Escaping Mental Quicksand

Shane Falco: You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

 

This is mental quicksand. It sneaks up on us. One little negative thought because one little thing goes wrong or just doesn’t meet our expectations. And that one little negative thought draws our attention. Then all we can do, all we can notice are the negative things. And down into the quicksand we go.Drowning hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can the quicksand be escaped, or better still, avoided? These are questions everyone asks at some point, from top athletes and performers to anyone who is just having one of those days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out how to completely avoid the quicksand. I still step right in the middle of it some days. What I have done is work to recognize when I put my foot in, when that sinking feeling starts, and find constructive ways to dig myself out before I start feeling overwhelmed and stuck.Office chaos

 

First, some of the signs that tell me I’m heading in that direction:

  • My jaw clenches.
  • My shoulders start drifting up towards my ears.
  • My thinking is starts getting muddled and fuzzy.
  • I hear myself saying things I really didn’t want or mean to say.
  • The normally kind universe is kicking me in the gut, repeatedly.

 

Now that you have some ideas on how to spot the slide down the quicksand trap, the question becomes how to dig out. Depending on how deep you get before starting, it could be simple and relatively easy. But there are times when you are in pretty much over your head before you realize what’s going on, and that takes more effort.

 

Where ever you might find yourself, when you do realize where you’re headed, here are some of my go to tips for digging myself out.

  • Stop and breathe.

    Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

    Image courtesy of { lillith }.

  • If possible, get up and move, be active, go for a workout.
  • If you can’t get a workout in, take a smaller break in Savasana.
  • If you can’t do that either, take a break to go get a cup of tea (or beverage of choice).
  • Let go of everything that has happened up to that point in your day. It doesn’t matter and holding onto it is like grabbing an anchor, you’ll just sink faster.

 

 

 

 

That is a quick list for when I haven’t started sinking too deep yet. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list, just a few idea that work for me. If I do find myself already pretty deep in the mental quicksand, these are my favorite ways to dig out, or at least stop the sinking.

  • Stop and breathe (this works for pretty much any situation).

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

  • Step away, completely away. It’s often difficult to do because of the perceived pressure that can be felt.
  • Put yourself in a mental bubble to shut out all the unnecessary noise around you.
  • Focus on one and only one thing to accomplish. Once that is complete, move on to another one. Keep knocking out the tasks, one at a time, until you feel back on track.
  • Be nice to yourself. Negative thoughts attract more negativity. Positive thoughts attract more positive energy. Give yourself a little encouragement and see how much it can help.

 

The key for me has become less about digging out, but more about figuring out I’m on my way into the quicksand. It is so much easier to make little adjustments to avoid getting sucked in than it is to work to climb back out.

 

This is one of those things that just takes practice. Learning to really tune in to what you are feeling as you feel it is something that as adults we have almost forgotten. Once you do, the warning signs go from being buried in the noise to blaring and nearly impossible to miss. Along the way, just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the only one who is.

 

 

 

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Why Letting Go Is Good for Growth

Spring cleaning. Growing up it was a ritual. Clean up, clear out, and move on. Growing up an Army Brat, we lived a pretty nomadic life. While I’m happy about the experiences, the countries and the people I was fortunate enough to meet and see, it also forced us to live very light on possessions.messy yoga

 

Moving every few years meant that everything we owned was packed up and shipped to the next post, and no one wanted to fill boxes upon boxes with junk. This was especially true when we were headed overseas. The houses were smaller; less room = less stuff.

 

Little did I know the very important life lesson I was learning; how to let go of things that were no longer helping me. I don’t mean that in the narcissistic way, but in the way that when looking at my stuff, I learned to quickly (before Mom did it for me….) determine what clothes I no longer wore, the toys I no longer played with, etc. And those things were let go. We would donate what was still in good condition, and what wasn’t, was re-purposed (dress shirts as paint shirts) or disposed of.

 

From that lesson (repeated many times throughout my childhood), I came to understand the necessity in cutting back or cutting away things and even people that no longer served a positive purpose for me. This might sound harsh, but it helps to understand that sometimes people come into your life simply to nudge you in a direction, and once they do that, they need to move on. Sometimes they need to be invited to move on.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

 

Sometimes it’s a matter of sentimentality. Much like a favorite stuffed toy that we drag around until it disintegrates, some friendships we just hang on to. Maybe it’s habit, maybe it’s sentimental. Either way, some friendships are toxic and need to be evaluated, and if necessary, pruned, so that you can continue to grow.

 

Once you’ve identified what is no longer helping you, the next step (and sometimes more difficult step) is to actually get rid of it. When I was first given this advice, I was also given the analogy of throwing away the things I no longer needed. At least that’s what I was supposed to visualize. I sometimes found that visualization didn’t really work for me.

 

 

What I eventually came to visualize was simple; let it go. To throw something away, the very first thing I need to do is grasp it. When I grasp it (physically, emotionally, etc.) I hold it tighter. Instead I picture that whatever it is I need to move past is in my hand. Then instead of gripping it to throw it away, I simply turn my hand over, and let it fall away.

 

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

This subtle shift in how I prepare myself for “spring cleaning” has allowed me to make these changes in a way that is less jarring I suppose. Instead of the act of (at least in my visualizations) throwing something as hard as I could (emotionally and mentally linking that to a negative of get it away from me) I can picture a simple parting of the ways; acknowledging that for a time at least, this did help me and I’m grateful for that. The time has just come to part ways.

 

Whether it is a person, a thing, or some combination, it takes considerable introspection and sometimes brutal honesty to dig deep enough to see what is no longer working in our lives. It can be painful, but in the end, removing the toxic components from our lives makes room for new, healthier, happier things to move in. The next time you find it’s time to clean out, I invite you to not throw out what you need to get rid of, but instead, let it go.

The Experience of Options

This topic has come up many times recently, and I wanted to share. Options, and no, not stock options (although those are nice too), frame how comfortable we are in a situation. My wife recently posted about how she gets nervous when I drive, even knowing I would never do anything to endanger her or our daughter. And when she drives, she often feels frustrated and finds herself stuck behind slow or erratic drivers.scaredchickenclipart

 

In working through an advanced curriculum in her own coaching career, she determined that the difference was options. When I drive, I see options everywhere. Some options are better than others and based on where I am and where I want to be, I choose the best option available. When she drives, she doesn’t see as many options on the road as I do. So when she isn’t driving, the mismatch of perceived options makes my driving seem more daring from her perspective.

 

 

 

Applying this to a larger scope, take a moment and think about a time where you felt trapped or pressured in a decision. Keep thinking about that time and remember the number of options or choices you felt you had at the time. Now think of a time where you felt completely at ease in making a decision. And think of the number of choices you felt you had then. Odds are the more pressure you felt, the fewer options you felt you had, and vice versus. That has certainly been my experience.

 

The question becomes how to change what we perceive in order to be able to see more options. I have a few techniques that work for me.

 

Breathe – My go to method for dealing with almost anything. Take a moment (or more), step away from the situation and just breathe. Breathing settles the mind and the emotions and allows for decisions and reactions to be made from a place of choice and not reflex.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Meditate – For the really big ones where I have time, I look at meditation as breathing on steroids. Same benefits of adding space and allow for shifts in reaction to become consciously chosen and not a habitual reflex.noncompete

 

 

 

 

 
Gut check – There has been a lot of buzz about the importance of our digestive system in overall health. I’m a big proponent of listening to my gut (instincts would be a good substitute here). Sometimes I will picture the scenario I’m in and choose one of my options. Then I wait for that tell-tale tightening that signals a less favorable decision. If I get a calm stomach, I’m probably on the right track.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Make a list – Make a list of options you see. Make a second list of what the outcome you’d most like to see. Set the two side by side. Are there any options that get you to any of the acceptable results? If yes, you have a starting place for working towards your ideal resolution. If not, take a step and, breathe and think a little more. If all else fails, move on to the next one.

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Ask for help – I don’t know everything. Sometimes the options I see are limited by the fact that I don’t know enough about the topic. In those cases, I find a friend or mentor who knows more, and I ask for help. Not that they will make the decision for me, but they will be able to help me see more options so I can make choices that get me to or at least closer to my ideal outcome.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Listen – I put this one in because it’s probably the most important tool. It is an essential component for all of the above to be successful. If you don’t listen to what you feel, to suggestions, to the other options that arise, you won’t be able to expand your available options and will likely remain stuck, see limited choices and feel frustrated and pressure.

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

 

Each of these can be used alone, or in groups (except for listen, which I advocate using in all of them). The thread that weaves all of them together is space. Making space for yourself to clear your mind, bring your full attention to your choices and see if you are able to lift some of the pressure, get creative and see the other options that might be available. Because the more options you see, the less pressure you’ll likely feel and the happier you’ll be with your choices.

Men, Emotions and Days of Significance

Anger, fear, jealousy, malice, love, passion, selflessness and gratitude.  These are some of the most powerful emotions we have.  They drive us to greatness, and they remind us of the greatest of pain.

These emotions can, if left unchecked, run our lives.  They can take us to the highest of highs and deliver us to the lowest of lows.  And if we let them, they will; over and over again like a bad roller coaster ride.  They can steer us in the direction of poor choices; either through the choice to chase after joy to the exclusion of all else, or to lash out blindly at anyone near us when we are in a low.

Emotions are a primal part of being human.  How do we get off that roller coaster?  Is it to become emotionless, ruled strictly by logic?  Living with nothing but steely logic leaves us with a lack of depth in our experiences.  Should we do nothing and let the emotions take us where they will?  How do we find that middle ground?  If you think of emotional content as a wave with highs (happiest times) and lows (darkest times) you find a space in the middle (for the math geeks out there, think of it as a sine wave on a graph).  As we move toward the center, there is less emotional “noise” whereas the fringes are more emotionally charged.

2sines

Our goal is to first make space for ourselves to observe where we are along that graph.  Next we can gently guide our emotions from the fringes a little closer to the center.  To be clear, I do NOT advocate an emotionless experience, nor trying to nudge all emotional experiences.  That is what the space is for; to allow for us to feel what our reaction is and then make a conscious choice.  Do I want to experience this emotion as is, or is it a drain or counter-productive?  If you want to experience it as is, then ride it out.  However, if you want to make a change, if you are not happy with the experience you are having right now, you have the space and the ability to change how you are reacting.  This is the beginning of emotional balance.

This doesn’t mean you will never experience a negative emotion or thought.  What it does mean is that those super strong emotions (whether positive or negative) and thoughts will not become the rule and they will not rule you.

Now it is time to breathe.  See how this lands with you.  And when you are ready, I have an exercise for you.

The next time you are in the middle of an intense feeling or thought (negative ones are easier to pick out at first) stop, take a breath.  Give yourself the gift of a moment to consciously decide if your current reaction is really how you want to react.  If the answer is yes, then proceed.  But if the answer is no, you now have the option to choose what comes next.  Continue as you are, or choose to react differently.  The first few ( or many) times might be challenging to make the change in reaction that you want.  Be compassionate with yourself.  Make a mental note of it and let it go.  You will have another opportunity.  And when you do make that first change, allow some space to celebrate.  You have taken the first steps in balancing your emotions by consciously choosing what you want to experience and how you want to experience it.