Until I started taking my Pain List items seriously – and I’m still contending with some of them, today – until I started putting some of this stuff to bed, nothing newwas coming into my life. My life didn’t feel like it was going in the direction I wanted it to go. It didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. In fact, if it was moving at all, it moved to a disappointing end.
What was underneath that was I had a history of learned helplessness in the face of obstruction.
Life is full of obstructions that can loom larger than they actually are. Dysfunctional people resist our unclear or maladroit attempts to remove obstructions to make our situations and relationships better. (When we get really clear, it’s hard for them to thwart our changes.) They typically respond in a way that shuts us down. In the face of getting shut down, some people get clearer and go for it another way. Other people, however, give up more easily.
The dysfunction of resisters (or, the resistance of the dysfunctional) is also their way of giving up, but they don’t always realize that. Most people are trying to protect themselves, frankly, and they do it through minor forms of negative control – often when they simply need to learn how to lead.
Entire cultures can fall prey to this. It takes insight to realize that obstruction might have good reasons, and resistance might have good reasons, but both obstruction and resistance are not permanent conditions. They are moveable and negotiable. A Hero isn’t always required.
Pain often comes from feeling helpless about a particular task, person, block, or outcome. It takes small, consistent effort and positive reinforcement to unlearn helplessness.
I had to do it, and I’m still working at it. For example, I’m very patient and persistent – so much so that I forego rewards I should take – but I have a low frustration tolerance. Until I had the internal and external resources – including money and its ever-ready excuse! – to start moving on the things I needed to clear, I was stuck in a mystifying holding pattern: waiting for something to happen, not recognizing when it was happening, and under-using my power to direct all creation in my life.
There is one positive thing this stagnation taught me, and it’s expressed in this poem:
The Justby Jorge Luis Borges
A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South,
a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well,
though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.
This is real life, too. You are always, ALWAYS living a real life. And you are always learning what works and what doesn’t. There are seasons of growth and there are seasons of dormancy. This is natural.
It’s time for you to breathe out the old, and breathe in new energy.
Create a Pain List – 7 to 10 things that you should have done by now, old business that was frustrated and remains outstanding, debts to pay, debts to call in, projects that need one final push to complete, applications for new opportunities that may not yet be lost. Things that may make you feel some embarrassment or shame, where you underperformed or let someone down.
Then analyze the first three steps you can take to get each bit of business sorted.
And then, immediately, act on the very first step of each of them.
Record the outcome and expectations of that very first step, and schedule the second step or its follow-up.
When you get it done, reward yourself, and release that negative energy. With any luck, the negative energy will be released during the process of solving that pain point. It so often is the case that doing something about it becomes, consciously or in retrospect, a pleasant task.