Imagine. You are lost in the dense woods, you have no real idea where you are on the map, you’ve been going in circles for hours, it’s raining, and it’s starting to get dark. What is the most helpful thought you can have in such a situation? “This isn’t permanent”.
Times of suffering, stress and struggle are certainly uncomfortable on many levels. It’s easy to lose perspective and to get fixated on the immediate circumstance of what feels ‘bad’ at the time. But if you knew you could make it better by altering one thought, wouldn’t you?
I recently participated in an expedition length adventure race where at one point my teammates and I found ourselves in a similar predicament as the one described above – lost, weary, frustrated and losing steam. What got us through that space was remembering that while we were physically and emotionally uncomfortable, it wasn’t permanent. We would find our way out of the woods. We would dry out and warm up. We would resume the race on the right path. The race director, Grant Killian, had given us the idea of permanence at the pre-race briefing. We applied it to our struggle, and it worked.
How It Works
Human beings are programmed to survive – one way or another. We have a built-in fight or flight mechanism that flips on in times of fear or perceived threat.
We are also naturally (or perhaps culturally) predisposed to dislike being uncomfortable – physically, emotionally, socially, etc. In fact, we dislike discomfort so much that we can have an unconscious fear response to it – meaning we perceive discomfort as a threat or something to be feared.
In response to the perceived threat of the struggle du jour, our minds effort to protect themselves and to regain control by way of our thoughts. This process happens in the blink of an eye. We grasp wildly for something to believe that will give us a sense of control. The thing is, our brains don’t discriminate between good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, rational or irrational thoughts – they are just looking for something to believe as true. We want something to feel certain about and that certainty gives us a sense of control and security. Even the thought that something is totally miserable, completely intolerable, and entirely unacceptable, will satisfy your desire to feel in control, so long as you believe it to be true.
The key is in what you choose to believe. Interrupting the unconscious auto-response of your brain when it feels threatened or even just ‘uncomfortable’ requires a conscious awareness that you can choose your thought and what you believe to be true. What you choose has a direct effect on how you think and feel about whatever comes next and so on.
Back to permanence. We all struggle at one time or another in life. It’s true – some things are rather uncomfortable. Remembering that your discomfort or struggle isn’t permanent makes a world of difference in how your experience plays out. Reminding yourself that a situation isn’t permanent reroutes your brain circuits away from fear and into an epic perspective shift that feels much more comfortable and enjoyable.
Everything To Gain
As the race director had said, we generally remember the good stuff from our experiences a lot more than the struggles. We remember the triumph, tenacity, beauty, joy, and sense of accomplishment or success. Those reflections are lasting and worth keeping.
In my race experience one of us on the team would ever so often exclaim, “Permanence!”, or “This isn’t permanent!”. That simple awareness became a segue for us to notice all the cool things in our midst – the bright green moss carpeting the steep hillsides, the young tree shoots bursting from the earth, and the sound of frogs bellowing in the distance. If we had been focused on the struggle we may not have noticed these amazing details that in retrospect add so much to how we remember the race.
There is also a strategic element to the permanence perspective. Remembering that the struggle isn’t permanent allows for more physical and emotional energy to be applied to the goal or effort at hand. Case in point, by remembering the permanence perspective, our team was faster, more focused, and more effective simply because we chose a smarter, more true, and more useful belief.
So, the next time you are in a bind, feeling uncomfortable, or struggling, remember that it isn’t permanent. Exercise your ability to choose your thoughts and get more out of your experience than you thought possible. You will grow inner muscles you didn’t know you had. You will also be a happier, more peaceful person for it.
That’s good growth that’s permanent.
Amy Hallagan is an LCSW, personal coach, and the owner of Exubero, Llc, Coaching & Personal Development, in Loveland, Colorado. Amy is most passionate about helping people with high sensitivity to create truly meaningful lives rooted in their unique strengths, skills, values, passions, and purpose. Connect with Amy by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through her website, www.exuberocoaching.com. Subscribe to her blog here.