It sounds like such common sense…yet why do so many people do it?
Most people wouldn’t consider standing at the top of a steep flight of stairs and hurtling themselves downward, tumbling and bouncing painfully every step of the way until the forces of gravity and inertia are exhausted and they come to a stop. In the best case scenario, they’d lay there woozy, sore and possibly injured. In the worst case scenario, it could even be life-threatening. Those two painful scenarios are usually enough to stop most people from attempting a stair dive.
And yet…it happens every day…
Although most people wouldn’t literally take on such a dangerous stunt, the truth is it’s far more common than you think – in a metaphorical sense, anyway. In fact, it’s very possible that, you, yourself, dear reader, may have been guilty of this reckless act in the past. Here’s how it happens:
It all starts innocently enough…
Usually it begins with a simple observation…or an impression…then it takes a rapid downward turn for the worse, gains momentum, loses all sense of balance and control and pretty soon you’re laying there emotionally bruised and battered. A single wayward thought is more than enough to set this chain of events in motion and it happens something like this:
“He seems awfully quiet tonight…”
“I wonder if it’s something I said…”
“Oh, no wait…I’ll bet it’s something I DID…”
“I knew I shouldn’t have _________….”
“Why do I ALWAYS screw up my relationships…”
“I’m so stupid…I can’t do anything, right!!”
“Who’s going to love me?!?!”
Get the idea?
This is just one example of how a chain of negative thoughts that will leave you bound up, spiraling downward and confused. If you notice the stair-stepping effect, you’ll see how it often starts with an innocent enough thought but then leaves you literally vary far away from the initial thought. To one degree or another, we all do this anytime we focus on worst case scenarios or incessantly worry about remote possibilities instead of focusing on the direction we want to move.
So how do we fix it?
The secret to getting back on track is asking great-quality questions that shift your focus back in the right direction. Oftentimes, one or two good questions is all it takes to derail a train of thought that’s heading down the wrong track. Occasionally, if a problem seems more permanent or pervasive in the moment, you may need an even better tool.
Get to Work
This is a powerful tool that can help you out of a spinout when you need it. Developed by a bestselling author and thought leader, Byron Katie, she named her powerful process of inquiry The Work. It was designed to eliminate suffering via the use of 4 specific questions and a variety of turnarounds. If you ever find yourself about to take that painful tumble down the steps of negativity, ask yourself these 4 questions and it should help you regain your footing:
1) Is it true?
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?
Once you answer the questions, the next step is turning the thought around. For instance, in my example above, when you notice that “he seems awfully quiet tonight” rather than spiraling downward, you also have the option to spiral in the direction you want to go as well. In other words, “is it possible that his silence is a sign that he is actually listening deeply, intently and carefully considering what I said?”
Bottom line, any time you start a question with the words “is it possible…” and then you move in the direction you want to go, there’s a very good chance you’ll regain control before you find yourself tumbling down those steps and heading for a crash.
Proceed with caution
Lastly, now that you have this powerful new metaphor about “throwing yourself down the steps”…I’m hoping it will resonate and stick in your memory. Then the next time you find yourself teetering at the top of an emotional staircase, you’ll think of this blog…smile to yourself…recognize you’re doing it…and regain your footing with some great questions rather than taking that painful tumble downward…