Contentment may be elusive, but we can bring it closer
The hard facts of life
I think it's fair to say that a large number of resources available aiming to address well-being and self-management reflect a recognition that we, as a species, are not necessarily content, but also that we wish to do something about it (just look at all the useful things you find from the coaching community!). Self-advertising aside, it is not just the search online or a trip to the local bookshop or library that will offer you anything from succinct 'top tips' and 'how-to' guides to comprehensive life-management courses. More and more, society has workplace offerings from human resources, or leaflets in the local GP surgery or advice services, acknowledging that we could all do with the offer of help sometimes, and a good thing this is, too.
I find this reflected in my coaching practice too. Increasingly, clients have realised that they are not content, and arrive having done their research and having started to address their own needs. They are aware of 'gurus' and high-profile advisors that an online search will identify quickly and efficiently; they have read self-help books and taken up offers from work environment support; nonetheless, they remain unhappy.
It may be that, after addressing fears and expectations, they still find they are irrationally anxious in certain fields of life. Or that despite acknowledging some basic realisations (for example that life isn't perfect, or despite acting on advice and making changes for the better), they still find a nagging doubt exists. Putting some things into words is not always easy, but if that negative feeling is there, its effect is as real as anything concrete or visible.
Making hard facts softer...
That is where we can start to look at things differently and make it concrete. If you could attach something tangible or visible to that feeling how would it look? If you had to assign it a colour or pattern, what would it be? What shape would it take? What texture? If this doesn't come naturally, flip the question - what wouldn't it feel or look like?
Or, go one further - find a physical thing to equate the feeling with. For example, take a collection of items that are easily accessible (leaves, pebbles, different coloured crayons, etc) so you can attach qualities to the feeling. This can be the first step to identifying a thing behind the actual feeling. If you find the stone has jagged edges and is dirty, why does that reflect the feeling? What is the reality behind the jagged edges? What does the dirt represent, and is it easy to wash off?
Let's take an example of how this type of exploration might work. This helped me some years ago when I realised my Sunday evenings were dogged by those negative thoughts of the return to work on Monday morning. This even though I had left the job I didn't like and had commenced a role which suited me better (and even had the advantages of being nearby and part-time, after years of working late into the evening in an office miles away five days a week).
After being unable to identify why I still felt some kind of 'dread', I thought hard about how I would 'see' this feeling. In my mind's eye, I saw quite clearly a veil of fabric with what I can only describe as an ugly '70s pattern of murky orange and dull green oval shapes. This was covering my view of what was beyond. I thought, bingo! I just have to look beyond this veil to see what's behind it.
This is where my imagination appeared to freeze and, try as I might, I could not find any way to move this curtain aside. When I realised this, I decided not just to rely on my mind to 'offer up the goods' as it were, but I decided that now I had something to work with and could make the change myself. As a result, I took what I had at this point (ugly 70s curtain - sorry retro fans!) and turned it into something I found somehow friendlier. Amusingly, the pattern remained the same - that turned out to be fine - but I changed the colours into ones I found brighter, pleasing, and approachable. I still couldn't 'look behind' it but found that this was okay: that feeling had improved enormously, and just like the visual representation, the idea of returning to work on Monday morning was now more approachable and easier to face.
Easy on the eye, easy enough to cope with...
I didn't eliminate the fact that we associate weekends with fun and relaxation, and the subsequent Monday morning with the 'drudgery' of work (whether wholly true or not), but I did make it more acceptable. I literally 'saw' it in a different way. As we accept that life isn't perfect, we can at least improve how we relate to it with a bit of thought and action.
I am pleased to say that further thought and action on my part means that I am ultimately carrying out a career which is intrinsically fulfilling and though the thought of a Monday morning may not be as good as the thought of a Saturday morning, that 'curtain' has disappeared!
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