Is all this shadow work feeling uncomfortable?
I hear you! It is definitely some of the most uncomfortable work I have ever done. If you are feeling uncomfortable or resistant, you are exactly where you need to be. You're in good company, and the discomfort means the process is working.
I used to have this regular get together with my girl friends and we called it Bitchin’ and Boozin’. The entire purpose was to complain to each other while drinking cocktails. We gathered once a month on Saturday night and listened to each other as we unleashed everything that we thought was wrong in our world. And then the rest of the group would be supportive by saying “That’s awful! You should never be treated that way! You deserve better!” Our intention had been to dump out all the bad and get pumped up by our friends.
At the time I was working a corporate job, it was during the 2008 recession, and I was helping people understand their 401ks. I was angry and depressed a lot of the time. I complained about my job a lot.
After a few months of Bitchin' and Boozin' I noticed I didn’t feel any better the next day. Sometimes I felt worse. In the process of trying to feel better, I somehow made myself feel worse?! Now I couldn't ignore or deny what was bugging me. It was all out there, in the open, and the way I was doing things wasn't working. Looking at the mess was painful.
I didn’t know what to do with everything out in the open. I literally thought that if I could just vent my frustrations I would be able to cope better with the situation. I thought that the problem was that I was repressing some emotion, and if I could let it out it would be better. It only worked maybe 2 out of 10 times. But the rest of the time, the problem was in the situation itself. I was in a bad situation, and no amount of venting was going to fix that problem. I had to take action.
It took a long time to realize this. It took me years and years to realize that I had all the power to change what was frustrating me. A job talking about 401ks was never my dream, and the job wasn’t going to magically change, I had to do something.
There is a gap of time between seeing all the negative feelings you are experiencing and knowing what your next step is. This is a REALLY uncomfortable gap. Awareness is really hard, because it is still the beginning of the process. This is the part a lot of people avoid. It's not enjoyable to see the problem and not have a solution.
I hate not having a plan to make something better. I’ve been writing the last few weeks about looking at your shadow (you can catch up Week 1 here, Week 2 here, and Week 3 here) and what I have heard from you is that it’s really hard to look at the things that you don’t like about yourself. And I agree. It takes courage.
Discomfort that you're feeling isn’t the enemy, it’s the signal. It’s the part of the process that tells you something is off, that you need something better. Recognizing that something feels bad is the car in front of you that turns on its blinker. A change in behavior is coming.
Unfortunately, discomfort doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly what direction to turn or what to do to feel better. On the other hand, the answer is fairly simple and often overlooked. The way out of discomfort is to find what feels a little bit better, even just by 1%.
The answer is so simple and so small I already know that your logical mind is probably trying to argue with it. It is probably saying that can’t possibly be enough to make a difference. And yet, it is.
When you notice discomfort, reach for something (anything!) that will make you feel 1% better. This is the equivalent to taking a single step. When you’re not feeling good, it would be impossible to ask you to run a marathon. But you would be capable of taking one step.
This is how we feel better: one step at a time. You don’t have to see the whole path, just the thing that makes you feel 1% better. And after that, you reach for the next thing that will make you feel 1% better.
While I was feeling really awful working that job talking about 401ks I created a morning routine where I played the Black Eyed Pea’s “I Gotta Feeling” every morning. Sometimes I danced, sometimes I just watched a video. But it lifted my spirits enough to put me in a positive mood for my commute. I probably did this for a 6 months before I figured out my next step, which was to sign up for a new fitness class and try a different evening routine. My plan was to give myself good feelings in the morning and something to look forward to at the end of the day.
At the time I didn’t know to reach for just 1% better. I could have made faster improvement if I took consistent baby steps.
I hear you when you tell me that it’s hard to look at the things that annoy you in other people because you don’t want to see that shadow part of yourself. It’s going to be an uncomfortable process.
As I look at my shadow, I've learned to incorporate more compassion, patience, and compassion with myself. I'm giving myself the gift of space and time. Just because I notice a negative part of myself doesn't mean I have to do anything about it.
Here are some things that help me feel 1% better. Drinking more water, getting more sleep, spending a quiet minute just focusing on deep breathing. Settle and giving myself some space. Forgive yourself. Look at myself in the mirror and smile. Maybe wink at yourself if I'm feeling cheeky.
Right now, if you are feeling uncomfortable the best way to feel better is to let yourself have a moment to settle. Breathe. You will be amazed at the peace that comes from just a few conscious deep breaths.
Eventually, my curiosity about a new fitness class led me to leave my corporate job and pursue a career as a personal trainer which provided me with a great deal of personal fulfillment. But it didn't happen overnight. As much as we want change right this minute, it's about taking the small steps over time.
Take a deep breath. Leave a comment and let me know one thing you can do to help yourself feel 1% better today.
Sending you lots of love.