Hard vs. Stressful-Hard
Doing something difficult can bring up lots of emotions. We may default to dread or overwhelm, and yet sometimes we experience the direct opposite, anticipation and determination.
So why are some situations hard and some are stressful-hard? How is it that when we push through and accomplish things like training for a race or getting a new certification, we feel satisfaction or even exhilaration but with others we just feel emotional exhaustion?
If we can solve this question, it will be possible to feel satisfaction INSTEAD of exhaustion.
We can pick.
What makes some situations hard and others stressful-hard boils down to 2 modifiable factors: your WHY and your thoughts. And here’s the good news, you get to make both of these up.
The first one is sometimes easier to see. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you training for the race or going back to school? Because you want to; you want to show yourself you can, you want to be the person who achieves that, you want to be an example of what is possible. Or maybe you just want to be in shape and make more money. Tapping into this WHY is what gets you through the hard parts of achieving this goal and helps you keep going without emotional exhaustion. This makes sense to us.
But what about situations where your choice of the goal is not as obvious, where your why is buried deep under some decision you made years ago? How can you tap into determination instead of overwhelm when the situation seems stressful-hard like going to work in a terrible environment or having a difficult conversation with a family member?
The answer lies in the previous example of race training: search for your WHY instead of being overwhelmed by the discomfort of all the “what ifs” and “I really don’t want to”.
This is the creative writing part of problem solving.
It’s as easy as that (before you knock it, try it).
Our brains are programmed to take in new ideas and find evidence to support these ideas.
Instead of going with the default, stressful ideas, give it some new ones (ie: make it up).
Here are some examples of WHY:
Caring for people is important.
This job allows me to provide good things for my family.
I am meant to be a nurse.
This will make me strong and I want to be strong.
The discomfort of this conversation is less than the discomfort of not having it (AKA I will be glad I did it.
I am good at this and I worked hard to get here.
The next sentence to any of these WHYs would be, “and so I want to do it”.
Interesting, right? If we can find our WHY, it then leads to why we want to do it. Yup, nothing gets rid of dread faster than realizing you want to do something. And once you give your brain this idea, it can run with it.
This leads to the second component that contributes to hard vs. stressful-hard: our thoughts. Sometimes we can get all settled in with a nice WHY and then sabotage ourselves with thoughts like
It’s not working.
It’s not worth it.
I can’t do it.
Sound familiar? I know it does because EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD has thoughts like these. The primitive brain resists what the prefrontal cortex (the evolved brain) is trying to do; it pitches a fit when change is in the air.
It’s totally fine. We can take these thoughts and allow them to be there without getting involved, kind of like when we ignore our toddlers as they melt down in a food store. We don’t engage but we also don’t leave them there (even if in the moment it seems like a good idea). We bring them along and choose to focus on more important things. We can do this with ourselves as well. We can allow the negative thoughts AND focus on new ones.
Erika Royal, CEO of The Life Coach School, summarized this internal dialogue beautifully.
“This probably won’t work.
But what if it does?
Take the next step.”
Of course, all of this is on a continuum, it’s not an either/or, an all-or-nothing situation. We aren’t doing it wrong, we just have lots of thoughts that compete for our attention, habits that drive behavior, and personalities that trend toward different ideals. With practice we can push the needle closer to the satisfaction end and away from the exhaustion end.
You literally get to decide if something is worth it, there will be evidence on both sides and you can pick which side to be on. You get to decide to like your decision for doing something and some days it will seem easier than others. Providing for your family can be a good enough reason. Because you want to is a good enough reason.
If you decide something is worth it,
you will start to shift from overwhelm to determination.
And once you feel determined, you will get the ball rolling. You will start to create beliefs that support this feeling even more.
Choosing compassion helps me get through anything.
I have the tools I need to manage stress. (side note: Do you have go-to strategies for stress: easy breathing exercises or a quick meditation with the assistance of an app?)
I can ALWAYS give good care to a patient because that does not rely only on external resources.
Doing hard things is so satisfying.
I can challenge myself to get better at difficult conversations.
I always show up, 100%.
Maybe try this with something small, something in your life that would be so much easier if you didn’t dread it. See what happens if you look for the reason WHY you are doing it. Realize that just this shift in your attention can change how you feel about it which can change your whole experience. Decide that it’s worth it and then decide that you are going to support the decisions you make, you are going to like your decisions.
Start yourself down the path that you want to go and watch as overwhelm goes the other way.
Feeling overwhelmed? I get it, I have been there too. If you need someone to help you see through your own obstacles, sign up for a consult. You don’t have to stay there.