Lost In Transformation
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Arguably one of Winston Churchill’s best quotes and pieces of wisdom. We don’t typically go running head first into pain, but once we are there the only way out is through. I suppose Robert Frost had some good quotes too.
About a year ago I suggested we all make an effort to commit to the changes we envisioned for the future. It was a large ask to put action behind the big talk of New Year’s Eve. Once the holiday decorations have been stored away and routines are back in gear the ambitions of resolutions quickly begin to fade. The gym parking-lot provides ample evidence; bustling with enthusiasm in the beginning of January there isn’t a parking space to be found, that is up until around March when the population returns to its normalcy. The motivation that stirs excitement and ambition has the propensity to wane, much like any other emotion motivation is fleeting. When the excitement wears off the less seductive cousin of motivation arrives, commitment.
If that last sentence raised some levels of anxiety, rest assured you are not alone. Commitment, akin to change, takes conviction. A certain about of faith is required that whatever the endeavor you have set out on is worth the discomfort. It is worth tolerating the less enticing emotions of frustration, anticipation, boredom, and at times powerlessness. When we make a commitment, we are negotiating with the future. We are accepting that what is sacrificed in the course of change will lead the desired outcome. The anxiety, the discomfort, are key components for growth and the ability to tolerate such emotional states will determine the level of success.
While motivation can serve as a catalyst, it is resilience and commitment that sustains progress. Imagine the beginning of a marathon, when the race begins the runners are vibrating with energy. Halfway into the run, the starting line is no longer visible but neither is the finish-line. The initial excitement has worn off and the gravity of what lies ahead sets in, physical muscle is put to work and so is mental stamina. Staying the course until completion requires perseverance through external and internal obstacles. Have you ever ran through a rain storm? If you allow for it the unpredictable will set you off course. It takes perseverance to move through self-doubt, boredom, and – you guessed it - anxiety.
Often, I am asked how to “get rid” of anxiety. The answer is you don’t. For better or worse anxiety is a part of the human condition and a necessary function for our ability to survive. For example, when faced with a dangerous situation the portion of our brain that modulates emotion-based behavior is activated. This small, almond shape piece of the brain called the amygdala becomes stimulated and we enter into a fight, flight, or freeze mode which allows for us to make quick decisions. A useful function if you are fighting in combat, or fleeing from a burning building. However, overstimulated, the response becomes maladaptive and is triggered in situations that do not necessitate a fear-based reaction. Heightened adrenaline and cortisol are not typically necessary for attending a social gathering. Yet, many people experience anxiety in benign situations due to a perceived threat. In other words, your mind plays tricks on you. You begin to assume that the people at the party you are attending are judging you negatively and as a result your mind fires a signal that protection is necessary. Your body begins to prepare for danger, except in reality you are merely attempting to make small talk with an acquaintance.
So how does this relate to change?
Change, specifically long-lasting change, is slow. In a world that has become accustomed to instant gratification slow progress is not only unappealing, it leaves plenty of space for frustration and self-doubt. Thoughts such as “I knew I would fail at this” and “this was a dumb idea to begin with” start to seep in, creating worry that all the effort and energy is a waste. Pedaling backwards there is a tendency to become convinced that this is the wrong path, or life was easier before. Instead of doubling down in resilience and commitment, it’s easier to ditch the goal or effort and fane “at least I tried.”
However, the lyrical musing of rock-blues artist Nathaniel Rateliff does a great job of calling this mentality out as merely an unafforded excuse in “Hey Mama”:
You ain't gone far enough to say
At least I've tried
You ain't worked hard enough to say
Well I've done mine
You ain't run far enough to say
My legs have failed
You ain't gone far enough
You ain't worked hard enough
You ain't run far enough to say
Ain't gonna get any better
The key take away? You’re going to have to find some grit if you want to achieve your goals.
No, you don’t get “rid” of anxiety, you learn to process and manage. You reflect on the discomfort and attempt to understand the fear. You step away and look for inspiration in other areas of your life such as music, art, and education. Change is a process and deserves space to evolve. You are a process and deserve commitment to grow, embrace the boredom and fear as an investment to your evolution.