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  • by Jaclyn Foster

An Underestimated Ally in the Pursuit of Goals

Would you believe me if I told you that feeling safe matters a lot when it comes to our ability to focus and more gracefully pursue our goals?

When I say safety, I’m not just talking about avoiding physical danger. I’m talking about the safety of knowing that in any given moment that feels stressful, we can find a place of reassurance that we are doing our best, that our best is enough, and that there is no emergency. The kind of safety that comes from knowing it’s all good.

To be honest, probably until about five years ago, I would have told you I didn't believe it. I would have exited this blog page, disregarding this as false. I would have held the thought that accomplishing more in my life has nothing to do with feeling safe.

But here I am today, typing with a complete trust that this is true. This is in part because I understand that there are a number of things that can trigger me to feel unsafe and what that does to my brain and body. And I’ve experienced the magic of reconnecting with a sense of safety in how I care for my mind and my body.

In the words ahead, I’d like to make a case for prioritizing safety and share ways you can practically apply this to your life. Not just for the progress it can lead to, but for the relief and happiness it can foster along the way.

The Endless Pursuit

But first, I remember a time when I was working on a specific weight loss goal. I would have told you I was trying hard to eat the right things, exercising hard, and push myself to make it happen. I often thought: “What’s wrong with me?”

In my mind, I was pushing myself to do all the “right” things as best I could. If I wasn’t pushing myself through my actions, I was doing it with my internal dialogue. Urgently encouraging (often criticizing) myself to get it together.

I was exhausted and frustrated. But at the time, the only response I knew was, “I have a goal, I must go on.” There was no time for feelings and emotions or trying to communicate more lovingly with myself. It was time to hustle, to make it happen.

And the feeling of burn out grew. And grew. And grew.

I didn’t know any better. It was painful for sure, but that way of being was very familiar for me. It became abundantly clear that, although I appeared to be working very hard, I wasn’t making anywhere near the progress I would have hoped to.

A New Approach

Now I know, there was nothing wrong with me at all. I am a woman doing her best to find her way with the ever-present lure of the hustle. Maybe someday I’ll get there… if I just….

But nope, it doesn’t work that way. Because, I don’t even have to tell you, there is always something more we can think of to do. And when the feeling of pressure never lifts, the accompanying sense of urgency, never shifts.

And that pressures, its important to note, is perceived as danger and something to be on high alert about, which as you may already know, only intensifies the stress response.

Permission for it All

I think anyone who has pursued a goal and experienced a delay in feeling progress can relate to the discomfort of trying to make something happen to only feel like it’s always out of reach.

And what is the common response to the unhappiness with this delay? If you are anything like me, it has sounded like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “What am I doing wrong?”

But the thing is, when we fear we are doing it wrong, or going to continue to do wrong, our body responds by sending distress signals, “It’s an emergency! We have to ‘fix’ this.” And when that happens, we are in survival mode – our curiosity, our sense of trust and safety leaves us.

A sense of safety is key to our ability to accomplish our goals. A sense of safety is achieved as we accept and embrace where we are and tend to what is surfacing. The goal is to tend to ourselves from the perspective of what can be nurtured within us, rather than what can be fixed.

How often when you tell yourself, “I’m doing it wrong,” do you feel at ease and clear? Or feel focused and grounded? I imagine what may happen instead is a sense of urgency, a kind of chaotic and scattered thought process. That’s what happens to me in these moments.

Something to try instead could be: “Something is feeling a bit off, I wonder what I might be needing right now?” Or…

You Can’t Do It Wrong

It may sound a bit backwards but one of my favorite things to say to myself is: I can’t do it wrong. Ah, even as I type those word I exhale and feel more connected to myself.

I believe all of us are always doing the best we can with what we have and know, even if we express it in a way that feels awful and tragic, and the more we can see our “mistakes” as learnings along the way the more we begin to accept and trust the journey. I strongly believe that we are never intentionally hurting ourselves, we are doing our best to get our needs met and pursue what matters to us.

Think about the baby learning to walk. They try again and again to go from wobble to walking. With babies we can recognize that’s part of the process. But this learning process of trial and error doesn’t stop as adults, we just sometimes cut off our allowance for the process. It doesn’t make the process go away, but it does make us fear the process and try to avoid it.

Think about learning to play the piano, buying a home, getting a new job, or taking on a new hobby. What if you adopted the thought that you can’t do it wrong, and you are always just learning and refining as you go? That each life experience is an opportunity to refine living your greatest life, one moment at a time.

In honor of Stress Awareness Month in April, let’s wrap up with some tips you can use to promote a sense of safety through your self-talk, emotions and physical sensations.

Ask New Questions

Notice how often you make yourself wrong for what you do or how you do it. Remember what is often most painful is not what is happening, but what we make it mean about ourselves or our lives.

Telling ourselves we are wrong or searching for how we are wrong not only keeps our focus on something that feels bad. And when we feel bad and put pressure on ourselves to fix a problem, this intensifies the stress response in our body, which impacts our ability to think clearly, focus, and be resourceful.

If you catch yourself asking questions or making comments along these lines consider asking yourself what is right about you, or what would you need to believe or know in order to adopt the idea that you are doing something right.

Remember, as we ask questions, we seek the answer. Why not ask more questions that can lead to a greater sense of calm and possibility?

Tending to Emotions

You are human. A human that is impacted by life and has emotional responses to it.

Think of checking in with your emotions, like checking your physical temperature. If you feel hot and think you have a fever, you’re probably going to get out the thermometer and check to see if you have a high temperature. And if you do, I imagine you’re going to ask yourself what you can do to soothe it or make it better?

We can do the same thing with our emotions. Here’s a practice to try:

1. When you notice you feel a “negative” emotion (sadness, anger, frustration, etc.) first pause to acknowledge it: “I’m feeling…and that’s okay”

2. Ask yourself: What am I needing right now? What would feel nourishing for me?

3. Pause see what comes up – reflect, possibly write it down

4. Consider an action you can take to honor and give attention to that need.

Acknowledging our emotions promotes a sense of safety. It’s an allowance for whatever is, to be okay. To give permission for what is happening in any given moment. Give yourself breathing room (literally and figuratively) to honor your process, your life, just as it is. It might sound a little fluffy but often works very well in practice to provide a sense of relief.

Tapping into Sensation

Feeling emotions can be sensation. Trying to live a full life and face the things that scare us can make it feel like there is a lot going on in our bodies.

One of the best things we can do is practice feeling sensation and bringing awareness to the body. Here are a few practices to connect with our bodies and sensation to ground ourselves. When we trust ourselves to feel sensations along with emotions this again will send safety signals, reducing a sense of urgency, and increasing our ability navigate emotions and access a sense of calm.

1. Hand on heart – A very simple and quick practice is simply putting a hand over our heart and taking a few breathes. This action can feel incredibly soothing and centering and can be so easily incorporated into any moment of the day!

2. Following / tracking sensations – If you have a negative emotion that feels like its spiraling, a helpful practice can be asking yourself where you feel sensation in your body and tracking it to see what it does and where it goes.

Maybe you feel a hot pressure in your head, but as you observe it, it moves down to your shoulders. Or maybe as you focus on it, it intensifies but then lessens and dissolves. Practicing feeling sensations is an excellent way to train ourselves to bring our attention out of our thoughts and build trust in our ability to feel and navigate sensation.

3. Breathing – When we feel stress and urgency, our inhales often become faster paced and shorter, our exhale often shortens as well. By taking breathes where we pay attention to how we are breathing and gently lengthen our exhales we can give our brain and body safety signals and feel more centered.

Would you like some additional support? You are not alone and change takes time! It’s a practice and often it can greatly benefit to reach out for support of a coach, friend, or mentor.

If you are a Whole Health Plan Member, the Medical & Wellness Centers located in Austin, Texas and Glendale, California are available for support. Give us a call.

If you are Whole Health Plan member and have not established care with the Center for your primary care services, call us to make an appointment or learn more about the benefits available to you as a patient of the Center.

You can explore our website to learn more about us as well.

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