Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taking Action

I was thinking about Sarah's situation, which I described in the previous post. And about her response. And what I wanted to highlight the most is that the effective thing to do is to choose to take action and to focus on that action. By taking action and focusing on the activity we do the most to alleviate any pressures for two reasons: 1. we are acting to remove some of the source of pressure (presumably we will choose to act effectively), and 2. by focusing on the specific action, we focus on what we can do, thus getting away from the negative emotional states created in the sense of being overwhelmed.

The thing that struck me a lot about Sarah's comment was that she said that I ahd given her good ideas for what to do, but that she had forgotten them. On the one hand, this is evidence that the emotional state is improving, which is a good thing. On the other, having a sense of specific actions that can be taken to alleviate the stress is also a good thing to do, so it worries me that the specific ideas were lost. And on yet another hand (for those of us who have more than two), there's also a sense that what I really wanted to communicate was an approach to problems: it was not the specific suggestions themselves that mattered, so much as the idea that when feeling overwhelmed, the appropriate response is to make a plan of specific actions and to focus on them.

And what we're looking for is to improve the situation: we want to move in the positive direction--we want to make our situation better. It's not so much that I'm hoping to entirely banish any feeling of being overwhelmed--it's not like I can make the problems themselves go away, and having an injury--for example--will naturally contribute to difficulties in keeping up with the demands of a busy schedule. What I'm hoping for--and what I suggest seeking is more the sense that we can do something to respond, then to banish the pressure put on us by the situation. Or, to rephrase (redundantly, I suppose): it's not about eliminating the pressures that come from having problems to resolve; it's about creating better and more effective response patterns so that even if we feel the pressure of many competing demands that we may not be able to successfully fulfill completely, we feel like we're making some progress in the battle, rather than feeling helpless. It's not a problem to feel swamped, if we also feel like we're able to swim.

It's hard to look back at our past and say "I did this thing poorly" without also getting stuck in some sort of negative cycle--because when we see the thing that we don't like in our past, as long as we remain at that level of analysis, we're creating more negative emotion. Only if we ask "how can I change that old result?" and "how can I create the future I want, instead of repeating old results?" are we switching our focus to the positive possibilities for the future. By practicing looking forward, we reduce the negative emotional impact of studying the past patterns of behavior that created results we didn't like.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Even though I don't remember the exact comment, I think you figured it out. I recall that whatever you stated reminded me of flipping statements. Flip from what I DON'T want to something I DO want. It reminded me to flip a negatively phrased statement into the positive or flipping a negative inducing situation into something positive. In other words, saying, "I don't want to have debt" becomes "I want to be financially independent," choosing to reward instead of deprive/ punish, or finding one item/action that will bring peace & relief instead of attempting to focus on the twenty that induce stress. What you said forced me to take a moment to reflect/recognize my own negativity before I could even consider the possibility of an alternative (positive).

Besides the negative self-talk, "I am not...." I wonder what types of thoughts dissertation-writers have to "flip". I wonder what indicators we can use as a trigger to remind us to engage in the reflection & flipping process. It seems that it is human nature to wait until a crisis moment to do something, but what concrete steps can I take to avoid those crisis moments during this dissertation process. I guess that goes back to issues of self-care, awareness, and mindfulness. But the reality is that I feel that to work through this dissertation I have to be a little numb, unfortunately being numb seems to be a catalyst for crises.