When you feel really bad, fixing things, feeling better, or getting back on track can be way too tall an order.
Sometimes the best you can do is to focus on not making things worse than they already are.
In Wired for Joy, the affirmation is: ‘Minimize Harm’.
When things are just a little bit stressful, you have the wherewithal to step in. You might look for the thought that’s most bothering you and examine its truth, or you might stop and breathe, or watch Andrew, you are not the Father on YouTube again…
But when you’re stressed to the max and near melt-down, those things won’t cut it. They aren’t viable options.
A better option might be to wait for it to pass without making it worse. Otherwise known as Minimize Harm.
I saw this with a client last week. Lola (not her real name) had been rewiring a pattern with me for the past couple of months.
Her old way was to run out and buy a bunch of totally unneeded stuff when she felt inadequate. Racking up more debt and adding more clutter to her life made her feel better for about 3.6 seconds. Then she felt worse than ever.
So she was changing it. She was learning and practicing new ways of being that didn’t involve mindless consumption, and the new habits were taking over the old. She thought she had left her old pattern behind for good.
Until last weekend when she temporarily stepped back into the old model.
When she showed up to our session Monday nursing a severe shopping hangover that was only a few hours old and wrestling with a gaggle of feel-bad thoughts about herself, it was not time to dive in and clean things up. It was time to Minimize Harm.
Lola’s job was to give it time. Wait out the immediate messy part without making it worse. Making it worse in this case might have looked like Lola beating herself up for her temporary backward slide.
It may have looked like her putting extra pressure on herself to “get it together” this time around.
More harm may have come from Lola trying too hard to create better feelings, when what she really needed was to process the feelings she already had.
If Lola’s session had been Wednesday or Thursday, things likely would have been different. She would have had that little bit of effortless healing that time naturally provides. But given that her shopping binge was Sunday and our session was Monday, jumping into fix it mode would have been a distraction, not a service to her.
When you sit tight, allow things to be what they are, and minimize harm—particularly in the immediate aftermath—your clean up job becomes pretty simple.
Time does much of the work for you.