a lost relationship, only to find the love of your life, whom you would never have found if you hadn’t been dumped? How about losing the best job ever, only to find one even better that you never would have found if you had not been fired?
If you and I can learn to see problems, roadblocks, or obstacles in a more balanced way, that perspective can become a part of the way we process all problems. The answers may not be evident at the moment of panic, but just knowing something good will come of it is somehow helpful.
The Law of Nature
Our natural human tendency is to avoid pain at all costs, yet everything we do, and every relationship we have, won’t always meet our perception of perfect or ideal. Everything we do will come with or attract problems and challenges. It’s the Law of Nature.Yet somehow we’ve been sold this idea that everything can be perfect.
Without pain, without problems, we would not experience change, we would not develop to a higher level or experience personal growth. Pain and problems help us find our true selves.
In the book The Values Factor, author John DeMartini writes…
“Without voids, without difficulties, without pains and challenges, we would never go on to achieve the greatness of which we are truly capable. And yet, if we are less mature or possibly unawake, we want that ease without the hardship; we want that pleasure without the pain.”
Just Make It Easy, Please
He continues, “We like the idea of learning what comes easily and resist the idea of struggling to achieve knowledge. In our careers, we wish for achievement without setback, an unbroken story of triumph, with no bankruptcies, lost jobs, or even periods of uncertainty. Financially speaking, we want money without effort, and when we look at our social circles, we want to be surrounded by admirers only — people who think we are wonderful, not people who doubt, question, or reject us. And physically, we expect — or at least we want — what we think of as ‘perfect’ health, not to mention a flawless appearance and endless reserves of energy, without disease, blemishes, or fatigue.”
It takes a mindshift to embrace pain, to distance yourself from problems and look inside them for benefits, but doing so is one of the most freeing gifts you can give yourself.
Ultimately, our emotions control us or we control them. We get to decide.
If you’re in pain today, or if you’re experiencing a problem or a challenge, I don’t take it lightly, and I’m sorry for your pain. Is there something good within it? Can you grow from it? Can you leverage this pain to somehow make you greater? Dig deep.
PS: I’m not suggesting that I don’t have stressful days. We all do. When I’m stressed, I’ll go out to my little art studio in the back of the property and start working on a painting. No matter how keyed up I am, the act of painting uses a different part of the brain, and within minutes I can’t think about my woes or my stress. Painting is a gift. As I’ve mentioned, I’m driven to help others find it because it offers so many positive benefits. But I can just hear some of you now… “I don’t have the talent.” “I did not get the art gene.” “I’m a klutz.” That was me. Actually, we all think that art is a natural talent, but it’s really a learned skill, and pretty much anyone can do it. It takes time and lots of practice to get really good at it, but you are having fun even when you’re learning. I’d encourage you to find an art lesson locally and stick with it past the first few frustrating weeks. You can also go to a paint party — it’s rare to find one that actually teaches quality painting, but they are out there if you look enough. Or you can go online, lots of sources there. Though there are better painters than me, I put together some free paint lessons online, which makes painting and even drawing really simple. I start by removing the color, and though color is fun, if you can learn the simple process of of the foundation, color will come much easier. It’s like the notes on the piano. If you can learn just one small scale, you can eventually play the whole piano. So I created this thing I call Paint By Note. If you’re snowed in or taking a day off tomorrow and you want to try it, check out my free lessons online at www.paintbynote.com. Thousands have taken them, and people are always sending me pictures of their progress. I love seeing it. I hope you’ll send yours.