Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Getting Into It

I recently came across the expression "If you can't get out of it, get into it," which was identified as a slogan used by Outward Bound to unfreeze climbers in mid-climb paralysis--  that moment when fear takes over and recommends staying right where you are, untenable though that position may be, for the rest of your life.  My attempts to verify the attribution confirmed the Outward Bound connection, but also revealed other "sources," including "my daddy" who "always said," and "the old saying."

In any case, I have found this gritty little phrase running through my head as I run through my days lately.  I seem to have gotten myself into a number of situations where the only way out is through, and "getting into it" the best option.  I am not currently clinging in fright to any cliff faces, but have found a more practical meaning for the adage, whether old or new. I use it to remind myself to adjust my attitude, to shift my outlook, to change the lens through which I view my experience.  And to "watch [my] language."

The New Age, pop psychology view that the way we talk and think about things influences our experience grows out of reputable linguistic theory and research.  It has lead to a proliferation of "affirmations," those pithy little mantras that many of us have been urged to employ.  Words taped to our bathroom mirrors, stuck on our dashboards, and lettered onto cards that spill from pockets and purses.  I confess to having a few such hopeful statements still lying around, left over from previous crises and rehabilitation projects.  I should also come clean about how little faith I was able to put in those words.  "I am a confident and worthwhile person" never really rang true for me, any more than did "I am a beautiful and fearless woman."  Maybe the problem lay in overloading, in pairing some out of reach trait with one I could sort of own up to.

Anyway, "getting into it," as I am thinking about it presently, is something different.  It has in common with affirmations a preference for positive language.  But in this case, I don't try to mesmerize myself with formulaic mottos.  Instead, I refrain from (excessive) grumbling, and from a posture of "slogging through" which focuses on the disagreeable aspects of undertakings.  I try to remember why I agreed to do the thing in the first place, and why it seemed important.  And I pay attention to the pleasurable parts of the task.  I summon energy and enthusiasm to combat the resistance I myself put up in the face of a grueling schedule of meetings, an endless round of web page changes and communication assignments.  I focus on the calm I feel as I restore order to a wrecked domestic scene.  I think about how soon my teenagers will leave home, and appreciate their presence even as I dive into motherhood's less enjoyable challenges.  

Is this just another "rose-colored glasses" advisory?  The sort of "bright siding" Barbara Ehrenreich writes about in her recent book?  Though I see the potential difficulties with this approach, on the personal level, where I live my life, it gets me through the dark times, and improves the quality of my days.  And as this is likely to be my only life, "getting into it" seems like the better choice.  This doesn't mean, of course, that I have sworn off swearing at the mountains in my path.  Just that I am not stuck in grousing mode, and can use other gears.  

And so, I'm off to another (damn) meeting--which I have waited six weeks for, and which will further some work I am trying to do, about which I care deeply.

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