Avoid the Trees—Aim for the Spaces
I know a wise skier who loves to ski down challenging slopes in deep powder at high speeds. With no path to follow, my friend manages to quickly navigate through the trees and avoid obstacles. When asked how he manages the feat, his response is, “I look at the spaces and gaps not the trees. When you look at the trees, your body turns in that direction and you hit them.”
This is sage advice for all of us dealing with difficulties in our path. If we turn and focus our attention on the obstacles, we will be overwhelmed, burdened and often demobilized. We figuratively “hit the trees.” If we focus on the clear path, or the positive events, we will become energized and invigorated. We won’t be flattened by our difficulties.
Figure Your Percentages
In dealing with clients with anxiety, I asked them to use a pie chart to diagram their stressors. For example, if a client says, “I am worried about people not liking me.” I ask the client to consider all the people in their life who they have known even briefly.
“What percentages of these people haven’t liked you?” Usually the client comes up with about 3%. (I am always surprised that regardless of the client or the issue, the source of their ruminating is about 3% of their actual experience.)
I have them stand back, look at it their diagram and then I comment, “That is a very small percentage. So, 97% of all the people you have known like you and you worry about 3%?” Clients are usually rather sheepish about this realization and are able to adjust their previous appraisals.
Occasionally worry may be about something that needs to be problem solved. For example if you define the problem as “I eat too much junk food” and your pie chart shows you make poor nutrition choices 90% of the time, you may need to come up with an action plan.
Next time you are worried, anxious or depressed try this formula:
- Define the problem. Sometimes just defining something takes it away from the emotional part of our brain into logic and it feels better.
- Determine Frequency: How often does the problem occur? Draw your pie chart.
- Problem Solve or Refocus on something else if the percentage is under 40%.
- Mind The Gap and Spaces: Keep your thoughts on positive things happening in your life.
Often worriers have “sticky” brains. Events get stuck in their mind and they pay too much attention to relatively small details instead of the large picture. What we pay attention to can absorbs us and cause tremendous stress.
In Great Britain, riders of their mass transit system are cautioned to “mind the gap,” meaning look out for the space between the transit car and the platform so you don’t trip as you exit and enter.
If you “mind the gap” in your emotional life and avoid rumination, you will find the clear path.
Camille Curtis Foster/ /801.472.7134/ firstname.lastname@example.org