Earlier this week, I had a light-bulb moment.
It came not when I was pondering a case study or blog post, or thinking about content marketing. Or doing anything, in fact.
I was meditating – letting go, breathing deeply and trying to empty my mind.
Now I’ve done this before. In fact, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a serial self-helper. If the book, video or podcast says it’s going to transform your thinking, or calm your mind, I’m right on board.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And often, I’m left wondering if I’m not actually hypnotisable, or not very suggestible, or just plain odd.
I’m not alone. The day after my revelation, I was telling a friend what had happened. He told me he’d tried meditation but it hadn’t worked.
“How would you know?” I asked him. “What does working look like?”
He meant that he didn’t feel any different afterwards. He didn’t feel transformed or calmed.
“The trick is,” I said, “that there isn’t a trick. You stop trying, and it just happens.”
“Get you, Yoda!” he said with a wry grin.
The thing is, I’m right.
And I know that not because I speak in riddles to appear smarter, but because I overcame my resistance and actually experienced it.
“Stop looking for the solution to your problem,” said my new best friend Peter. “Stop trying to be in control of everything. Stop seeking. Stop trying to make yourself better.”
Was he crazy? If you’re not seeking, and not trying to make yourself better, what’s the point of self-help?
But wait – maybe he was right.
Maybe I didn’t have a problem. Maybe the reason I couldn’t find a solution was actually that there was nothing to solve in the first place.
On reflection, I realised that he wasn’t saying that problems don’t exist. What he was really advocating was the acceptance of things as they are. Most things you can’t change, and most stress results from reality not matching our expectations.
The bus is late, the app isn’t as easy to use as we thought, clients haven’t responded to our offer as we thought the would, the CEO criticised our latest mailshot. The microsite doesn’t look perfect and the marketing campaign is taking longer than we thought to gain traction.
But here’s the real revelation for me: the personal and the professional problems are really motivated by the same underlying considerations. We like to think the two domains are separated by an impermeable boundary.
But they’re not. So all the things we say to ourselves from time to time on a personal level…
I’m not good enough / they won’t like me / I’m a fake / why do these things always happen to me? / it’ll never be right / I’m stuck / everybody else is way ahead of me / if only I had X my life would be perfect.
…are equally applicable on a professional level. It’s just that often, we don’t recognise that they’re motivated by the same insecurities that can make our daily lives a minefield.
So what’s the answer?
Just let go. It’s really no more complicated than that. Control the things you can actually control, and don’t worry about the rest. Because if you do, it may well paralyse you and stop you from doing anything at all.
So maybe we should all remind ourselves from time to time of the simple guidelines for staying sane in our always-on world:
Freed from the niggling need to constantly control things, you’ll get much more done. It’s a struggle to relax your grip, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
So don’t try harder.
Don’t try at all.