Have you ever noticed that when things seem to be going
well, something inevitably comes along to throw you off the rails? How you deal with these moments can determine
whether you are growing in life or perhaps playing that endless game of one
step forward, two steps back.
Some years ago, a young male student of mine was telling me about his situation. He recently completed a long meditation retreat and had been feeling really great immediately afterwards. Then about a week after he started feeling the urge to drink alcohol, eat terrible foods, stay up late and then totally miss his morning meditation. He told me he’d been feeling some shame and guilt around this because he really wanted to stay on track. He sensed that he was failing himself somehow.
It was then that me, the 20 year meditator and so called yoga master dropped a bit of a bombshell on him. I told him, ‘go for it!’
He did a sort of double take as though he hadn’t heard me correctly. ‘Did you say, go for it?’
‘Absolutely,’ I replied.
At first, he thought I was having a lend of him so I needed to clarify a little. What I went to on to tell him was something that has not only changed my life but so many of my students and friends over the years as well.
It’s called the art of conscious corrections and when you get the idea of this, then seemingly exponential growth is just around the corner.
The Art of Consciously Correcting
If you’ve ever seen the stock chart for a company, you’ll notice that it doesn’t just go in a straight line. It goes up for awhile, then often stalls before dropping in price a little. If the right sentiment is still there, then eventually, it will turn around and start going up in value once again.
These small shifts are called corrections. When they become larger, they are called a crash and this is precisely what you’re trying to avoid in your own life when negative sentiment enters your mind.
A correction is a totally natural occurrence. It’s the market attempting to work out how to value a stock. It’s a period of letting off some steam, allowing some uncertainty and then riding the next wave when it rolls in.
Corrections are a natural law of nature. When you start bringing your attention to these cycles, you start seeing them everywhere in yourself and in life.
You grow during your waking hours and then there’s a natural correction while you sleep and heal at night.
You work hard during the year and then inevitably flop on a beach somewhere and take a much needed holiday correction.
Crops are grown and harvested then the field lies fallow while it corrects and replenishes.
If you watch lions in the jungle, you’ll see them go full out to catch their prey and then basically just sit around doing nothing for the next three days.
The point of all this is that on the path of genuine growth and development you need to realise that corrections are going to come.
You’ve been going in one direction full on, striving for some goal and then your energy reaches what feels like a ceiling that it can’t move through. You knock on the door but it’s as though you need to diffuse some energy before the lock is undone and you can move forward again.
Moving Through Your Threshold
In his book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks describes these points of resistance as thresholds. They become calling cards that tell us something has to give. Either you blast through, crash back down to earth or perhaps learn to go sideways until the next opening appears.
What my meditation student was describing to me on this day was simply his way of coping with a state of heightened energy that had grown due to the meditation retreat. When you take positive action for yourself then this has to hit the status quo reset button eventually. The alcohol, laziness and excuses had been his well worn methods of jumping back down the ladder.
For everyone it’s different.
Maybe it’s those inner thoughts that start resurfacing. ‘I’m not good enough.’ ‘I don’t deserve this.’
Maybe it’s an old familiar emotional friend who’s just popped in for a brief visit to remind you that you really are an anxious stress head deep down!
For most people, it comes in the form of some negative behaviour such as drinking, smoking, gossiping, over eating, over working, not exercising.
In these moments what’s so important to realise is that you aren’t falling apart, you aren’t a failure, you don’t need to give up or get into the story of it all. You’re just experiencing a downshift, a small correction. It’s so vitally important to learn how to identify this downward pulling energy and then just ride the wave until you’re ready to turn the ship around and set your sails forward again.
Unfortunately, what many people do in these instances is they allow the correction to become a full scale invasion of negative behaviour. Worse still, some people just keep pushing forward, which can lead to breakdown, injury or disease. Not realising that corrections are a natural part of growth people start to embellish that inner voice, drink too much, fall in a heap and allow the negativity to overwhelm them.
What I told my young student on this occasion was that everyone needs to let their inner demon out some times! It’s really clever to let off some steam but it’s the next piece of advice that really changed things for him.
I said that whereas most people experience unconscious corrections and just end up falling apart, it’s possible to create conscious corrections that allow you to consciously indulge the downward pull for a limited time and then set a plan to get back on track quickly.
Here’s the three critical steps to this formula…
Step 1 – Accept that corrections are inevitable when you are moving forward in life.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s impossible to move forward without resistance. You throw a ball in the air it’s going to come hurtling back down. The only certainty in forward movement is that you must hit a seemingly insurmountable edge at some point.
Step 2 – Create a list in advance of your conscious correction strategies.
This is the real essence of conscious corrections. Think about it. When you’re tired and hungry and there are cookies in the pantry what chance is there that you are not eating them? They are already in your mouth before you’ve even had a moment for rational thinking.
Tell me I’m wrong!
However, if you’ve made a decision in advance to not have cookies in the pantry and instead you’ve bought some dates and fruit, then what choice do you have?
The art of conscious corrections consists at this level of two things.
1.Remove the obstacles in advance when your energy is still high. This takes a little discipline and planning but it’s well worth it. An alcoholic doesn’t need a bottle of whisky in the house after all.
2.Decide in advance what your new strategies are for meeting challenges and obstacles. You plan to give yourself some much needed steam release but without all the damaging side effects.
It’s a matter of lessening the impact and perhaps even choosing some action that leads you subtly forward rather than crashing backwards.
For everyone it’s going to be different.
Perhaps it goes something like this…
‘I’ll have a few drinks (maybe mid strength beers) tonight but commit to exercising first thing in the morning.’
“I’ll give myself two nights of Netflix but then on the third night I’m going to do something novel, go on a date, watch a sunset, go for a long walk.’
‘I’ll devour one block of chocolate but then commit to only eating blueberries and yoghurt for the rest of the week.’
‘I’ll really enjoy having a good gossip about my boss at lunch for one day, just letting off steam and then I’ll commit to saying one good thing about them in the afternoon.’
You get the picture anyway. It’s about acknowledging the energy that wants to correct and seemingly pull you down and the humouring it by going along for a little ride. The art of the conscious correction is to lessen the impact of the downward pull. Then have a conscious exit strategy for exactly when you’re going to get started moving forward again.
From there the best strategy is to commit to taking one small step in the direction of your intention to start momentum building again. Don’t think about the big picture, just take some action to set the wheels in motion.
As Martin Luther King said, you don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith.
Step 3 - Identify the feelings and those old thoughts and behaviours.
Yes, you know the ones all too well. They are your go-to patterns, your coping mechanisms for when things aren’t going so great.
Some people just want to run away.
Others get angry at everything.
Some people fall into the blame game. It’s everyone else’s fault.
Many people unconsciously correct through substances.
And there are those who seem to love wallowing in those old heavy familiar emotions so much that they want to lie in bed all day and never get up.
Now, here’s the rub. Most people only find out they’re having a correction when they are already on their third hangover of the week!
The trick is to develop enough self awareness so that you can start mapping your patterns in advance and then recognising the precise moment when that old familiar friend comes creeping back in. You already have a map of how you will meet this next correction and it’s simply a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils and planning your exit before the first large hole in the ground ever appears.
As it turns out, I ended up losing touch with this young student of mine for a few years but then ran into him again recently. One of the first things he mentioned was how this knowledge of conscious corrections had really saved him on many occasions. He said that as a young man there were just so many distractions and temptations. ‘It’s too easy to be one step forward and two steps back all the time,’ he told me.
He said that three things had made all the difference in his life. The first was in giving himself permission to correct without the need for guilt or shame. He was able to accept that energy must bounce back and he gave himself permission to go with it. This, he told me, had been massive.
The second was in realising that this could be done consciously with some forward planning. Thirdly, he said that ever since our chat, his knowledge of those so called negative states had grown so much. He wasn’t fearing them anymore. Instead he was able to look them right in the face and consciously choose the path he wanted to take that led toward his intention.
This idea of conscious corrections had changed his life, he told me, much like it changed my own and hopefully can make a massive impact in yours as well.
1.Make a list of your coping mechanisms. How do you let off emotional steam? Make a list and write them all down. How does the energy of corrections show up for you? Consider, alcohol, drugs, food, over thinking or shutting down, over working or laziness, blame, criticism, contempt.
2.How does it feel after you do these things currently? For example, do you feel uplifted for awhile but then actually crash a little further as a result? Once you open the door up to a little bad food do you then fall in a negative spiral for days or weeks on end? What are the corresponding emotions you feel after doing these negative behaviours e.g. guilt, shame, anger, low energy, making excuses?
you minimise these things in advance and have alternative strategies in place? Most
people won’t do this step in advance because it takes mental creative energy
but if you do then the process will be much easier. E.g remove the sugary foods from the pantry,
have only one individual ice cream in the freezer rather than an entire tub. Only buy two beers at a time rather than a
4.Begin a practice of mindfulness to start developing more self awareness and internal literacy. Get to know your triggers and how to meet moments of intensity with better choice making.