How do you orient to difficulty?

Photo by Jukan Tateisi.

What is difficult for you?  What happens when you face something difficult?  A conversation? A strong,  emotion emerging out of nowhere.   A task you don’t know how to do.  Or a job you’ve been working on for a while without getting anywhere.   Or does the thought of how difficult something might be stop you cold?

We are creative geniuses when it comes to confronting difficulties in our lives.  In a moment we can project a full color, surround sound movie of how hard it will be, what the other person will say or do in response, how badly we will do, with exquisite details tracking out our most villainous traits.  Or the dramatic pathos of ourselves as a victim of this circumstance.  Against the backdrop of these kinds of personal projected movies, what is most likely to happen when we encounter a challenge, an unpredicted bounce of Fate’s ball?  Stop, quit and roll.  We take the emergency exit off of difficult highway.

I’d like to say that I meet difficulties now with grace and grit where needed.  After 2 years of what I call my f**!!king equanimity practice,  I can say I am more conscious when drawn into my swear-a-thon protests when I can’t get something done – usually trouble-shooting something on my computer or on fix-it projects at home.   We can get so creative in our catastrophizing natures, preparing the script for how our life goes when we know, deep in ourselves just this.  “I can’t do this!”

So if our creative intelligence knows how to play the life game of difficulty with moves like “This is too hard!” or “Why is this happening to me?”  –  Can we learn how to adapt our game?  Or create a new one?

There is a really handy concept coming out of Feldenkrais work.  It’s called making a first approximation.  Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of the approach, used to say, “Learning is what we do when we don’t know what to do.”   One of the by-products of the approach to learning we are familiar with (e.g. learning from teachers and other sources of authorized knowledge) is that we come to understand learning as applying what we know to the situation we are facing.  If what we already know runs out without solving the problem, we are conditioned to look to an authority outside of ourselves to resolve the problem.  I can’t do this!

Self-taught people and entrepreneurs already know this – learning is what you do when you don’t know what to do.  Try something and learn from there. 

How can you allow your first approximation to learning how to do what you don’t know how to do?  One of my teachers tells it this way, “Gather information, make the plan, work the plan, adapt the plan.”  Repeat as needed.

This is a process of learning, trying and learning that relies on a felt sense of our own resourcefulness, our ability to find some way to complete the task.   I dearly love the people in my life that come with their own perfectionist programming.  But it can be a pretty tall stakes to require new tasks to be easy, simple, to require ourselves to do them with a high level of skill.  We all have some part of ourselves that is ready to criticize when we fail, when our efforts do not yield the results we want.   We want to stay within our circle of competence, our comfort zone where trying and succeeding come together.   As I see the world from the other side of 50, I watch that circle get smaller for some, one way we can contract with age.  For others, their circle widens, as they invest in new skills, new possibilities.  New ways I know how I can.

The first approximation leads to the second approximation.  And the third.  We can refine and improve our effort through this process of learning when we do not already know what to do.   We can shift our little engine that feels it can’t to a little engine that knows it can find a way up the mountain.   Increasing our sense of resourcefulness is the journey of several mountains that started as impossible, impassable obstacles and become possible.  And maybe even easy.   We all faced these mountains of can’t when we learned to sit, to crawl, to stand, to walk, to run.  This resourcefulness is within us. 

So I leave you with a possibility challenge – do you have the courage, the curiosity to explore what is possible for you?  Can you re-examine the edge of the limits you know?  Can you include in your image of yourself, the you who doesn’t know the answer, the you who can discover it?    If you dare, please share on my Kind Power page .