One inescapable truth is things will not always go your way. Your landlord suddenly raises the rent, you lose your job, your body acts out with a strange new symptom, your child’s teacher asks for a meeting, the roof leaks, the car dies, you get the idea. No one singled you out for extra hardship, it’s just part of the human condition.
As much as you plan and prepare, the law of unintended consequences reigns. Luckily, in the midst of a new challenge (read stressful event), you can find your inner gyroscope by cultivating curiosity.
This kind of curiosity involves an acute awareness and inquiry into whatever is happening now. With time and practice, you can add curiosity to that first reaction and shift your knee-jerk emotional response from stressed out to calm.
Shifting your perspective through re-framing thoughts is a classic cognitive behavior therapy technique. If looking through the lens of internal family systems therapy (IFS), it would be called being in self energy. According to IFS, self energy is apparent whenever we feel one of the 8 C words: calm, connected, creative, compassionate, curious, courageous, clear or confident.
While you can consciously choose to be intellectually curious about any situation you find yourself in, there are other ways to capture your heightened energy and re-route it to calmer territory. Even if you have a trauma history and have been strongly triggered by life’s curveballs, you can still build emotional muscle with curiosity. That then gets translated into a larger repertoire of responses.
The first alternate approach is to be curious about physical sensations.
What is happening in my body now? It’s not enough to ask the general question as details are your friends here. Do a body scan, notice if any particular physical feeling wants your attention. As best as you can, name what you’re sensing. Does it have a color, shape, movement, size, energy, density, temperature, pressure, tightness, numbness, weight, etc.?
You can also be curious about your own history by asking yourself:
Have I felt this way before?
Did it pass?
How did I handle it?
How would I like to handle it now?
What would a new way of reacting look and feel like?
Remember: However you dealt with difficulties in the past you lived through them all. That’s irrefutable. Give yourself the respect you deserve for soldiering on through thick and thin, and watch your confidence soar.
If you’re seeking connection, you might ask:
Is there anyone who could help me through this? Practically speaking, do I need to call a roofer, car mechanic, doctor, therapist, etc.? Do I want emotional comfort? Whom can I call? Even if no one comes to mind, you can always call crisis services. Someone will be there 24 hours a day to listen and support you.
Ask yourself if you can separate this challenge into smaller parts. Thinking of handling a big issue, like finding a new job, can feel overwhelming. One way to lessen that is dividing the task into smaller, more manageable bits. Perhaps you’re qualified for a number of different jobs. Rather than look them all up at once, pick one and explore those options. If that feels daunting, call someone you know who works in that field and ask them what opportunities might be available. If that feels like too much, write a list of all your talents and abilities to brainstorm what you might really like to do. And, if that feels like too much, take a walk, do a yoga nidra practice, or make some tea. Anything you do gives you a sense of control and agency, both of which help build your confidence.
The most important thing in any difficult situation is to practice self compassion. As powerful as it can be, it’s unlikely to help if you suddenly decide to be kind to yourself in the midst of a crisis. Far better to practice self compassion every day in little ways so it will be there when something big comes along. There are tons of wonderful self compassion meditations on the free Insight Timer app. You can also explore YouTube videos by Kristen Neff or Chris Germer. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, Kristen Neff wrote a comprehensive and elucidating workbook on self compassion.
No matter how you do it, curiosity shifts everything: your thoughts, physical feelings and emotions. It allows you to look at a stressful situation with fresh eyes as it soothes your nervous system. Next time something daunting lands in your lap remember to be curious. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to find equanimity, no matter what’s harshing your mellow.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang