“When you’re falling, dive” is the title of a great book I often reread that explores a lot of life’s big issues and why some people thrive despite adversity and others disintegrate. Working in issues management makes me face big and small hurdles daily and whether I handle them with a big or small attitude really matters. Sometimes my own ego, fear or blindspots make the lessons harder to learn, or to share. I think the real skill is in recognising that and being fluid enough to try a different tack next time. This is my favourite bit of this book – recognising our own control issues.
Mark Matousek, When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living, Bloomsbury, 2008 (Abridged)
“Years ago someone I respected enormously asked me if I was the kind of person who went through the mountain or around the mountain. I proudly said I go through! For years since I’ve been wondering what it would mean to go around the mountain. When is that the right approach? When does it work better than trying to push through? If we’ve pushed as hard as we possibly can and the mountain still does not move, can we yield? That’s when control issues kick in – not wanting to give it up.
There are different kinds of control. Groundbreaking research by doctors at Stanford identified two distinct kinds of control. Positive assertive control is when we put our noses to the grindstone and see the task through. This is not a stressed-out state. Unless it leads to negative assertive control, which means pushing until it hurts, the path to stress sickness. We may have succeeded quantitatively, but qualitatively we’re a mess. What have we ploughed through to maintain control and achieve our aims?
The alternative is positive yielding control. This has to do with surrender, acceptance and choosing your battles. Positive yielding control can have enormously positive effects on people’s lives, particularly where survival hangs in the balance. Not pushing; knowing when to stop; when to go around the mountain. Using the power of choice. Undiscriminating effort is a sure path to burnout. Most of our troubles come from the fact that human beings can’t be alone with themselves for any extended period of time. The act of stopping may be uncomfortable at first, but it often becomes revelatory. People begin to have small epiphanies. Stillness enables us to interrupt the stress cycle. When we unhook from our craving thoughts, we’re struck by new possibilities, fresh ideas and more constructive responses.”
I hope you choose some stillness the next time you feel overwhelmed, and when you next feel that you’re falling, you find the acceptance to do it with grace.
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