Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Escape the Spin Cycle (Some Keys To a Better Life)

“Hey, bro.”

I hold my cell loosely against my ear and glance at the clock. 12:17 am. I’m not even close to being tired.

“Well,” Mark says. “I read your blog. A nice heart warming read... What’s up?”

“I’m not sure. Just one of those weeks, I guess.” I pause. “I’m looking for another job. I can’t do this, pal. I’m never going to make it.”

“What about the writing?” Mark says.

“I’ll always write. But I’m tired of having nothing. I’m tired of not being able to go out, or buy another pair of shoes, or being able to afford a date. I’m tired of looking at my bank account and wondering if I can make it through the week. I’m 35 years old, and what have I got? I needed a break, pal… and, well, it just hasn’t happened.”

Mark is quiet for a moment.

“That sucks, and I get it, but I just think you’re so close. I really think you just have to hang in there. Your work is good.”

I lean forward and think about all the “dream books” I’ve read.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ve been an idiot. Dreams suck.”

Even as I talk I’m thinking about how nice it would be to go shopping with, well, money. I’d bumped into an old friend today at the mall who’d just started working on a screenplay. When he heard I was a writer, he was even more excited. Only instead of being excited with him, mostly I was annoyed. I wanted to tell him not to bother. That the gods of the dreamers and artists, the publishers and patrons, were a capricious bunch. I’d bit my tongue, but it wasn’t easy.

Mark is quiet.

“Listen,” he says finally, “I really think your work is good. You get waylaid when you start thinking about your age and where you should be and all that stuff.”


We chat for a little while longer. When I hang up, I am somewhat encouraged. It isn’t the first time Mark’s given me a pick up. I pull out my work and start writing. Two hours later, I am worn and tired. It’s time to head outside for a break.

The sky is clear tonight, and it’s finally warm enough to stand on my stoop outside the front entrance without shivering. It’s been a long week, although in many aspects it isn’t much different from the last month, not on the surface at least. I’m still working for almost nothing. Still enjoying my co-workers and housemates. Still enjoying the interaction with the customers. Still writing. And yet, there’s a sense of routine that has crept into my life and has brought discouragement with it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure why things have changed. I understand that there is a rhythm to life, ups and downs that we do well to ride and not fight. That said, I can feel the change in my outlook, and it needs to be addressed.

The breeze picks up as I move down from my stoop and stroll down the driveway under the empty sky. The moon’s silhouette shimmers off to my left. A few birds have woken early and their scattered song reminds me of the late hour. It a funny thing about the human experience, but we do everything in cycles. Most of us have heard the expression that people are “creatures of habit”, and it’s true. Nothing we do is ever truly spontaneous, even for the most unpredictable personalities. We couldn’t survive if we did, but that said, it still has tremendous implications for our lives.

The routines we create for ourselves are based on the culmination of our life experience; our childhood, our past and current relationships, and yet rarely do we consider the reasons why we do the things we do. We certainly aren't programmed to make the “healthy” choice.
The sad truth is that most of our choices are based on convenience, pleasure, or fear. And that includes our religious choices -- the church we attend or don't attend. The God we believe in or choose to ignore.

What follows then, is that we entrap ourselves into habits that are actually destructive, relationships that smother us, faith that binds us, and jobs that drain life from our soul. And the most frustrating aspect of this human tendency is that we have the ability to change it. Too often we get trapped in this “spin cycle” and believe there is no way out. We spin and spin and church and churn until our lives become one long unpleasant dream.

People can only ask “what if” and “if only” for so long. If we don't escape the spin cycle life will eventually wear us down, and instead of feeling renewed and empowered, we will become critical. We'll mock others who are trying to make it. We'll scowl at those still enthusiastic about life. And we'll sniff (especially at the younger generations) about what it’s like in the “real world”. In other words, we contract the deadly virus of "trapped reality" and spread it with every brush of contact with other humans. We are unhappy, and we unconsciously pull others towards our own unhappiness to make us feel better. (Misery loves company.)

So the only question then, is how do we change it? And what happens when we realize that our life suddenly sucks?

First, understand that it isn't 'sudden', though it may feel that way.
Everything we do flows out of who we think we are and what we expect from the world around us. Happiness is achieved when we close the gap between our assumptions about what our life should be like and what we perceive it to be.
Notice that I didn't say how it "really is." (And I'm giving away my leaning towards post modern thought here) How it "really is" can't be subjectively defined. For example, I'm 35 years old. I work in a cafe. That's true, and if that was the whole truth, it would be easy to judge my life accordingly. However, I'm also a full time graduate student and striving to make a go of it as a full-time writer. I do not see myself as a failure, but as one striving towards the future for something better. What matters then, is not what others perceive about my situation, but how I see it. That's why we must be careful when considering the counsel of others, because the standards they are using are always different then our own.

Unfortunately, too often we listen to the wrong people and end up in spin cycles... (especially when it comes to jobs) simply because we accept other people's version of our reality?!
So to escape the natural trap, we have to learn to examine our own motifs on why we do the things we do, and why we're not able or willing to change them.

For me, one of my largest struggles is money. I don't know why I've historically been terrible with it, although I have a few ideas. What I do know, however, is that fear is involved. Suze Orman, the famous financial guru, asks her potential clients this question first when she addresses their finances: "What are you afraid of?"

I've spent the past week thinking about that. What am I afraid of? What is holding me back?
The key in the spin cycle is not to change just anything, but to find the idea or the root that is causing us to make the same bad decisions over and over. And how do you find the root cause? It's easy enough. Just think of the things that cause your emotions --sadness, fear, anxiety, anger -- to flash, and you will find the root. That which is without an emotional connection we are able to let go, but any memory or belief attached to an emotion is nearly impossible to release. (It's like sticking your hand into a pail of honey and then grabbing a loose roll of toilet paper) Not without dissecting it first, and perhaps getting some healing.

Second, once we realize where our emotions are most sensitive, we need to create a "blank spot" in our minds. No, it isn't some new age, voodoo mind trick. What I mean is that we pretend that there is no emotion. It's an acting trick, but it's an effective way to help us deprogram some of the more destructive habits in our lives. When you get up tomorrow, be someone else. Be the woman who you see in the mall striding along with confidence. Be the man you saw talking easily and casually with a couple of ladies at the restaurant. Be the university colleague who always seems so popular. Be the person you imagine that you would like to be, and make choices as if you were that person.

This is not a matter of authenticity. It's still you.
Remember, the core of who we are is not what others see. Our core, the "real us", is the person we long to become.

I know, I know, I can hear the comments already. "Steve, the person you are is how you behave." Nonsense. Even God, speaking to one of his prophets who is going to choose a king, says to his prophet (Samuel) "Man looks at the outward appearance, God considers the heart." (1 Sam 16:7) Our 'outward appearance' is our behaviour, and while it can give us clues as to who we are, it isn't the full picture. This is the reason we should always try to see the best in people, and encourage them accordingly.

Spin cycles occur when we lose sight of God's picture of who we can be, of who we were created to be, and in turn, who we really are. The Spin cycle is the product of a distorted view of self (and God) which prevents us from making the necessary choices to change the things that need to be changed.

My prayer this week is that you will identify at least one spin cycle in your life, and address the root emotion and cause behind it. If your spin cycle is a little bigger, as mine seems to be, maybe its time to do a little 'acting', and create the character that meets with the missing, unexpressed part of who you are. And finally, that you would understand that you are loved by your Creator, and that you were created the image of God for the purpose of serving those around you. If you don't, you'll inevitably move into another spin cycle. We were not given this life to live in endless pleasure, endless fear, or perfect convenience. We were created to serve God by loving Him and loving one another, and so long as we remember that, we can close the gap between whatever discouragement we are facing and the contentment that comes when life is no longer just one long routine.


Note: I can hear the comments already. Yes. I believe in absolutes, especially when it comes to the care and responsibility of our family. However, too often we still use behaviour and isolate it as "the sole expression" of another person and define them accordingly. How lucky are we that God judges us differently. We would do well to learn from Jesus I think, but it's just a thought...