When Nothing is Working, Ask Yourself This
When you are trying to make changes in yourself or in your relationship, it can be frustrating when things don’t work as planned. You put yourself out there, try something new, and it’s a flop. After a while, the tiredness sets in again, and you want to throw in the towel. What’s the point in trying if everything is stacked against you, right? Well… Maybe. But before you fall back into a spiral of despair, I have a lifeline to throw you. What if you changed the questions you are asking yourself, and it changed everything?
Why You Feel Stuck
We subconsciously talk to ourselves all day, every day, yet hardly notice what we are telling ourselves. When things are going well, this may not be such a big deal; but when things are going wrong, these thoughts can easily keep us stuck. For example, when you are trying your hardest to not jump into arguments with your partner, but again find yourself bickering over the same old things, it’s easy to be frustrated. You are disappointed in yourself, feel like a failure, and start thinking about all the reasons your efforts didn’t work out. “Why is this happening to me, when I want something so different?” you may ask yourself.
Aha! Did you catch that? Your subconscious is looking for the easy way out, and has you asking why things are happening to you. You’ve put yourself in a passive spot, lacking control, and it’s sure to drag you back into the muck.
This passive, subconscious reaction means to protect you - “it’s not my fault!” - and it’s a heck of a lot easier than the alternative (rational perspective in the moment). Sure, you can keep getting up as the voices keep pulling you down, but it takes a lot of persistence and work. It’s exhausting. And if you are tired of being tired, I have a new response for you to try.
Ask Yourself Better Questions
Language is so important, even when we are talking to ourselves. Our natural instinct is to react - and I want you to slow down, be aware, and learn to respond. It takes practice to slow down and notice what is happening in the moment and in your mind, and to give yourself space to respond with thought. But by slowing down and becoming present in the moment, you open yourself up to an opportunity to learn.
The next time you find yourself spiraling into thoughts like, “why is this happening to me?”, try to catch yourself, and replace this with questions like:
Why is this happening for me?
What is this moment teaching me?
What am I being asked to notice?
What am I about to learn?
These types of questions give you a window - instead of a wall - so you can see the potential in the situation. They are helping you develop a learner’s mindset so you can be able to learn something new.
Step Outside the Comfort Zone
You can use these questions as you come across challenges or conflicts in your relationships, and use them as an opportunity to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s in this place of uncertainty that you’ll learn something new, like how to solve the problem you are facing, but you need to be willing to get uncomfortable.
Of course this is hard when you already feel vulnerable, perhaps as a result of your partner’s distance or attacks. But this need to protect yourself can bypass the reasonable part of your brain that is able to see multiple perspectives. The questions above can help you slow down and guide you to more than your usual answers. Isn’t it better to feel slightly uncomfortable, and find yourself surrounded by new insight and creative answers, then to stay stuck in a painful (and equally uncomfortable) place?
At the moment, I’m asking you to focus more on the process than the outcome, which is very counterintuitive for our culture. But what if you valued learning as much as achieving? Yes, you have the end goal of a harmonious and happy relationship, but you must find the way there first. You are being called to bring both process and outcome into balance, and to find beauty along the way.
Celebrate the Process
The next time you feel defeated in your efforts and want to give up, challenge yourself to explore the feedback. Notice what you've learned or what you can celebrate! Did you take a vulnerable risk in the moment? Did you and your partner talk more, or solve an issue in a new way? Do you feel more confident? Celebrate your accomplishments along the way and keep learning from the process. Look objectively at what works, what doesn't, and what may need to happen next as you ride these waves of change. Time and your relationship will keep moving forward, and how you speak to yourself affects the course they will take.