Monday, April 2, 2012

Tearing Down Walls

Have you ever faced an emotional block? It could be family, interpersonal or business, but regardless of the subject, you feel like you get to a certain point with a situation and can't get any further - not because of external boundaries, but because of something internal. You may know why the block is there, but just don't know how to get past it. Other times it's an invisible barrier - you're not sure what's stopping you in your tracks, but it does so none-the-less. It's also possible you know what is bothering you and how to get past it in theory, but you just can't seem to make it happen. Perhaps you have a fear for "no reason" or are worried about something specific but don't understand where the anxiety came from. Regardless of how the block got there and how much you know about it, these emotional walls can be distracting, frustrating, damaging or even emotionally crippling.

Oddly, I'm rather good in helping others discover their emotional blocks and can give pretty decent advice (or so they tell me) on tackling them. With myself, it seems it is a whole different story. Isn't that always the way - easier said than done? I suspect that if we could all view ourselves and experience our emotions from the standpoint of a third party, we'd probably be able to conquer these issues much more easily. Unfortunately, this isn't the case and we have to go about it the more emotionally challenging route.

People have different approaches to breaking down their walls. Some like to attack them with a sledge hammer - all in, confident and positive. Often these people are in limbo for a long time and then appear to have a sort of "breakthrough" and suddenly "get it". It doesn't mean it's easy, it means that they get to a certain stage where they can move forward without much looking back. For others, it's an every day battle of patience. Some days you may feel like you take two steps forward and one step back. You have a great day and then a difficult day, and instead of leaping at the wall with great speed and power, you slowly chip away at it with a screwdriver (or something similar that would do this - I'm not a tools person). Neither approach is better or worse. The key is, whatever way you choose (or feel capable of utilizing), you have to be dedicated to it. If you choose to go full steam ahead, understand that you have to keep facing forward. With that much energy and passion, a fall backwards could be incredibly painful and it could take you a long time to get back up. If you choose to proceed slowly, it requires a lot of stamina. Realize that there will be back and forth, and be resolute to dealing with that, looking at the end result as guidance in your mission.

I have always been the sledgehammer type. Until recently. I realized that my sledgehammer moments were filled with adrenaline and passion, but not exactly breakthroughs. In other words, I had the right heart, but I hadn't actually discovered anything new. I'd decided I was going to conquer my walls but I hadn't emotionally started to move past the block, at least not permanently. So now, I'm trying the chipping away approach. It's a difficult journey and I have great days and awful days. It requires incredible patience, which I'm not traditionally very good at (read: terrible at) but I'm trying to learn. Here are a few things I'm working on, and trying to keep in mind as I go along:

1. I'm going to have set backs and forward progress. It's going to be slow going, and it might not always be moving forward, but if I learn from the setbacks and use that to make progress, I'm accomplishing something important. When I have a bad day, I need to think of the progress I made a day or two ago. If I keep on the right track, the progress will come again and, with effort, those days will outnumber the negative ones.

2. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Change can be painful, but without it, it's difficult to grow. I am learning that getting out of my comfort zone is often the most effective way to move forward. This doesn't always have to be adventurous or monumental. It's often just taking an approach to things that I traditionally would not. In fact, sometimes getting out of my comfort zone is about not doing something. I may want to make a big change, try to fix something suddenly, try to have total control over a situation, and holding back on these is in fact the action that will be most productive.  You may have to get out of your comfort zone again and again until gradually (sometimes very gradually) it becomes less uncomfortable. This is when you can truly see the progress of the slow and steady approach.

3. Make tiny goals. These may be daily or even hourly. My commitments list is part of this. I also plan to start making goals that relate directly to each day (not commitments or must dos, but goals). It could be to wash away a negative thought throughout the day, to send that email asking about an opportunity I've been interested in, to reach out to someone who I feel could provide motivation or guidance. These help make the time pass more quickly (or at least I hope so) during the slower approach because you're accomplishing something every day. Even if you don't see the results right away, you're taking actions to move forward.

4. Similarly, break down your time into small increments. If you're having issues with patience (hand raised!), play this hour by hour. If you're working on a task, or waiting something out, think about in terms of "I can do this until 3 PM". Then "I can do this until 8 pm". Next thing you know it's a day, then two, then a week. It helps break up the time so that your task (or wait) seems less ominous.

5.  Use the past as a perspective. When I think about where I was this time last year, I'm amazed. I feel like it was a lifetime ago. The things I thought I'd never get through then seem like nothing now. Yet now I have another emotional block that I feel I'll "never overcome". Or maybe I'm still working on the same one, but I'm so much farther along. A year seems like an eternity to wait sometimes, but it does give some credence to the phrase "this too shall pass". If I look at the examples of things I've overcome, blocks I've gotten through, it helps me realize that this time next year, or maybe even in a month or two, this particular block could be a thing of the past. (Note: if you suffer from long term anxiety/depression this may not work for you. If you were just as depressed last year, looking back could only make the depression seem endless, so use this tool only if you feel it's appropriate).

6. Don't bandaid it. It's easy to cover up an emotional block and circumvent it rather than break through it.  This happens when people "run away" from something instead of dealing with it, or distract themselves with something else so they don't have to address the block. In the end, though, this only makes it more difficult. Ever see those police shows where the person tries to avoid the police over something minuscule by stealing a car and speeding away from the cops only to cause a horrific accident and still gets caught in the end? By trying to avoid getting in trouble, they ended up making a series of even worse mistakes so that by the time they're captured they have a list of criminal activity that will keep them in jail for years. Same thing here (though hopefully with no jail time!). The more you try to avoid dealing with your emotional walls, the more trouble they could cause you in the long run.

Every emotional block needs to be handled differently, and every person goes about things in their own way. The method for handling these depends on your personality, your history, the block itself and a whole host of other factors. These tips are simply actions that I'm working on to approach my particular emotional blocks and try to take down some walls. It will be a long, slow process. I hope, though, that this time next year, or maybe even in a few months, I can look back and realize that I have progressed, and that I did indeed get through those things I never thought I would. Deep down, I know that somehow I will, and I think that's key. The first step is getting to the root of the issue. Next is determining the approach. From there, it's hard work and (eek!) patience. I look forward to continuing to share this journey, and hopefully providing support and maybe even some inspiration for others working on their own emotional blocks.

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