Dealing with difficult situations
I saw a cartoon recently that made me laugh: it was titled ‘The Four Horsemen of Procrastination’ and featured a man sat at a computer, attempting to do some work. Behind him loomed the Four Horsemen, named ‘Napping‘, ‘Snacks’, ‘Television’ and ‘Minor chores’. It certainly struck a chord – I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in the situation where we would rather do pretty much anything other than the job in hand.
It also got me thinking about how we approach those things in life that are a little more difficult. There are plenty of them: maybe a tricky conversation with a loved one or a colleague, a long-delayed check on our finances, or an awkward phone call we need to make. Life is full of minor (and sometimes major) challenges. As the Four Horsemen remind us, we’re bad enough at just focusing on the day to day things we need to do – and we’re often even worse at getting around to dealing with difficult situations.
A natural aversion to difficulty
Despite the fact that we like to think we have developed as we get older, my view is that as adults we are often no better than children at facing difficulties. A child’s natural instinct is to avoid difficulty and discomfort and to find some relief in distraction. They will play anything, rather than do a boring job around the house for their parents. And as adults, we really are no different.
How often have you been about to make that difficult call, picked up your phone and then ended up checking your social media feeds instead? Or chosen to go out with friends rather than sitting down and spending the evening having a difficult but necessary conversation with someone you love?
Even as adults, we do it all the time – avoiding difficulty and looking for distraction wherever we can. So, is there a better way forward, and a way for us to have a healthier relationship with difficult situations? I believe there is.
Embrace the difficulty
The first step in addressing a difficult situation is simply to understand the feelings it creates and to see it as an experience. By this, I mean separating out the way the problem makes you feel – for example, tight in the pit of your stomach, or breathless – and the actual problem itself.
Once you understand that the problem (whatever it might be) is actually separate from the feelings you are having, you begin to see that what you’re really trying to avoid are the unpleasant feelings in your body – not necessarily the difficult thing itself.
This is a liberating and empowering experience, because those feelings are something that we are actually responsible for. So, when you need to have a tricky conversation with your boss, remember that it isn’t your boss who is making your heart race – it is your own body, and that is something you can directly control.
Get out of yourself
The other strategy which works for me is simply to take myself out of the challenging equation. By this, I mean that when I try to see a difficult situation from someone else’s perspective, it can be a huge relief. If we can feel some compassion for their difficulties for a moment, instead of just our own, it begins to remove any sense that the problem is all about us.
Problems, worries and challenges never happen in isolation – they are always linked to other things too. When we face a difficulty with the sense that we are alone, it is easy to try and look for a simple way out. But when we see that difficult situations are often a part of a complex web of relationships between different people, it can help to ease the burden of the problem on us as individuals.
Ultimately, we will always find facing up to difficulties hugely challenging.
But, if we take the time to get a sense of how they make us – and other people – feel and behave, we can begin to have a healthier relationship with whatever difficulties we face.
About Graham Tomlinson’s blog
Graham Tomlinson With this blog I aim to create an open website for sharing my mindfulness & self-improvement tips with as many people as possible.