What Do You Gain From Your Pain? Let It Go
What? You gain from your pain?! Yes, we sometimes choose ineffective, negative behavior because of its payoffs or benefits. Maybe we believe it is the best choice we can make at the moment. Perhaps we elect to do it because, in the past, it may have worked for us to get what we wanted. Or perhaps we saw it working for someone else. Finally, we might choose the wrong actions because we’d rather not do something more difficult or unpleasant, no matter how effective it may be.
Another reason you may choose to do the wrong things is that you have mixed feelings about improving. As difficult as it is to accept, what you may consider the problem—disorganization, poor time management, lack of focus and resulting distraction, eating or working too much, stress, etc.—can actually help you avoid success, commitment, and/or responsibility. Unless you address these issues, you may continue to sabotage your success over and over. I publish this blog post, a summary of the 12th chapter of my book “Leadership Success in Spite of Stress”, because I see so many people frustrated at making lasing change for the above reasons.
Let It Go Principle 1: Change Has Many Negatives
You may not be consciously aware of this, but changing in positive ways actually has several disadvantages. For example, as you eliminate stress in your life, you may get less attention. A calm, deliberate, organized person seems to draw less attention than a tense, unpredictable, somewhat disorganized person. Balancing your life and re-evaluating your priorities requires you to take risks. Risk is another disadvantage. What if your efforts don’t work? You must face the unknown, the unpredictable. Managing your stress through various techniques may also cost you time and money.
You may not like or be prepared to deal with what life would offer if things got better. You may be afraid of, or unable to accept, a different reality. Your current situation may be stressful, upsetting, or painful but it may also be familiar, reliable, and comfortable. No matter how painful it may be, believe it or not, stress may be a habit that you’d rather not give up.
Let It Go Principle 2: You Might Prefer Things as They Are
For instance, at some level you may prefer the hassles of stress, such as unconsciously pushing others away with your impatience and pressuring yourself and others to accomplish more and more. Perhaps intense competition, the tendency to dominate social or business situations, and other Type A behaviors actually serve you in some way. You might act in these ways because at some level you don’t feel you deserve close, positive relationships or the warmth and support of healthy, kind people.
Short-term stress can be a great motivator at work, urging you to meet deadlines or complete time-sensitive tasks like finally writing that dreaded email message or polishing up that presentation that is due tomorrow. So you may subconsciously maintain your stress level. However, many health problems such as weight gain and high blood pressure are associated with prolonged stress.
You may somehow prefer the troubles of working too much over a more well-balanced lifestyle. After all, working too much may provide a convenient escape from the uncomfortable feelings and challenges that close relationships bring. You may unconsciously push others away with your anger and conflict because, at some level, you don’t feel you deserve to be loved and accepted or you fear close relationships.
Maybe you continually struggle with punctuality because (subconsciously) you’re angry and resentful that people close to you continually harass you and nag you about your lateness. In this case, your being late may be your way of asserting your independence, “digging in your heels” so to speak, or passively-aggressively expressing your anger.
Let It Go Principle 3: Consider the Payoffs to Status Quo
Unless you consider the payoffs of your undesired behavior, you may continue to sabotage your progress and build your frustration. For example, perfectionism has some valuable payoffs. First of all, you may believe that if you weren’t such a perfectionist, you wouldn’t do much. You may be convinced that, unless you constantly insisted on perfection, you would perform poorly. Secondly, you produce excellent work when you strive for perfection, right? So you try very hard to always achieve outstanding results.
It’s critical to acknowledge these benefits or payoffs of perfectionism if you want to overcome this stressful habit. Nevertheless, as I mention in chapter 6 of my book “Leadership Success in Spite of Stress”, this personal belief system also has many more drawbacks than benefits. Once you weigh the pros and cons of perfectionism, you will be much more willing to lower your standards and, hence, your stress.
Remember, there may be something about your situation that you like, something preventing you from changing it. Your problem may be reinforcing because it provides subtle or subconscious benefits. For this reason, you may unintentionally hold onto your old behavior rather than change it. Regardless of your undesired behavior, there may be something about it that’s rewarding. Your desire to hold onto that reward may create your own resistance.
Penny is an example of a client who had a tendency to set standards higher than everyone else’s. When she succeeded in meeting them, she felt she was achieving great things. This perfectionism fulfilled her need for acceptance and recognition at work. A high achiever, she often worked into the wee hours of the night getting that PowerPoint presentation just right, redoing other’s work, or responding to everything personally because everything is of equal importance to her.
For Penny to give up dwelling on the details and micromanaging her employees, she had to let go her urge to be flawless. I asked her if there were other ways to gain attention, validation, support, and self-esteem. Her work kept her isolated from people. She had almost no social interaction, excitement, or recognition. Penny admitted that it might help if she pursued a long-lost hobby.
Let It Go Principle 4: There’s a Better Way to Meet Your Needs
So Penny went back to playing tennis with one of her friends. During the winter months, they played racquetball indoors. Since she loved gardening, she decided to grow a flower garden with her husband. Going out to eat with friends once a month was another routine task Penny added to her stress-management agenda. She had few friends and did little socializing, even in her personal life. Playing tennis, going out to eat with friends, and growing a garden with her husband really added fun, socialization, and excitement to her life. As a result, she was able to let go of her tendency to overwork, micro-manage, and other perfectionistic behaviors. More information about giving up perfectionism can be found in my book, “Leadership Success in Spite of Stress”. It is available for purchase at only $16 on Amazon.com.
Author, Trainer/Facilitator, Executive Coach
LPI (Leadership Practices Inventory) Certified Coach
DISC Certified Behavior Analyst
AdvantEdge Success Coaching & Training
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