Thursday, June 12, 2003

"I Don't Know. It's a Mystery!"

Today I wrote something on my white board that seems to be a useful sentiment under a variety of circumstances. It's a line from the movie, Shakespeare In Love, written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.

The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster...
...Strangely enough, it all turns out well...
I don't know. It's a mystery.

The fact that it is such a mystery is incredibly unnerving to most people. It takes an enormous amount of discipline (along with some good experiences in the past to bolster faith) in order to hang onto this notion that it all turns out well.

The question, is, when the uncertainty and the usual pain that comes with it is nearly overwhelming, why shouldn't we just give into it? Why bother with summoning up heroic levels of gumption to guts out the tough parts?

The reason is very simple; more often than not, our beliefs - through no particular magic, by the way - become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I'm thinking gloom and doom, I pass it on to others around me. I undermine productivity (my own and others) rather than cultivate and nurture it. If I am so certain that things will not work themselves out, then my brain will automatically filter out any evidence to the contrary. It becomes a vicious cycle and if allowed to continue will result only in one more experience that supports the beliefs and subsequent behaviors that brought it about in the first place.

On the other hand, starting with a belief that things will turn out well makes us more optimistic. In our optimism, our brains begin working overtime to make that perception a reality, brainstorming new ideas, open to opportunities that might be missed otherwise, and creating an infectious atmosphere of success that helps bring others along too. As more success experiences build up, it's easier to believe the next episode of chaos will turn out well also.

So, what if a person gets stuck in the pessimistic view and does want to grab hold of the optimistic view instead, only they don't know how? First off, it helps to recognize that the discomfort of change is normal. It's called Limbo, and it's incredibly common to dislike this phase. If you are feeling a lot of distress during this period, it's completely normal - there's nothing wrong with you in that regard.

In fact, it's often a good idea to give yourself some time (do yourself a favor though, and put a limit to it) to really wallow in whatever self-pity or other negative feelings you might be harboring. Then get rid of it. Use whatever ceremony or ritual works for you to say goodbye to the grief and accept that whatever you have lost is now gone, so it's time to start looking for what's new.

In the process, just keep reminding yourself that it does get better... "Crisis, by definition, is self-limiting"

Face it, at some point, it either goes away, or becomes chronic. In either case, it doesn't feel nearly as ugly as it does now. If it becomes chronic, we find other ways to cope.

Next, focus on what CAN BE. Create a realistic idea of what you can do now, either short term or long term, that is completely in line with what you've always wanted to do. Expand your thinking... what have you wanted that didn't seem possible before? Is there something about where you are now that actually minimizes your risk? For instance, one person I know decided that what he'd always wanted to do was work with special needs dogs. During a period of unemployment, he realized that even if he wasn't getting paid to do that sort of work, it beat sitting around the house waiting for the phone to ring. With no risk at all, he could step into his life's dream, at least for a short period of time. And in the long run, who knows what sort of opportunities can open up for a person who's fully involved in something they can feel passionate about?

Do you have other suggestions for how people can move successfully through the chaos of change? Email your ideas to me at and I'll share the best ones here.

Create a future that excites you by starting with your thinking.