March 2016

I know all about it, literally. A few years ago I was jogging around a pond nearby, lost in thought as usual and not really ‘in the moment’. A pebble that stuck out got me – I fell down at full running speed. I vividly remember falling as if in slow motion and being incapable of changing the final outcome. In a desperate attempt to break my fall, my elbows and hands hit the ground first and then I literally fell flat on my face, banging my head against the ground. Some may remember what I looked like the days after, my bruised face was not exactly a sight for sore eyes. A few walkers helped me get up and gave me some tissues to stop the bleeding.

I especially remember the shame about what had happened to me, and what others must have thought of me, stumbling so stupidly. The years after I was not spared and the story repeated itself: stumbling stupidly – resulting in a severely broken wrist in the Vosges, sprained ribs at the Dutch seaside and a dislocated and broken finger in the Spanish Pyrenees. Every single time I also literally stood up again and continued on my own, either home, to the first aid, to the car… Afterwards you can talk about it in a heroic way – the pain, the shame and the misery of the moment itself and the days after eventually fading away.

But what about falling figuratively – failing or making mistakes – and then getting up again? What stories do we tell ourselves and others about that? The American researcher, social worker and author Brené Brown wrote about this in her latest book “Rising Strong. The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution“. Her 2 TED talks about shame and vulnerability are legendary, and her latest book is a logical continuation. Brené claims that it is absolutely worthwhile not to run away from setback or failure (or what you perceive as such) by telling a different story about it, not only to others but also to yourself. Think for instance about the stories you tell about the conflicts with your partner, relatives or colleagues. There is every chance that you create a story that makes you look better, in which you are right and the other is wrong, in which you are the victim and the other is the bad one. Brené Brown advises to rather look for the story of this struggle, to get into it and to be honest with yourself. This means being curious and acknowledging your dark feelings of fear, anger, aggression, shame and guilt. And this will definitely make you stronger, possibly stronger than ever.

Today’s inspiration starts with a story that I read somewhere. I really like these fables – for one reason or another they stick with me better than the usual theoretical musings. Here goes.

There once was a very religious Jew named Goldberg who wanted to win the lottery. He would go to the synagogue every Sabbath and pray: “God, I have been such a pious man all of my life. What would be so bad if I won the lottery?”. And the lottery would come, and Goldberg would not win. This went on week after week, month after month. Finally, one Sabbath, Goldberg couldn’t take it anymore, and cried out to the Almighty: “God, I have been so good, so observant. What do I have to do to win the lottery?”

And suddenly the heavens parted and the voice of God boomed out: “Goldberg, give me a chance. Buy a ticket.”

I can picture it so clearly. Goldberg had forgotten to make a clear agreement with the one he was expecting something from. He just assumed that God would take care of everything – given his pious life, he simply deserved it. However, he had not checked this assumption, and built his whole reasoning on it. He could have saved himself months of frustration if he had first discussed with God what He needed, so He could give him the chance to win the lottery. Goldberg had also made Him fully responsible.

Aren’t we all doing this – assuming what others want or how others see things, without any further thought? Someone once said “Assumptions are the termites of relationships“. One of the reasons why we let assumptions affect our relationships is that it is apparently easier for our brain to rely on our own assumptions than to be challenged to stretch and grow. It simply takes less energy to follow a well-worn habitual path than to stay open to new ways of thinking or other perspectives.

It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the assumptions you have about the persons with whom you have a personal or professional relationship. You could develop the habit to ask yourself if a certain assumption is really true. And what if it is not?

Take responsibility for your share in the situation (and let others be responsible for theirs). Far too often we act like Mr Goldberg, waiting and hoping that life will somehow unfold in a more fulfulling way but not actually buying the ticket. We might as well buy one and see what happens!

My previous Inspiration about Frieda coming to ask for help is a good example of how a different perspective can offer new insights. A call for help can be a gift to the one who is asked, rather than a nuisance, which is how we usually view this. In an earlier Inspiration (Bianca’s self-reliance) I also spoke about the saviour reflex. You believe you are helping someone spontaneously, but by doing so you show little respect and imply “you cannot do this yourself”.

We are all stuck in perspectives that are not necessarily right. Maybe they were useful or right once, but not anymore. But precisely because you are so used to looking through those eyes, you fail to see the other options or alternative ways to look at things. Sometimes this is fine, but sometimes it makes you feel stuck, easily irritated, you feel as if something is not quite right, as if you have no energy, as if you are losing your grip on life and the direction in which you are going – it feels like a dead-end street.

In the world of management they often speak about ‘thinking outside the box’ as a way to stimulate creativity and look for completely different solutions than the obvious ones. The origin of this term lies in the solution of a puzzle, in which nine dots arranged in a square need to be linked by 4 straight lines without lifting your pen from the paper. The only way to solve the puzzle is by going outside the frame of the square.

In coaching we also often look at the different boxes in which our clients live, because the limitations of these boxes stop them from changing or developing – which is why they look for a coach in the first place. They learn to recognise their own specific boxes more rapidly and the experience of breaking out of these boxes also helps them in other parts of their life. When people experience that there are different possibilities to look at things and that they have a choice, their life suddenly looks different, they get a grip and they are ‘living’ again instead of ‘undergoing life’.

Do you also feel stuck in certain parts of your life? Contact me for a free sample session, so you can experience for yourself what it feels like to colour outside the lines.