I have a problem and it sometimes makes me feel ashamed. I should know and do better - at least that’s what my mind tells me.
It affects me every day and even though I know it’s a problem, I still do it. When I wake up in the morning, I start my day telling myself that I won’t do it … but then I do.
You wouldn’t know from the outside that this happens to me. I still get things done. But it sucks some of my joy away, and it’s often caused from wanting to avoid discomfort.
But I know I can change it.
It’s part of being human that we end up in unhealthy patterns. That we unconsciously slip into ways of being that take us out of feeling at ease and joyful. We also have the capacity to become aware and make different choices about who we are and how we behave.
So what is it?
Well, maybe you’re reading this message on yours ... it’s my phone. Or more specifically being hooked on my phone instead of being in my life.
The challenge of being human
We’re designed to survive at all costs.
Our whole nervous system is geared up to make sure we avoid danger and reproduce. We’re not set with a default for happiness. That desire is a much more recent development for us as humans.
So even though we WANT to be happy, at ease, balanced and joyful we have to learn and remember how to do it. And sometimes we need some help to reframe what “happy” even means!
What does this have to do with my phone?
In the modern world, “danger” doesn’t come in the form of sabre-toothed tigers. It more often comes from within - the pressure to constantly be on, to push for more, to achieve more, to keep up. Those messages are in-built in our society and the social media that we consume. Do you feel that too?
The more we consume, the more we feel our own "lack".
We start to believe, even if it’s unconsciously, that we’re not enough. There’s an endless stream of things we should be doing, achieving and having.
That feeling of not being enough triggers a primal response within us - the desire to be loved and accepted. That drive is crucial to our survival as a species. A baby instinctively knows that it needs to cry and have attention or it will die.
That feeling of falling short in some way feels unbearable because it feels like a threat. To that primitive part of who we are, being rejected or not enough IS a survival threat. Being accepted signals being in the tribe and safe as a result.
Falling into the phone wormhole
It feels horrible to be with the feeling of our “not-enough-ness”.
It can show up as an inner voice telling us we’re not doing the right things or not as good as others. However, It often doesn’t manifest as a fully formed thought at all. It’s more like a hidden driver of our behaviour.
A feeling of being unable to settle, a restlessness and a craving.
Falling into habits that give momentary respite but make us feel worse afterwards
Trying harder and harder, faster and faster but still feeling like the sand is slipping away from under your feet and taking you under.
That’s where, for me, my phone has crept in.
It’s sneaked it’s way into my programming as a default way to escape this feeling of being human. Sometimes without me even being aware of having the thought, my phone is in my hand and I’m mid scroll.
What else can it look like?
Maybe for you it’s not your phone:
Perhaps it’s finding yourself at the cupboard eating food when you’re not hungry, craving fullness.
Or it’s compulsive shopping where the high of a new find wears off too quickly.
It could be that one glass of wine each night that turns into a bottle: the joy gone as it morphs into an escape and distraction.
Whatever behaviour has emerged as your anaesthesia and escape, there’s nothing wrong with you.
You’re not broken or flawed.
You're simply being human.
And there’s another way, no matter if your preferred escape is the phone scroll wormhole, the snack cupboard vortex or the glass of wine vacuum.
Feeling it differently
Luckily, thanks to the many practices I have in my toolkit, I can (mostly!) notice where I’m at and take action. This isn’t something we “fix” and then it’s done. I’ve been at this point before. Maybe you have too. Being a healthy, happy human is a practice after all.
What’s needed is a shift to a way of thinking and being. Learning the skills to open up and be with the difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations that come with being human without getting yanked around by them.
Just like when you struggle in sinking sand you inexorably sink deeper, when you fight and avoid your “humanness”, in all it’s messiness, you get more sucked down into feeling stuck.
The ABC of Being More Human
Helping people drop the struggle and live differently is at the core of all the work I do. This is a BIG topic so we're just scratching the surface here but I do like a framework to hang ideas from so I'll share one with you here. (Plus stay with me to the end for access to a free practice that will help you to give this a whirl).
To move out of the avoidance and struggle cycle, there’s three steps:
You can think of them as a mindset - a set of skills, habits and behaviours that will help you to respond differently.
Ready for ABC?
A - ttend
This is the very first step. We need to attend to the full range of emotions, thoughts and sensations - even the uncomfortable ones.
There’s lots of ways to do this and my favourite is probably the simplest. Mindfulness practice: paying attention (attending!) on purpose to your present moment experience without judgement.
This doesn't have to be an eyes closed formal practice, although when you do that you build the “muscle” for doing it more easily. You can think of it as a quality of attention rather than a special thing you have to do whilst sitting on a cushion with a lit candle and zen music playing.
Curiosity and Openness are the two qualities we’re going for here.
Why do it?
Imagine trying to swim from one place to another. Before you start, you’re super clear on where you’re heading but once you set off you’ll drift and be pushed off course. That’s natural. Pausing and lifting your head regularly will mean you keep heading in the direction that matters to you.
The more you can be aware of what you’re experiencing, the easier it becomes to create a choice around how you want to behave. To move towards the life you want and the person you want to be, you need to learn to notice where you’re at, moment by moment, so you can course correct if needed.
The next step is to bring some friendliness towards yourself and what you’re feeling.
Once you notice all those difficult thoughts and feelings it can send you running for the snack cupboard to escape and the last thing you might feel like doing is befriending the experience. Our inner dialogue can be a harsh place.
The downside to that tendency is that we never get to see things in the light of day where they have a habit of shrinking to a more manageable size and disappearing on their own (like monsters in the shadows as a child lying in bed - when the light flicks on they disappear!).
So instead, we need to bring some friendliness to the experience.
There’s two sides to this
First is being friendly with the inner voice that might be piping up and saying mean things to you about who you are and how well you’re doing. It’s actually trying to keep you safe, it’s just a little misguided. So can you say “thank you” to your mind and instead say “I’ve got this!”.
Secondly, being kind to yourself that you’re having this experience. You, as much as anyone else, deserve compassion and kindness. Ask yourself “what do you need? What can I do to help?” and let yourself receive some kindness from you - just like you would offer a friend.
Connecting to yourself and to others is a sure fire way to put you on the path to a meaningful life.
This is actually one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle and takes some reflection and commitment. But don’t let that put you off! Like anything, it’s small steps taken consistently that gets results.
Some questions to ask yourself regularly are:
who and what is important to me in my life?
how much time do I spend doing things that feel meaningful to me?
what needs do I have that are currently not being met?
what is the smallest thing I can do today that would meet my needs and/or connect me to what matters to me?
This is a great start point and gets easier the more you do it - the chances are if you haven't spent much time attending or befriending, you will find it tricky to know what your wants and needs are.
Don’t give up exploring.
I know it can sometimes be hard to picture how this would actually work. Understanding what you need to do in your mind is not the same as being able to take action. I get it.
To help you explore the ABC further, here’s a gift for you: a short self compassion practice that will help you to attend, befriend and connect.
Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes!
Is it time for more?
How are you doing with your ABC’s?
What does your struggle and avoidance cycle look like?
Would you like to unlock more in your life so you can thrive and feel purposeful and happy?
Maybe it's time for us to work together to help you stop struggling and start living fully.
You can book in for a free discovery call with me HERE and let’s see what your next step could be.