Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

The Disquiet in Men

Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

The problem with seeing it as a problem

Graphic_black_and_white.gifETD #20: The April issue of “Time For Change”

“Time for Change” focuses on different issues about the Disquiet. It’s like a coaching conversation in which I will work on a particular aspect and provide steps you can take to work with your own Disquiet. You can ask questions or share you experiences here in the comments below.

Please note that these monthly newsletter editions are not available on the Feed. So if you want to receive your own issue when it’s published, you can subscribe by filling out the form box on any sidebar on this site or by clicking here. You will also get a copy of the report from my ongoing study based on interviews with men around the world who discuss their Disquiet.

This month’s article:

The problem with seeing it as a problem

Its 3:31 am and I am wide awake and I don’t know why. One minute I was sound asleep, the next staring at the numbers: “3 3 1” glowing green-blue in the dark. The more I try to go back to sleep, the more anxious I feel. My mind starts racing, “I’m not supposed to be awake! Everyone else is sleeping right now. Being awake means something is wrong. What’s wrong? I can’t sleep. ARRRGH! The frustration about not being able to get back to sleep feeds on itself. I want to scream, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t go back to sleep!?!?!”

There! Right there! See that?

That thing we do when we think something is wrong – We zoom in on the idea something is wrong with us. That very idea dooms us from the start. Once I have locked in on the idea something’s wrong and clamp down on it, it’s all down hill from there. I will end up thrashing around for hours getting more upset that I’m awake.

The same applies with the Disquiet in our lives – that growing restlessness that many men report feeling. A low background hum that says something is not right. When we see it as something wrong with us, then it’s a short quick slide into we are failures for not knowing how to fix it. That starts the worrying about worrying. New things pop up to prove how we aren’t doing it right and aren’t OK.

So back in bed, unable to sleep, I am now worrying about all kinds of new things that are popping up. Now I am sweating the emails I didn’t send, bills still waiting to be paid, and the ice cream I ate this evening after swearing off sugar. The harder I try to go back to sleep, the more I zero in on all the different things that can go wrong and all the many different ways I have somehow already failed. Now I am wide awake and feeling up tight and restless. Now there really is something wrong.

But there is an alternative here. What if there’s wisdom in the fact that I am up? What if it’s an article begging to be written and not the guilt over the ice cream at all? I don’t know what really woke me up in the middle of the night. But what I do know is that I stopped the agony when I stopped thinking I was failing at getting back to sleep. I got up. Once up, I realized I had a lot going on in my head so I came downstairs and wrote this article

So what if there is another way to have this go?

What if this Disquiet in our lives does not mean we are a failure? What if the unease isn’t an alarm bell that we screwed up somehow, but instead is a signal to ask questions and listen for answers? What if the feeling of alarm only comes when we ignore these important messages?

It’s not a problem, it’s a guide

I listened to what was really going on – ideas buzzing in my head that wanted to get out on paper. I listened and acted on that. That is really different than taking a sleeping pill or tossing and turning in bed worrying.

What does your Disquiet have to tell you? Instead of a proclamation that you screwed up somewhere, what is the deeper wisdom that is trying to surface?

How to help the wisdom surface?

So the next time you start to see yourself shooting out of the starting gate of the “something’s wrong race”, try this:

    1. Stop and take some deep breaths. This can interrupt the ramping up of worry.
    2. Check in with yourself. Imagine turning off the alarm in your head that something is wrong. Then ask yourself what is really trying to get my attention here?
    3. Listen for the quiet answer. Often what we really need comes from a pretty quiet place – not the klaxon alarm bell screaming there is a problem.
    4. Watch things settle down. When you focus on what you can learn from the Disquiet and doing something in your real life with that learning, you will notice things get quieter. You then know you are on the right track.
    5. Allow yourself to be surprised. Be open to what this quieter message might suggest. I never would have guessed I had an article ready to come out in the middle of the night!

    Try it out! Let me know what happens. There, now I’m sleepy. I’m going back to bed.


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13 Responses to “The problem with seeing it as a problem”

  1. Evelyn Says:

    Right on the money as always! :)

  2. Lyle Lachmuth - The Unsticking Coach Says:

    Spot on!

    I really like how you’ve explained this. The zeroing in on “if something’s wrong… it MUST BE ME!”

    Great insight!

    How we really need to see it as an indicator… kind of like the temperature gauge on my old ’86 Ford 150. As it creeps up, I need to slow down.

    Best, Lyle

  3. Tammy Says:

    Dave, this post is, as Lyle put it, spot on. In my world (dispute resolution) I see the same trap. We tend to think, “conflict, ugh, what a problem.” And yet, some of the best companies and families have conflict…it’s what they do with it that makes the difference. By reframing it as opportunity and learning how to work with it instead of against it, they manage to transform both the conflict and themselves. Thanks so much for this post!

  4. Dave Schoof Says:

    Thanks Evelyn!

  5. Dave Schoof Says:

    Lyle – yeah – I really like the temp guage metaphor. That is really helpful – I know when I spiral down into thinking more and more it’s some sort of personal failing, that is a good indicator I am stretched too thin and have loss perspective.

    That would make a good practice wouldn’t it? Asking yourself, “What is your temp guage and what is the “over-heated range?” Thanks coach!

  6. Dave Schoof Says:

    Hi Tammy, really good point. I am glad you brought in the piece about conflict. It does get a bad rep because it’s usually handled poorly. The irony is well handled conflict is good – for personal relationships and in organizations. Healthy conflict is the crucible of creativity, new ways of thinking, new actions, etc.

    Isn’t it amazing how our tendency to make difficult or challenging issue a “problem”?

    I tried a practice for a while in which I had this phrase I said to myself throughout the day: “What is there is no problem here?”

    It was really interesting how that re-frame changed my relationship to the issue. I didn’t get hooked as often and actually became more creative in working with the challenge.

    Hmmm….I think I need to write about this. Thanks!

  7. Adam Kayce : Monk At Work Says:

    Hi Dave (and everyone else),

    This is a great point… the “problem-solving” methodology is so rampant in our culture, the majority of people I talk with don’t even realize there’s another way.

    The school of personal development I used to teach with was so ingrained in focusing on the problem, that when I brought the idea of positive-change into a faculty meeting once, I got attacked. Seriously!

    In my practice, I’ve found it’s more useful, 99 times out of a hundred, to focus on “where you want to go,” rather than just, “the problems with where you’ve been.”

    Problem-solving can drive you nuts…

  8. Deb Says:

    yes! Meta-disquiet… freaking out about the freaking out, worrying about the worrying, despairing about the despair… it’s like a puffed up layer of suffering we lay on top of the actual stuff… and so easy to get stuck in the layer, and never get to the core. I think one of the key things coaching can do is help clients, through our accepting, receptive, holding, listening stance, see and feel a different way to do all those things themselves… vs. trying to batten down the hatches ever tighter, take the batteries out of the smoke alarm, run for the hills, etc.

  9. lee Says:

    Love the idea of problems not being problems but guides!

  10. Dave Schoof Says:

    Adam – Problem focus is rampant. And as you know when we take actions to fix a problem (in the life development context) changes are short lived. Lasting change takes seeing ion a new way and then taking new actions to support that new seeing.

    Ahhh- a prophet in a foreign land. Sounds like the crowd trying to burn out the thruth sayer. painful
    :-(

  11. Dave Schoof Says:

    Deb you are soooo lyrical! I love it. Meta-Disquiet…well said. Thanks!

    Folks, Deb is one kick-ass coach with a lot of talent. I am proud to know her.

    Thanks Deb for your additions to the conversation!

  12. Dave Schoof Says:

    Hi Lee – I am so glad. This reframe really helps me and my clients. Good luck with it!

  13. Rick Cockrum Says:

    Meta-Disquiet : I like that. :-)

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