In many personal growth programs we’re told we should be open to what life brings us. But what does that mean, exactly? And what does it say about us when we can’t or don’t know how?
As I talk with friends and clients (and what I notice in my own life) I’m more and more aware of an inner reaction that can arise when we say no to something. If we feel the slightest bit of threat to our ego (and by that I mean our elusive sense of self), we close down. It’s so rampant that I’ve started calling it the “auto-response”.
There’s a big difference between saying no and closing down. Saying no can be exactly the right thing to do if we don’t have sufficient time or the conditions aren’t favorable. For instance, I was asked to take on a project that was beyond me. I said no because I knew I couldn’t assemble the necessary information within the given time frame. I was conflicted because I would have liked to do it, but it was clearly beyond what I could handle by their deadline. It was a straightforward assessment, based on a practical evaluation of both timing and available resources. It wasn’t about me personally.
But closing down is different. That’s when we do take things personally. And there's a whole lot of insecure thinking that triggers not only our psychological but physical defenses as well. In the heat of the moment, we may not consciously know we’re interpreting something as a threat, but we’re keenly aware that our feelings and our physical sensations don’t feel good. My client, Anne, recently told me she was asked by a rather demanding boss to recreate a well-regarded program she had developed so that it could be used for upcoming events. It wasn’t an unreasonable request, but Anne’s first response was to say no, she couldn’t do it. She felt an all-too-familiar sense of resistance and then a shutting down, along with a vague sense of needing to protect or defend herself. Her palms started to sweat, she felt afraid for no apparent reason and her thoughts started jamming up about whether she was capable enough to do the job and what the consequences would be.
Anne eventually did recreate her program, and as we spent time unpacking what had happened to her, she began to see how she could get out of her own way and what that would allow her to do. These are a few of her “aha” realizations that might help you get out of your own way:
1. When insecure thoughts are triggered and we close down, it cuts us off from our innate wisdom and creativity. But as soon as we realize we don’t have to regard those thoughts as personal, we can move beyond them and instantly open back up to that infinite source of intelligence and inspiration that’s always available to us.
2. When we put up a wall to defend ourselves against an imagined or assumed threat, it keeps us locked into a belief that may or may not have been true in the past but now only limits our possibilities to learn or grow and see things in a different light. New possibilities and new outcomes are inevitable once we allow ourselves to be curious about and present to the uniqueness of each moment.
3. When we close down because of what may appear to be threatening, we become a victim not only of our thoughts but to the external events that trigger our them. When we recognize that beneath all our thinking we are whole, perfect and untouched by any thought, we become the creators that we were meant to be, energized by a guiding force that's infinitely more powerful than any person, place or event.