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Now What Do I Do?The Surprising Solution When Things Go Wrong
By John Townsend
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 John Townsend
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSTEP 1: Feel What You Feel
Feeling and longing are the motive forces behind all human endeavor and human creations. -Albert Einstein
The first thing you should do when you encounter a problem that stymies you may not be what you expect ...
When you first find yourself dealing with a situation that will take some work and effort, feel what you are feeling. Before trying to get some distance in order to analyze the issues, allow yourself to feel your emotions in the moment.
We are all emotional beings. Whether we are always aware of them or not, we have feelings. You are feeling something right now while you are reading this chapter. It may be slight, perhaps a little anticipation or interest; hopefully it's not boredom. Like an underlying current in the ocean, your feelings are alive and well, whether below or above the surface. And it benefits you to become aware of what your emotional state is whenever you run into a roadblock.
Most of the time, obviously, the feelings that come with roadblocks are more negative than positive. You may feel anxiety, anger, fear, or sadness, for example. Problems, being essentially negative in nature, bring about the darker feelings in us.
Suppose you are single and can't find a decent dating relationship. You've tried the normal circles: friends' referrals, online sites, church singles groups, and the like, but you can't find anyone you really connect with on any sort of a satisfying and meaningful level. If that's the case, it is pretty normal to feel frustration, emptiness, and discouragement. To feel nothing at all would mean that something in you is frozen, and to feel happy wouldn't match the reality you are dealing with. Clearly, your feelings mirror your situation, your problem.
FEELINGS: A HELP, NOT A HINDRANCE
This first step in problem solving may not make any sense at all to you. You might be thinking, What good would feeling what I'm feeling do? I'll just end up wallowing in self-pity, freezing up in anxiety, or pounding my head against the desk. To solve a problem, I need to think clearly. Aren't my feelings the last thing I need to be paying attention to? It certainly does seem that in a time of trouble, you need a plan, decisiveness, and action. If you are a commercial pilot and you have just lost an engine, you need to be much more focused on your emergency protocols and your hand-eye coordination than your emotions.
You may also be concerned that your feelings will either guide you into a rash decision or make you act in an out-of-control manner. How many times have you heard someone mention a sexual indiscretion regretfully, saying, "The feelings got out of hand"? It is true that feelings can be intense and powerful. But my experience of emotions is that when they are balanced by good judgment and values, and when we are around good and safe people, our feelings won't rule our lives. So don't shut them down and don't let them take over . Above all, don't be afraid of emotions. Your feelings are your servants, not your masters.
Aside from urgent situations like the one you as the pilot found yourself in, there are three very good reasons for feeling what you feel when you are faced with a difficulty.
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You need emotions for the information they provide. Feelings, whether they be happy or sad, have purposes, meaning, and reasons for existing. Feelings don't simply exist to make life interesting or make you miserable. In fact, feelings are a valuable source of information for you. If you pay attention to them, you will learn a lot that can help you crunch your problem .
Let's understand a little about what feelings tell us. I have written about this before in a leadership context, but the message applies to us all: emotions are a signal. They tell us that something is going on that we need to pay attention to. Feelings are part of how God helps us look within ourselves: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."
For example, anxiety is an emotion associated with concern, fear, or panic. The message of anxiety is that there is some danger to avoid or be aware of. Anxiety directs us to look around for dangers. The danger may, for instance, be a toxic person telling you he is safe for you. It may be an investment that looks great, but you don't like some of the deal points. It may be the awareness that you are drinking too much and cannot control yourself.
Do you see how valuable anxiety is when you are in the moment with your problem, whatever that problem may be? Here is an example. I was coaching a man who was your basic "take the hill" executive. He loved the action of business, the strategies, and the hunt. And he was very good at what he did. But he often made commitments to people and projects that weren't good for him. If he liked what he saw, he went for it. And he found himself not getting ahead in his career because he kept having to recover from bad deals and interactions with the wrong people. So what was his problem? He was not where he wanted to be at his age and stage in life.
Once I saw the pattern, I told him, "You don't like to feel anxiety, because it doesn't fit your self concept of a banzai, go-for-it guy." He reluctantly agreed. I explained, "Your enthusiasm and action are great, but you aren't checking for anxiety. When you hear a pitch or talk to a candidate for a position with you, take a moment to see if you feel any anxiety." When my client combined sensitivity to his anxiety level with his banzai nature, he eventually began to understand that some people and some deals were too good to be true. The lack of integrity, truthfulness, or soundness caused an anxious vibe within him. He didn't enjoy feeling that, but he used the information those feelings provided. Gradually, his career took on the upward trajectory he had been wanting. (Anxiety is such a critical aspect to problem solving that it reappears at its own step, number 4. We will go into depth on anxiety and fear there.)
Anger is another helpful feeling. Your anger doesn't mean you are a bad, violent, or out-of-control person. Anger simply says that you need to solve a problem of some sort. It is an emotion that, instead of moving us to avoid something like anxiety does, moves us to address and confront something. Anger helps people take action against injustice and poverty. It motivates us to confront someone who is being destructive. It helps us determine not to repeat the same mistakes we've already made.
Suppose your problem is a rebellious teen, whose disrespectful words and conduct are wreaking havoc in your home. It is common for parents to suppress their anger at the adolescent, for fear of escalating that negative emotion and to avoid having two or three angry people lock horns. So instead these parents try to be reasonable, mature, and patient, all good qualities for moms and dads to have. However, we parents need to understand that bad behavior that disrupts a loving home should make us angry. Anger says, "Enough! We have to confront this directly, with conversations, consequences, a counselor, or some plan. I can't have this anymore." That doesn't mean that you spill your anger onto your teen, an act that really could make things get out of control. So you may need to talk about your anger and share that emotion with someone safe in your life. The point here is, learn from your anger and use it.
You need emotions to connect you to supportive people. Emotions are great connectors. When you are in love, there is a person on the receiving end. Often when you are frustrated, you are disturbed by another person's bad behavior. Emotions do keep us relating to one another in deep and meaningful ways. And if there ever is a time when you need that kind of connection, it's when you encounter a life problem.
Once I was working with a father who felt an enormous responsibility to be strong and never show weakness. He wanted to keep his family safe, happy, and secure. Even when his business was struggling, he wanted to protect his family, so even though his kids were teens and fully capable of dealing with financial realities, he kept quiet. Over time, he distanced himself from his wife and kids. He didn't know how to convey the anxiety and insecurity he felt to the ones who loved him, so he just shut down and would hardly talk. His family missed him, but they didn't know what to do.
I listened to the whole family for a while, and then I said, "I'm concerned that you're going to have some sort of a breakdown if you don't let your family in." His eyes filled with tears, and he said in a surprised voice, "I think I might be breaking down now." I watched his wife and kids move toward him and support his sadness and his sense of being overwhelmed. They loved him, comforted him, and connected on a deeper level with him than ever before. His wife said, "I want you to always let me know when you feel this way."
This man had a long road ahead of him to put his professional life back together. But, fueled by the grace of the people he loved, he was able to better persevere. Just as this man learned to do, you need to use your feelings to gain the support and love of those who will help you deal with, if not solve, your problem. (In the next chapter we will deal more fully with the importance of others in crunching problems.)
Excerpted from Now What Do I Do? by John Townsend Copyright © 2010 by John Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
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