69% of a couple’s problems or challenges are perpetual. A.k.a., they’re not going to change much over the course of the relationship. This is what couples researcher John Gottman has observed over his 20+ years of studying couple’s behavior. Whatever subject you and your partner have conflict about today, you’re likely to still be having conflict over in 5 or 10 years. Gottman, scientist that he is, probably would take issue with my generalization, but I think that in addition to our relationship problems being perpetual, probably the majority of our individual challenges and issues aren’t going to drastically shift either.
But before you go crawl back under the covers, let me say I think this is actually good news for us.
Why good news? Because that fact gives us permission–no, actually encourages most of us (myself included) to stop banging our heads against walls that aren’t going to move. And just because the walls might not move, doesn’t mean that our experience of bumping up against the walls can’t change drastically.
Now, I’m not saying to assume that you can’t change or resolve anything in your life. Even IF 69% of problems were perpetual, that still leaves 31% which can change or end. I think, however, that we can all probably make a list right now of issues in our lives that we feel we have a good chance of tackling and another list of issues we’ve been wrestling around with for the better part of our lives.
For me, for instance, a tendency towards anxiety and over-analysis or stress during transitions are some challenges I’ve had for most of my life. I have invested considerable time and energy understanding and trying to shift these tendencies. To a certain degree they have changed, but they’ve never gone away completely. What IS changing, is the way I relate to these challenges.
Just as meditation and mindfulness teaches us to develop awareness of, compassion for, and non-attachment to our thoughts, ultimately we practice meditation and mindfulness to be able to apply these qualities to our lives in action. These are the qualities which, despite the ongoing tendency of anxiety, depression, disorganization, hot tempers, and so on, can help us relate to our lives in lighter, more fluid, more compassionate ways.
I might not be able to prevent myself getting anxious during a big life transition, but I can:
anticipate that anxiety might arise and reduce any anger or disappointment in myself
notice it early on after it does arise so that I can respond quickly to take care of myself
use humor to lighten the experience
relax into the sensations and emotion and reduce the fight/flight/freeze response.
These are just some ways that I can improve my life even if I don’t get rid of my anxiety.
We can grow and change in beautiful ways, but we have the most power to do that effectively when we make friends with our enduring character traits; our temperaments, our tendencies, the particular constellation of beauty and bunk with which we entered this world.
What qualities about yourself are you tired of trying to change? To which ones might you bring gentle acceptance and skillfulness? If the challenge is going to be there anyway, can you make friends with it?
I just finished Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance and I highly recommend it. Aziz Ansari is a comedian and the main character of his show, Master of None, which is hilarious. He wrote the book to explore why dating in this culture at this time basically sucks. I won’t go into the whole book, but I’m going to focus on a concept he discusses in the middle of the book: maximizers and satisficers.
Maximizers are folks who want to be as sure as possible that they are making the right purchases and choices. They are the folks who research every taco place in NYC before picking one so that they can make sure to go to “the best.” They are the folks who go to 42 open houses and are in the real estate market for 3 years before they put in an offer on a home.
Satisficers might do a little research, but they pick more quickly and are less interested in finding “the best.” They might not mind buying the first jacket they see in the store if they like it or renting the first apartment they go look at if it seems to basically meet their criteria.
Most of us are some combo of maximizer and satisficer. But in our affluent Western society, more and more of us are maximizers in more and more areas. And here’s the clincher: research shows that even when a maximizer ends up with a purchase (or partner or experience) that is “better” than that of a satisficer, THE SATISFICER IS HAPPIER.
Even if you pick the BEST TACO PLACE in the world after an hour of research, you won’t enjoy it as much as the person who picked the 2nd taco place they saw on the street that looked good and smelled great.
WHY?!? And why are we all becoming maximizers?
With greater choice, comes higher expectation and more comparison. With more comparison comes the possibility that somewhere out there, there is an even better choice. And with the possibility that your choice is less than ideal, there is dissatisfaction and SELF-BLAME.
As Barry Schwartz, the author of Paradox of Choice, states, “The secret to happiness is lower expectations.”
Now obviously, there are some serious benefits to choice and to having options. No argument there. But there’s a spectrum between no choice and too much choice and we’re leaning out on the extremity of that spectrum, goggly eyed and freaking out over the 175 different kinds of salad dressing and 72 different cell phones we have to decide between.
So. This holiday season, when we are all barraged with messages trying to tempt us into buying the best gift, making the best cookie, hosting the best party, wearing the best outfit…try this on for size:
Aim for average. Embrace “good enough.” Revel in so-so.
Let’s all put on our satisficer hats and enjoy the sh$%&t out of what we’ve got. Right here, right now.
P.S. watch Barry Schwartz’s tedtalk: The Paradox of Choice
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question we’ve almost all been asked, as children, over and over. The “be” in the question always refers to work/career–as if that is the most important part of who we become.
And WHEN are people grown-ups? Is it age 18? (Not.) Is it post-college age? How about right around the midlife crisis time? Nope, I actually would say that midlife crisis (which happens all the time and doesn’t necessarily involve red sports cars) occurs right alongside the realization that you’ve become a “grown-up” and you haven’t actually figured out everything you thought you would and you might have made some decisions that aren’t proving to be as fun or exciting (parenthood? marriage?) as you’d always imagined.
Usually the signposts of adulthood that people mention have something to do with seeming to “have your sh@$%t together.” When I’ve asked around, one friend said she’d thought when she was a grown up her refrigerator would be neatly organized. My mother always said half-jokingly that she’d truly feel grown up when she had matching bedroom furniture (I guess my mother wasn’t grown-up until post-retirement).
However, we can probably all agree that there are some pretty organized folks out there who’ve got very little in the emotional maturity bank.
The fact is, in this time of globalization and individualism, many of us have largely distanced from any religion or culture that provides education for, and rituals to mark, the transition from youth to adulthood. Certain markers are laid out as goals and expectations (varying depending on class/income/education):
But what do you do if you reach some or all of these goals and you still feel like you’re faking it till you make it?
Realize you’re not alone. As Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.” Not-knowing is perhaps more of a sign of maturity than knowing (think of the all-knowing teenager). Life is both too complex and too simple to comprehend. The best we can do is continue to let go of thinking we should be able to tie everything up in neat little packages.
Maybe instead of growing up, we should aim for growing wise. We all have wise parts and confused parts–the more grown-wise we are, the more we are able to notice the confused or scared parts. We can let the wise parts lead the confused parts instead of letting the confused parts run the show. The more we listen to the wise parts and let them lead, the more we are able to relax into each moment…to let go of needing to define or compare ourselves. We simply become more comfortable being who we are more and more fully.
Dear Blog Friends,
Recently my site was messed around with by hackers but now it’s fixed. The mess affected the site statistics so any clicks on my site are greatly appreciated right now.
Today is Yom Kippur…the Jewish holiday where we set the intention to make better choices and be more kind in the New Year, and where we ask for forgiveness from those we’ve hurt–even animals and our lovely planet Earth.
We ask to be “inscribed in the book of life” for a sweet, healthy, New Year and I wish the same for all of you.
A new blog post on aging is coming soon!
It’s so hard for us–being animals with overgrown brains. All of the biological systems on which we depend–our bodies–can’t help but respond as animals do. Our bodies are on the look-out to see if we’re safe, if we’re going to get enough of what we need…and we can’t help but subscribe so much significance to our lives. Our lives ARE significant–to us at least–to others who love us–but what do we do when our tribe, our village, our family, our cities don’t meet our needs?
We are animals, longing to be nestled in the dark den. Surrounded by brothers and sisters. Eating and playing. Living and growing. These are the deepest longings of our cells. If, when we’re young, we experience some lack–of safety, of food, of nurturing–we carry that through our lives searching for the pack that will give us what we never got and so desperately needed.
It may be your journey to find healing from the wounds of the family who wasn’t able to give you what they probably never had themselves. But there is a hitch. In my practice–I see people who turn again and again to those wounded families hoping for healing. Hoping for a chance to get the love and acceptance from their mothers and fathers which they didn’t get as children. But most often, unless those family members have also been on a path of growing and healing my clients are disappointed. The mother still doesn’t stand up for her daughter, the father is still critical of his son.
What do you do when you need to heal but your family won’t give you what you need? Won’t apologize? Doesn’t even see your pain? Still believes the judgments you’ve come to internalize?
Here are some steps for moving forward:
1. Turn towards your inner child: For all the cheese of the term–it’s true. The parts of yourself that are longing for healing need attention and if your family can’t or won’t give it to you, you have to give it to yourself. Think of a young child or animal in your life whom you nurture and send that same kind of protection, empathy, and kindness to the young You.
2. Write a letter which you won’t send (unless you want to): Even if your family won’t listen and won’t understand–you need to express your disappointment, anger, righteousness, passion. Center yourself before writing this. Consider burning it ritually and sending the ashes into the ocean or some body of water…
3. Find relationships which support a new kind of family: Find friends, teachers, therapists who nurture, love, and accept you for who you are. Who communicate with you in kindness and authenticity.
4. Challenge yourself (in a kind way) to understand your own family’s wounding: It’s easy to play the internal tape of “If I was only X enough they would have loved me more (or criticized me less or whatever).” No. It’s not you. It was their job to raise you. They were your family. You ended up playing a role in the general dynamic, but it’s a parent (or guardian’s) job to keep their children safe and to nurture them. But they could only give what they had themselves. They could only teach what they understood themselves. It doesn’t make pain or abuse or neglect okay, but it is the truth about why it happens. It can be freeing to see how stuck they are and to see if you can forgive or understand how they came to be who they are.
5. Catch yourself trying to get what you need from them if your Wise Self wants to let that go: The ego part of you (or the inner child) tends to think that their love and approval are necessary. It’s certainly a beautiful thing to get that love and approval, but if it ain’t gonna happen, it’s going to prolong the pain. This often comes in the form of unrealistic expectations for “this get-together to be different” or “this time they’ll listen and respect what I say.” Check yourself for realistic expectations.
6. Allow the feelings of pain and disappointment to be there, and then move forward into your own beautiful life with tenderness–hug the folks who are ready to hug you, and know that you are a whole, lovable person by virtue of being alive.