Getting Beyond the Block

January 20, 2015

One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”

I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.

I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.

It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.

So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.

From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.

  • Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
  • Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
  • If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?

Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.

It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.

As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.

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Control and Mindlessness

January 15, 2015

I am walking to the gym feeling discombobulated. It is 12:30; I feel frustrated that it has taken me so long to get out of the house. My intention was to leave at 10:30 but somehow the last couple of hours had been wasted on mindless pursuits. Like a hamster on a wheel I have been getting nowhere. I can feel the judgments reverberating through my head. “chasing links on the web; no great interest in them; wasting half a day and on and on” I decided to do an attitude adjustment and think positive thoughts: “at least I am en route to the gym, I am healthy, I have a wonderful life, great friends, meaningful clients and no money worries.”

There is still a nagging sense of disappointment that I got side-tracked so easily. I get changed, climb on the treadmill and put on the seventh episode of Hauntings, the lecture series by Jungian Analyst James Hollis from his book of the same name. My mood hangover effects my reaction to what I am hearing, this was not going to be a lecture but a series of questions with three or four minute breaks so students could write down their reactions. BORING! Not much use when on a treadmill. Then his first question broke through my malaise, “Think for a moment where do you think fate has been unfair to you?” At first I smiled recalling the positives that I had just been reflecting on, obviously the vagaries of fate had not caused any lasting damage. Yes the early circumstances of my life seemed unfair but life for most children is unfair. We learn ways to deal with it then have the opportunity to unravel those coping mechanisms in later life.

The third question grabbed my attention, “where did fate especially gift you or bless you?”

This was an easy one. I have learned my gift from fate is that of curiosity. I love to unravel the psychology of my life and understand the complexity behind my behaviours. It has brought me tremendous satisfaction, a sense of meaning and empathy for others. Each event of my life causes me to embark on a journey of discovery.

At this point I almost lost my rhythm on the treadmill. Where was my curiosity about my mindlessness this morning? Instead of being curious I had lapsed into self criticism and judgment and then like Pollyanna had tried to mask it with good thoughts.

It was as though a light went on. My mindlessness was a typical anxiety management system. I felt like yelling: “enough already.” As anyone who has followed these reflections I suffer from the gift and the curse of having a need to be in control. It stems back to my childhood when it was a consequence of facing overwhelment and dealing with it the best I could. I learned to take control. It can be very helpful on life’s journey yet has consequences when I am unconscious of its power over me. My mindlessness is a way I deal with feeling overwhelmed. The Achilles heel is that is that my anxiety is unconscious; the mindlessness is a reflexive reaction to the situation. It is like a child who does not know what to do when things get out of control so gets preoccupied with something that takes your mind of the real issue.

So what had happened that morning? There had been a series of events none of which seem at all consequential. First I had tried to send a fax to Italy but my fax machine would not confirm it had gone through; it was frustrating and impacted my peace of mind. Then I could not proceed with my SoulClarity newsletter because I was waiting on someone to give me some feedback. Also I was stymied on sorting out the iPhone I had been given because I was waiting on a reply from someone at the phone company about unlocking it. Somehow added together they were enough to trigger the complex.

The result I came to a standstill and engaged in an activity that allowed me to escape the anxiety. A perfect anxiety management system. I realize I have a few of these: channel surfing on the TV, playing computer games and mindless internet pursuit. The gift is to see them before they engage not after.

This is my eleventh blog on how control can control me. How many more ways will I encounter to escape the “powerful other” in my life? Hopefully author and psychologist William James was right when he said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”.

Postscript: I finally bit the bullet, paid to have my cel phone unlocked then faced the frustration of instructions I could not follow. I took the phone to my closest Roger’s store. In no time the helpful Graeme had tested it, confirmed the unlock, inserted a new Sim card, transferred my phone number and for $10 I was free to go. As I walked out into the sun I could not believe the lightness of my being. In some strange way alleviating the anxiety helped me see how much it had been impacting me.