When I learned how to ski, my favorite point was when the instructor enlightened me on what happens when you turn your skis perpendicular to the slope…you stop.
I think I said something like, “Oooooh, I love this part!” And then, he coaxed me to point my tips back downhill, which I reluctantly did, and the scary, slide-y part started again. I started to realize that this pattern happens in lots of places in my life.
I have a much bigger comfort zone with “stop” than I do with “go,” or more specifically, “let momentum carry me downhill.” (Or, in my mind, more like, “Oh, no! We’re all gonna die!!”)
If you’re not a lover of sliding down frozen mountains, you might understand my feelings about this in relation to skiing. It actually helped me in my career as a violinist—I often helped prevent my orchestra section from rushing the tempo. But, when it comes to life situations that I really want to have move forward, it stops making sense, and it stops being a positive thing.
I see this most often in tasks that I really want to accomplish, big or small—it feels like I’m doing everything I need to in order to make progress, often working as hard as I can, but then nothing moves forward.
I’ve identified three pieces of my Learned Distress that contribute to this pattern.
Learned Distress is the feeling we absorb early in life that “there is something wrong with me.” It becomes embedded in our sense of self, which is the automatic generating force behind every moment of our lives. So, Learned Distress becomes the source of our negative moments and situations, like those times when I feel so stuck.
One piece of Learned Distress is the feeling that it’s not safe for me to have what matters to me. So, when I set a goal to accomplish something that matters to me, that Learned Distress kicks in and stops things.
Another piece is that it isn’t safe to actually achieve things. It’s okay to work towards things, but in the end, the attempt needs to fail.
And the third is that I feel like I don’t have what it takes to handle the momentum if it really started to flow.
Of course, none of this makes rational sense, but Learned Distress is put into place before we have any rational choice in what we take in.
We absorb it as the way life is, the way that we need to be in order to survive, and then it gets walled off in our sense of self, protected from rational-level change. We can’t think our way out of it, no matter how crazy it seems. So, change has to come on a deeper, feeling level.
As I’ve tackled this ugly combination of Learned Distress from various angles, accomplishing things has gotten a lot smoother and easier for me.
One great example was the recording I made a year ago that is the main catalyst for the personal transformation work I guide people through.
For several years, I dreaded the point at which I was going to need to write the script for it, because of that Learned Distress combo I’ve been talking about. I actually put off starting to write for a couple of weeks past my self-imposed start date, because I realized that too much Learned Distress was still in the way.
But, I did my unlearning and then one day, I just found myself sitting down to write. And, much to my surprise, the script started writing itself. The images appeared from out of the blue, and all I had to do was put them into words. I can’t describe to you how weird it was to have such ease and momentum with something that I had truly dreaded for years.
And, the recording and sound engineering process went just as easily, with many wonderful and even exhilarating surprises along the way.
I still haven’t gotten back onto skis, although I think that one of these days, I’ll head to my nearest ski hill give it a shot again. The cool thing about this kind of change is that it is at our core, so we don’t always have to work on the satellite issues directly to see change happen in them.
So, I already know from the big changes I’ve had in other areas of life that pointing my skis downhill is going to be a much better experience the next time around. I’m almost looking forward to it!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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