I had a call recently from a VP at a large advertising firm. She wanted me to work with one of her direct reports, a man named Jim. A was a general manager in his early 40’s. He had lots of talent, but he was a procrastinator, and it was getting in the way of advancing his career. He struggled all the time with getting things done, and, was chronically behind with deadlines. At his annual 360’s, his boss had told him several times that he had the talent to move up at the company, but he had to become more efficient and handle things in a more timely manner.
After talking with Jim, I started to ask him about the state of mind he lives in, and the feeling states that he experienced throughout the day. It soon became apparent that he was out of touch with his feelings most of the time. Digging a little deeper, he realized he was in a low level, anxious state much if not most of the time. That anxious feeling made him so uncomfortable that he had learned to tune it out to the point that he was, for all intents and purposes, unaware of it. When Jim tried to talk to me about his procrastination issues, he would get drawn into analytical thinking about it that only got him lost in thought. Or else he became distracted from the topic at hand – procrastinating about his procrastination!
What broke the cycle for Jim was learning to become aware of his feelings, and remembering that the only place his feelings could come from was his own thinking in that very moment. After the initial discomfort of feeling the anxious feelings he was in much of the time, his awareness of the source of those feelings – his own thinking – allowed the thoughts to clear themselves. When that happened, Jim said, his feeling shifted from weak to powerful. This provided the necessary motivation to keep bringing his awareness back to the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety that he had so much of the time, and that he had avoided for so long.
Little by little, things began to shift for Jim. He was less anxious, and felt empowered more of the time. And as his brain began to return to its normal functioning – having a thought, a feeling, then clearing itself – rather than being clogged up with anxiety-producing thoughts, he began to enjoy the normal flow of fresh healthy thinking that enlivens people and makes life worth living. This flow of fresh thoughts arising in the moment brings us the deeper feelings that nourish and inspire us, feelings like love, compassion, contentment, and joy.
As Jim’s brain recovered from the stress of all those repetitive, anxiety-producing thoughts, he began to get good, commonsense ideas for how to respond to the daily tasks that he had been chronically behind on, and how to run his life in a more efficient manner. Eventually his inspiration at work returned, and he began to have great ideas for the clients whose contracts he handled. His downward spiral at work self-corrected, and after three months, he called me to tell me he’d received a promotion!
It was hard initially for Jim to undo the override on his anxious feelings that had been in place for so long, but as you can see, it was well worth it. When we experience our feelings, the thoughts that created them move on and make room for something fresh. Optimal mental functioning includes having all of our feelings, the good and the bad – being present to all of it, so that we can stay present to life.