Tired of struggling? Want a better life? Simple—just do it!
If you’re struggling in life, not making great choices, experiencing psychological friction in the form of doubts, fears, and negatives–even feeling anxious, or depressed, it is probably time for a bit of coaching—Self-Coaching. If any of the above symptoms are a part of your life, you probably aren’t aware that your life is being contaminated by what I call reflexive thinking. I wasn’t aware of this either, not until I had a bit of an awakening back in the late eighties when I ran my first New York City marathon. It was this race that opened my eyes to a simple truth, one that has become the cornerstone of my Self-Coaching program. Let me take you back to that fateful November day and my epiphany.
It was 1988, then-Mayor, Ed Koch started the race with a blast from the ceremonial cannon. It was an unseasonably warm November day as I jockeyed for position among the 27,000 runners funneling onto the Verrazano Bridge. Although I started off with energy and adrenaline pumping (giving hi-fives to the kids along the streets in Brooklyn, laughing, and having the time of my life), it wasn’t long before I began to recognize how ill-prepared I was for what lay ahead. It was the midway point–the Pulaski Bridge in Queens–thirteen miles into the race that things began to crumble fast.
It was at this point that my body and mind began to collapse. I guess I could describe what I felt as an acute form of both physical and mental depression. I just couldn’t go on. I was defeated, miserable, I felt like I wanted to die. Everything hurt, even my hair! If I could have figured out a way to get from Queens to Central Park, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would have dropped out of the race. I was desperate.
It was at that moment that fate intervened. Draped over one of the buildings was a banner; it must have been two stories high! I immediately recognized the trademark Nike Swoosh; next to it were the words,” Just do it!” (Nike may have introduced this now famous slogan for the marathon, at least it was the first time I had ever encountered it) In my semi-comatose state, I read those words and something in me paused. Just do it! It sounded so simple, yet so profound. Yeah, that’s it, just do it! I put one foot in front of the other. Just do it! Another foot. Another. Somehow I finished the race that day. I’m convinced that there was no way this could have happened had I not read that sign. Three words. Three words that managed to create a small miracle.
Whether it’s running a marathon, struggling with your job, relationships, or life circumstances, you need to understand the power of words. Not just words that we read on billboards or slogans we hear in TV jingles, but words we tell ourselves—our inner dialogue. And when our inner dialogue becomes contaminated with words that are driven by insecurity, we suffer. What exactly is insecurity? I define insecurity simply as a learned fear of vulnerability or chaos. And make no mistake, insecurity isn’t something that happens to someone else–it’s part of the human condition. No one grows up in a perfect world, no one has perfect parents, everyone suffers loss, separation, illness, and frustration–to a greater or lesser degree, we all have insecurity.
What happens is that, because insecurity leaves us feeling out of balance and apprehensive, we begin to compensate by trying to protect ourselves–by controlling life. Worry, anticipation, rumination, avoidance, perfectionism, and so on, are just a few examples of psychological controlling strategies. We worry, for example, because we’re trying to predict what’s going to happen before it happens. Why is this control? Because if we know what’s coming ahead of time we can be ready, braced, and in control. Perfectionism is another example of a controlling strategy. It may surprise you to learn that perfectionism isn’t about trying to be perfect, it’s about trying not to mess up. If you’re perfect, people will applaud, find no fault in you or your performance, and you will be in control.
Okay, so what’s so bad about being in control? Nothing, as long as it’s driven by facts and not by insecurity. When insecurity drives your need for control you’re dealing with fictions. If the doctor tells you have high blood pressure and you need to watch your salt, this is a fact. If the doctor tells you have high blood pressure and you think you’re going to have a stroke, this is a fiction and this is driven by insecurity. Bottom line: insecurity-driven control is a habit of distrust. Whenever you become victimized by doubts, fears, and negatives, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve substituted a life of control for a life of trust.
There are two problems with trying to control life. First, controlling life is an exhausting way to live and will wind up depleting you, leaving you susceptible to anxiety, depression, and other forms of psychological friction. Second, controlling life is a myth–life cannot be controlled! Just ask any worrywart if attempting to control life by worrying makes things better. What you’ll learn is that not only does worry beget worry, but all forms of control lead to an ever spiraling, congested way of living. It’s this congested, reflexive kind of thinking that causes us to drift further and further away from a simple, spontaneous, and trusting life.
The only sensible answer is not having to control life. Saying this differently, the answer is trusting life, not controlling it. For example, rather than worrying and ruminating about whether or not you’ll get the job you applied for, risk trusting by telling yourself, “Hey, whatever happens, I’ll handle it.” This is an admission of trust. Sure this may feel risky, but just because something feels risky doesn’t mean it is. Feelings are not facts! In order to reclaim your life from the grips of reflexive thinking, you’re going to need to begin separating facts from fictions.
If your life has become contaminated by insecurity-driven habits of control, then you can take if from me, your trust muscle has atrophied and it’s time to start rebuilding it. How? Remember I said that insecurity and control are habits. In order to flourish, habits, all habits, need to be fed. You feed a habit of insecurity by allowing doubts, fears, and negatives to steer your thoughts and feelings. It has probably never occurred to you that you have a choice. That’s right, a choice not to be victimized by your own thoughts. My grandmother used to have an expression, “You can’t stop a bird from flying into your hair, but you don’t have to help it build a nest.” You may not be able to stop an insecurity-driven thought from popping into your mind, but you don’t have to add a second thought, a third thought, a fourth and so on. And this is what I learned from my marathon effort.
What we tell ourselves and what we believe is what we become. I can’t change you with my words, only you can. But let me offer this caution. If you half-heartedly decide to “Just do it!” without fully embracing this concept, you will fail. If, on the other hand, you decide—really decide–to “Just do it!” and believe that you will succeed, then you will. Let’s face it; if the good people at Nike had come up with the slogan, “Just think about doing it,” I never would have finished the marathon—nor will you finish struggling if you just think about starving your habits. You must learn to just do it!