I have a wonderful new client who came to me with some goals that she wanted to work on through coaching. Not so unreasonable you might be thinking.
And a couple of months ago I would have jumped right into the goals with her, making sure they were SMART and all the rest of it, being there to encourage and spur her on.
But with the clarity I have now, I could see that there was a stress around the goals. She was making them mean something about her value and worth which created a pressure to achieve them. I knew that she could work really hard, achieve the goals, but still have the sense of something missing that she started with.
At the other end of the spectrum I have heard a few people recently say, “It doesn’t feel right to me to do this now. I’ll wait for a sign to act.” And it is clear from the way they say it that they are being held back by insecurity or fear that has nothing to do with a higher intelligence.
It got me thinking about goals, hard work, inspiration and stress. It seems to me there are three ways of understanding our personal agency and the indication of how accurate this is is how we use and respond to negative feelings. I am calling it the stress test.
1. I have to make it happen
From this place, we place tremendous responsibility on our shoulders because we believe we are on our own in this game. We work out of our intellect, acquiring more and more knowledge, working harder and harder and keeping an ever tighter control. We make it about our personal discipline and commitment. This is the place I was in for most of my life, believing I had to prove myself to myself and to other people or lose everything. It is true that a lot can get done here, exams are passed, promotions happen, more money is earned but at what cost to the individual?
Goals – When we are acting from this perspective, we use a goal as a symbol of our value and our character. As long as it involves some form of apparent progress, a goal is taken as a good thing simply because it is a goal. We don’t question why we want to achieve it. We don’t have the insight to see that when we do things to save face or impress others or to prove our value we are only reinforcing the thoughts that tell us we are unworthy or that we need to earn respect. We need to achieve the goal at all costs and if we don’t we feel like a failure. Then even when we achieve it, we still don’t feel worthy or respected.
Discipline and commitment – we believe that we make things happen through the pure force of our will. There is a tension and restlessness that goes along with everything we do.
Personal role – it is about our identity as an individual. What we achieve reflects how worthy we are and how hard we can work. We are on a treadmill and the minute we take a break we lose our sense of who we are.
The stress test – We force ourselves out of our comfort zone in order to grow, feeling the fear and stress the whole way. Indeed, we use stress and fear as an indication that the goal is worthy enough. Being comfortable or relaxed is a sign that we are not pushing ourselves hard enough, that we are lazy or uncommitted. We only deserve the good stuff that comes our way if we have worked hard for it. Stress is a sign that we are working hard and deserve the rewards.
2. I’m leaving it all up to the universe/God/higher intelligence
Here, we wait for the conditions in our mind and environment to be perfect before we will act.
The problem is that this is unlikely to happen.
There is a constant stream of thoughts going through our mind. We have the ability to create our own reality according to which of those thoughts we believe and act on. If we passively wait for the mind to clear before we do anything then we could be waiting a very long time. This ‘waiting for wisdom’ becomes an excuse to avoid doing anything that we have thoughts about.
Goals – Goals are seen as too wordly or egotistical, about imposing our will on the universe
Discipline and commitment – discipline, commitment or personal agency is seen as a bad thing. We are like a leaf being blown around by whatever signs we perceive.
Personal role – there is no awareness of our personal role and of how we can use our free will to create from a place of deep intelligence and connection.
The stress test – we use stress and fear as a sign to stop, do nothing or change direction. We feel that everything should align in harmony as a sign to act.
Stress is a sign to stop.
3. I use my free will to make decisions from my deepest intelligence and to stay on the course when thoughts are stressful
This is the really wonderful place to be. I have seen this in action many times with the great coaches I have been working with this year. The extraordinary peaceful dynamism of these people who live from a place of inspiration and free will is deeply inspiring
Goals – We question why we want what we want. We ask ourselves what we are making it mean. Are we making the achievement of the goal about our value? Are we doing it to earn someone’s respect or love? Do we think we will become a better, more worthy person for having achieved the goal. We have the insight to let go of all goals that relate to a lack in our sense of self because we know that pursing a goal to achieve this will only reinforce the belief that we are lacking something.
When a goal or venture comes to us from deep within, with nothing on it other than the simple sense that it is for us to do, then we know we have a goal worth pursuing. As we stay in a place of clarity, we know that if our insight indicated a change of direction, tactic or goal, we could do that instantly without any sense of failure.
Discipline and commitment – we are committed to recognising when we have a clear mind, to distinguishing between thoughts and the unchanging principles of our experience. We exercise discipline in continuing to do what we know we are here to do despite stressful, angry or fearful thoughts. We are committed to creating the reality we want through our choice of which thoughts to believe.
Personal role – we understand that we have an individual purpose on earth. We show up to this purpose even (especially?) when our thoughts are trying to tell us it is too difficult. We act on insights that come at moments of clarity, connection and peacefulness. We know that everything we do comes from a higher intelligence and at the same time through our free will and who we are being, we shape how that intelligence is manifested.
The stress test – we know that stress and fear are simply created from stressful and anxious thoughts. We know we have the free will to continue what we are doing regardless of these thoughts and that the less attention we put on them the sooner they will disappear from our minds. As we continually move forward, using our clarity and inner guidance to navigate, we find that we easily take on bigger and bigger ventures that would have terrified us before. Stress is a sign that we are stuck in our thoughts and not to make changes from this place. We stay in the game and we make our decisions when the stress has cleared.