Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or particularly contemplative, I conjure up some help from the late Dr. Wayne Dyer – an author and spiritual guru who provides inspirational and applicable bits of wit and wisdom.
When I can’t find the time to read one of his self-help books, which is frequently, I take a shortcut and listen to the audio tracks of one of his seminars. I typically put in my ear buds and let his advice shower over me while I’m walking on the treadmill or, more recently, riding my bike.
When I’m cruising around town and something strikes me as particularly profound (which is about every six minutes with Wayne) I slam on the breaks, jump off the bike, grab my iPhone from the basket, open the notes app and jot down this newfound pearl of wisdom.As you can imagine, there’s nothing peaceful or particularly graceful about this process, but it works. And it allows me to savor his sage advice long after he changes topics and I change gears.
Here’s my most recent slam-on-the-breaks moment.
Wayne was talking about how common it is in our busy and stressful lives to feel like we’re trapped, metaphorically, in a room. We’re pacing back and forth, anxious and overwhelmed, and we just want to get out. So what do we do? We exert time and energy and a lot of effort to get the door to open. We bang on it, we push on it, we throw ourselves against it, maybe we even kick it, desperately thinking, “Just get me out of here.”
We believe that if we work hard enough, if we push hard enough, we can get out of the room.
Apply this metaphor to the last time you wanted to escape a difficult situation—a work environment that was stressing you out, a relationship that was going sour, or your children refusing to eat their vegetables.
Like myself, I bet you exerted a lot of time and effort pushing against those situations in order to escape them – working harder and later into the night, putting more and more effort into your struggling relationship, or strong-arming your children into submission at the dinner table.
Lots and lots of energy being exerted.
But, here’s the zinger, the point that made me jump off my bike in the middle of traffic. Wayne explained that…
While we’re pushing and pushing to get out of the room, we fail to realize that the door opens inward.
My head almost exploded inside my cute little white bike helmet.
We think that power and might and control and exertion will get us what we want in life. But it’s simply not true.
The door opens inward.
All you have to do is take a deep breath, step back from the situation and look inward, and the door will open without effort. And you’re free. Free to get out of the room, free to roam around the house. Hell, you can even leave the house if you want. You’re no longer trapped.
The source of all your frustration is on the inside. The answer to all your challenges is on the inside. The foundation of all your happiness is on the inside. You won’t find it on the outside. And trying to push yourself there is futile, at best. It’s wasted energy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if you aren’t throwing yourself at the issue, how will it EVER get better? Here’s a quick, three-step exercise I use in my workshops.
1. Identify a goal that’s been on your mind lately. Maybe you want to be promoted to vice president, maybe you want your children to eat what you cook without complaining, maybe you want to find a new job or renovate your kitchen.
(Now, don’t cheat. Identify your goal before moving on.)
When I first did this exercise several years ago, my goal was to find a job that had enough flexibility that I could travel internationally for pleasure more often.
2. Imagine that you achieve that goal. Assume your ambition has become a reality. Good job, you. Now, identify three adjectives to describe how you would feel as a result.
In my case, if I could travel more internationally for fun, I’d feel free, cultured and whole.
Your turn. What are your three adjectives?
3. Imagine that you’re never going to achieve your goal. Your kitchen is never going to be renovated, you’re never going to see the words “vice president” on your business cards, your kids will go to college insisting French fries are a vegetable. If you’re never going to achieve your goal, what three things can you start doing today to get those same feelings, to be able to describe yourself with those same three adjectives?
OK, if I never traveled internationally again, how could I feel free, cultured and whole? Well, I could turn my email off on the weekends and get outside more, I could speak French with my girlfriend, who is fluent, and I could watch more documentaries and less Kardashians.
Again with the head explosion.
It’s so much easier—and it takes so much less effort—for me to watch a documentary than it is to find a new career or wait for someone to bestow unlimited paid time off upon me.
We believe wholeheartedly that certain status symbols and external accomplishments are the key to our happiness and we push tirelessly to try and make them happen.
But at the end of the day, to feel free, we really just want to feel our three adjectives.
If we look inside ourselves, if we point the telescope inward, we realize that we have the ability to control our own happiness with much less effort and a lot more effectiveness.
The answers you need for challenges you’re facing are inside of you. If you’d stop pushing so hard to force your situation to change, you’d realize that the door swings toward you, not away from you.