Commit to the process, not the outcome

When faced with a stubborn problem with a high stakes outcome most of us freak out. We give up. We fight back. We freeze up and hope a miraculous solution will just reveal itself. We manipulate others. We berate ourselves. We get all whipped up. Turns out that there is one simple but totally counter-intuitive reaction that is far more effective than any of our machinations. WE LET GO OF THE OUTCOME. This doesn’t mean that we give up. Far from it. Here are some questions that I TRY to remember to wrestle with when I am deeply invested in a particular outcome:

What is my part in this matter?

Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

Is this even my business?

Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If any of these are answered “no”, then I need to bail on thinking, feeling and doing with regards to this issue. I need to practice the art of the STEP BACK.

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then:

What is my part in this matter?

Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

Is my ego involved?

How do I fit in with the whole picture?

If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK. If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

How can I contribute?

Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Our actions can change our feelings

Behavior is defined as what we do. Our thoughts and feelings certainly impact our behavior but do not necessarily have to control it. We can establish recovery habits to slow our roll and pause to prepare so that we can learn strategies for evaluating both our thoughts and feelings. We can fact check them; consider other perspectives; get curious. Although we may struggle to apply these principles, I do not think they are particularly new or shocking. In fact, the scriptures have made this plain for all to see.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

~2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

This is tough to actually accomplish. But lately I have been introduced to a different concept. I suspect it is tied to a saying that I have always had a hate/hate relationship with that goes like this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I am not a fan. I am disingenuous enough without choosing to fake stuff! However, like all pithy sayings, I am coming to believe there might just be a kernel of truth in the phrase.

Interestingly, we can also use our behavior to redirect our thoughts and feelings. It turns out, that behaving in a manner that is counter to our thoughts and feelings can actually realign our thoughts and feelings!

For decades I have had some thoughts and feelings about my physical capabilities. I believed that I had certain limits as to how high I could jump, how fast I could run, how heavy I could lift weights. When I began working with a personal trainer, she disavowed me of my self-imposed limitations. I didn’t give up my way of thinking and feeling without a fight. I whined and complained and practiced the fine art of non-compliance. But she just kept suggesting that I plug away and “Give it a try”. I have surpassed every self-imposed limitation and am now enjoying the experience of pushing my boundaries to find my capacity.

My behavior taught my thoughts and feelings to stand down. I could not have led with my thoughts or feelings and changed my behavior. How about you? What thoughts and feelings are holding you back? Maybe you need some good coaching to push you to try new behaviors that challenge these old assumptions.

P.S. I did not “fake” anything; I did, however, submit to a higher authority and reluctantly follow her lead. I did change my behavior in spite of my reluctance to believe that it would bear fruit. I did feel and think that this was crazy talk coming out of her mouth. But I was also willing to consider the possibility that I was wrong and she was wise.

Honest self-reflection helps us live with limitations

I bought a cool feelings chart for my grandchildren. Underneath pictures of children in various moods, the author included a feeling. The little boy with the tears flowing down his cheek is “sad”; the little girl flinging her arms and legs out in a leaping motion is “joy”. Soon I will start reviewing this with tiny Norah; Christian is already subjected to my “feelings” lessons each time he visits. In fact, it is often one of his first activity requests when he visits.

Recently Christian used “confused” in context to describe his feeling. Later in the day he used “frustrated” without throwing a fit for emphasis. When Norah yawns or rubs her eyes, her parents have taught her the sign for “sleepy” (which is adorable). Norah might not be ready for Meme’s feelings chart, but thanks to wise parenting she is already learning how to name her feelings.

The rest of us? Not necessarily great at naming our feelings. And when we do, we often forget how fleeting they are. After Igor completed his fifth step, his big feelings about Boris slipped away, shed without any conscious choosing on Igor’s part.

Feelings are trying to get our attention but they are not designed to make our decisions. Igor’s big feelings ultimately served to drive him to some needed self-reflection. Soon he had other issues to address that were far more his responsibility than beleaguered Boris.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…

~Psalm 30:11, NIV

God does not use magic wands to do his work. He does, however, provide us with inspired ways of seeing and the tools necessary for us to join him in his work - healing the world, one soul at a time.

Today, what would it look like for you to participate in your own healing? Not to avoid anything, but to identify and address your limitations that are being revealed as you notice and tend to your emotions.

Hold your reactions accountable

I am an admirer of Byron Katie’s work. She has a method of self-inquiry that involves asking the question, “Is it true?” Her system helps the inquirer test their thoughts and feelings for veracity. Obviously, the theory is that our thoughts and feelings are NOT always true.

She wrote a children’s book called “Tiger, Tiger, is it true?” and my grandson loves it. In the story, Tiger Tiger wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. He hops out of bed, lands on a toy truck and goes flying. He decides in that moment that he is going to have a lousy day and the day does not disappoint. Several events happen that support his theory. Fortunately, his friend Turtle introduces him to the Byron Katie system and by story’s end Tiger Tiger has learned to turn his thoughts around. The book illustrates some important points about our thought life, including:

Just because I think it does not mean it is true. Thoughts come and go.

A while back Pete and I had to replace our sewer line. It was a big, expensive, and inconvenient project. It messed up our beautiful lawn and threatened to damage a newly installed sprinkler system. Pete and I were kind of bummed until we chose to take our lemons and make lemonade - a phrase I usually find cliched and annoying until I actually use it. We had points about to expire for a free room with Marriott. They had a room available at their location down in the Shockoe Bottom so we locked that stinky house and headed downtown. We dined at a lovely restaurant sitting on the patio in perfect weather. (How many days do we get that in RVA?) We walked in the city. We had access to a functioning bathroom. We both worked intentionally to turn our thoughts around about the mess at home; the effort was worth it.

No one could have done this work for us. We are responsible for checking our thoughts for accuracy, choosing from a myriad of equally true but different perspectives that will result in changed ways of thinking and even feeling. Our choices resulted in a perfect night out and the very fine team of a local company that repairs sewer lines had our home back to mostly normal by nightfall.

Our thoughts are not always our best work, but when we know that, we can pause to prepare and make different thoughts our highest priority (so long as we are not living in a fantasy world).

When meetings are "too sad"

I sound like a broken record. This is a fact. Consistently I suggest to families struggling with a variety of ailments to GET HELP. What kind of help? Therapy, support groups, education, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. I am not only a broken record, but my song is LONG. And people do not like it.

I suppose that is why the local pill doctor is wildly popular while folks in recovery programs at various times struggle to hang in and show up.

It turns out we all tend to resist the very thing we need the most. As we resist what we need, our resentment and anxiety ratchets up. We were created to live in community, learn things, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. We don’t “run” so well fueled by fantasy living, denial, and resistance to change.

In AA they talk about how we all want a softer, gentler way. The softer, gentler way doesn’t build muscles, it just makes us flabby.

Let me appeal to your anxiety, foreboding joy, and competitive spirit. In a crisis, the survivors are the ones who have the skills, the muscles, and the strength of character to persevere. Our endless quest for no pain with a side order of soft and gentle is not going to serve us well. If we are with a group of people in the woods and we happen upon a bear, who survives? Certainly not the softest, slowest delectable morsel in the group. You may not need to be an Olympic athlete to get away from that bear, but you darn well better be faster than the slowest person in your party.

Meetings can indeed be sad, as I am told on occasion by those who really do not want to attend them. Attenders sometimes hear sad stories of loss, relapse, and hopelessness. But you also hear, as I did last Thursday night in our Family Education meeting, a small but sturdy chorus of voices who are able to say that their loved one is in long term recovery. The family’s presence bears witness to the family’s recovery also.

If we want transformation, we do not need to be perfect. But we do need to notice how our resentments and anxieties sometimes trip us up, causing us to resist the work that opens the door to change and transformation.

When we notice numbing behaviors, start asking: where am I resentful? What am I anxious about? Hang in with the answer. Ride the wave of discomfort.

Honesty

Honesty may be the best policy but it sure is hard to practice it in real time.  In my family of origin we have historically embraced conflict as a form of intimacy - in the worst of ways.  This has been our family legacy - one I had hoped to avoid. Over the decades I worked pretty hard to try to stay connected with my family.  I was bossy and codependent and tried to smooth over conflicts which were not mine to manage. Other times I was passive-aggressive, trying to sneak in suggestions for change in the hopes that we could establish relational equilibrium and avoid conflict.  I cajoled. I bargained. I even tried to change the system. My greatest disappointment in myself are those times when I did not trust my own instincts, choosing instead to try to mitigate harm rather than addressing it openly. Innocent people were hurt in the process of me trying to avoid the breakup of a family system.  None of it worked long term. My family of origin is all busted up. We sit in opposing camps and even on my best days I doubt reconciliation will occur.

 

 

Oftentimes I reflect back on my efforts to maintain relationship and wonder if those efforts were a waste of time.  What seemed like a sacrifice for love now feels more like being played for a patsy. But here’s the thing - I bet if you talk to the “other side”, they feel pretty hurt too.  And therein lies the problem with honesty. We are all spin doctors in our own personal soap operas. We misunderstand ourselves and one another.

 

In the next few days I’m going to try to unpack a few principles that I am learning as I try to lean into this difficult disappointment. I am going to share a couple stories, poke around in some passages of scripture, and maybe make a few seemingly random points. But my end game will be to bring this all together in a way that I hope challenges the way we think about our faith in light of our daily experiences. I fear that some of what we believe is wrong and it actually tempts us to be less honest with God, ourselves and others. It also makes it less likely that we will be able to utilize our faith as a guiding light.  I hope to address these issues and help sort through some of the confusion of believing things that the scriptures do not actually teach and then trying to live THAT gospel.

 

Do you struggle with telling yourself the truth about what you believe and how you live?  Why or why not? Do you have any concerns about your own ways of relating to others and to God?  How does this affect you personally? Professionally? Within your community?