Category Archives: control

Feeling Stressed?

Stress can be like wind on the surface of water: temporary, changing, and totally outside of our control.

We often feel stressed and anxious because of circumstances in our life that we cannot control or influence. (Usually, actually, we think we can, which contributes to the level of stress we experience.)

Therefore, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with. In my experience, there are two types:

  • surface stress
  • deep stress

This week, I’m looking at surface level stress, because it’s the one we can deal with most readily, since it’s predominantly external. For that metaphor, let’s liken stress to wind blowing across the surface of a lake, causing ripples. The water deep underneath might be calm and clear, but the surface looks like a hot mess.

It’s this stress that’s truly temporary. Additionally, 9 times out of 10, the key to alleviating this stress is to remember that the vast majority of the water (what’s underneath) is calm and unaffected by the wind.

The wind can be anything from a child’s or boss’ tantrum, to a bad hair day, or traffic, or not having enough milk for your coffee in the morning, or even…

…family, friends, colleagues and social media. Basically, it can be anything external to you.

Like the wind, it’s outside of your control and often has nothing to do with you personally. The key to restoring balance is to understand and remember these three things:

  • the surface is not the story
  • the wind is temporary
  • the calm beneath is the truth

If you can keep these simple ideas in mind, it will help you navigate any stressful (windy) situation with more grace and ease. There’s comfort in knowing that, at your core, everything is okay. In fact, I would argue it’s the best way to live. 🙂

Expectations are Hope in Disguise

I recently had an opportunity to experience suffering. The kind where you sometimes sit on your shower floor and cry, hoping the constant stream of water from above will somehow dilute the salty rivers on your face (and where nobody can hear you or see the snot that has also formed some sort of waterfall over your lip). Yeah, that kind of sadness. Suffering.

So much has been said in recent years about how expectations are the root cause of suffering. Hmmm. I’d always agreed with that. (Well, accepted it without challenging it is probably more accurate.) But these bouts in the shower gave me cause to pause. And guess what? I disagree. (Not that that should come as a surprise to most of you. lol)

My new thought:

I don’t think it’s wrong to have expectations.

Actually, I think it’s hope for humanity’s future to hold expectations of one another. I expect people to be kind, respectful, and compassionate, and act in a way that is in accordance with that. For me, these are some of the highest values of basic humanity. To expect less than these basics almost feels like I’m letting my fellow humans down – like I’m saying: “I don’t believe in you.”

So why is there a plethora of writing linking expectations and suffering? Well, suffering comes when I form an emotional attachment to the outcome of my expectations, to the decisions and/or actions of others. Attachment is quite different than expectation, because it involves control. And, if we’re honest, attachments, in their essence, are actually judgments. (And we all know about judgments, right? – if you don’t know what I’m saying, check out my spooky Halloween post.)

What, then, are attachments? Bottom line:

Attachments are attempts at control based in fear, and they’re unhealthy.

In my opinion, they are the root cause of emotional suffering. So many things can grow out of attachment that you probably don’t realize. Things like: low self-worth, low self-esteem, anger, frustration, disappointment, despair, disregard, are all products of attachment. If I were to attach an emotional investment (my happiness) in a fellow human behaving a certain way, boy would I be in trouble!

Trying to control things that are not mine will ALWAYS create opportunities for suffering, and control is a form of attachment. (Not to mention being a sign of disrespect toward someone else.)

Healthy expectations are an integral part of any relationship. They allow us to hold one another in high esteem, and challenge ourselves and each other to be the best we can be. Expectations are like little pompoms of encouragement waving wildly on the sidelines of the game of life. They help us identify what’s possible and feel supported in getting there. Attachments, meanwhile, derail us from our own truth and knowing, like the really loud fans from an opposing team trying to distract us from our purpose.

Expectations, therefore, are an expression of hope. And hope is always a good thing.

Little Black Dress

I recently heard someone use the phrase:

“Being helpful is just control in a party dress.” To begin with, I wished I had come up with that. It’s brilliant: simple, poignant and tangible. Sometimes, when we think we’re helping someone, we’re actually causing more problems. Our intentions are good, but the results aren’t always in line with what we hoped would be the outcome when we decided to get involved.

Then there are those times when our intentions are actually self-serving. We help, not because we can (or need to), but because it makes us feel good – and we’re not necessarily interested in the outcome. We got what we needed out of the situation, and well – the rest is ‘out of our control.’ And then there are those times when we help because we care, but we also have a desired expectation. Furthermore, having an expectation implies a desire to control. This expectation can be a desire for praise for our efforts, or for the person we’re helping to follow our advice because we know best. But do we really?

Does anybody know what’s best for them, better than the person themselves? We need community (family, friends, society) to help us process things, but we don’t’ necessarily need someone doing the work for us. In fact, we never do. Why? Because if someone is helping us do something that we should be doing ourselves, then they are actually hurting us by taking away our opportunity for growth and learning.

I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. I’ve received help from people who genuinely cared for me and loved me, and I’ve helped people I genuinely care about and love. I have both appreciated and been hurt by these situations. The difference for me came when I finally realized the truth about ‘being helpful.’ To help someone when they ask for help is fine. So, now, I do my best to ask first, “Do you need my help? Or do you just need to talk this out?” The flip side of the coin is that I’ve also gotten better at asking for help, which was a HUGE lesson to learn, but well worth it. Nobody in my circle has to guess anymore about what I need or what I’m feeling. It’s not 100%, but it’s close. I ask for what I need, and I share my feelings openly and honestly. And when I offer my help, I do my best to do so without judgment or expectation.

It’s one of the most important rules in Coaching and working in an industry where people need your help: Guide, don’t lead. When we lead, we take away the opportunity for someone to make their own decisions. We’re essentially pulling them behind us, however passively. When we guide, we are standing next to them, sharing our experience and wisdom, allowing them to make their own decisions.

So – think of how being helpful can also be hurtful in both giving and receiving. Nobody likes unsolicited advice. And, quite frankly, the greatest gift is the one given anonymously. If you’re helping someone because you want to get something out of it – or expect a specific result – then perhaps you’re not helping at all. And a very wise woman once taught me: ‘A wise (wo)man says it once, then walks away.’ She’s wise, because she knows you can lose yourself when you spend too much time trying to help someone else. And then neither of you will be better off.

In love and light,

Martina

**LBD image: lanebryant.com; mule image: journalnow.com**