Last week I spend most of the week in hospital having a hernia repair operation. If I am being honest, I should have had this surgery years ago, but I have always had a fear of anything medical, and the thought of just going to see a doctor about my hernia sent a shiver down my spine. So I ignored it. When my hernia ‘popped out’, I quietly pushed in back in and got on with my life always telling myself “next time” I will go see a doctor.
Well, a few weeks ago that “next time” came about. For the first time since developing a hernia, I could not push it back in after it had popped out and found myself in the Emergency Room of our local hospital. This ‘visit’ ultimately led to my stay in hospital last week for the surgery I needed.
Between the visit to the ER and my surgery, my brain played all sorts of tricks on me. Fears of waking up in the middle of the operation, dying on the operating table, the thought that as the hernia had been pushed back in I didn’t need to go through with the surgery, now was not a good time to have surgery etc etc. My brain tried everything to dissuade me from going through with the surgery.
Fortunately, I knew it would and I prepared myself with alternative thoughts. I focused on what it would be like to be able to do whatever exercise I wanted to do without any fear of my hernia ‘popping out’. Of being able to travel without the fear of having to go to an emergency room in a foreign land and of being able to jump up and down at music festivals again.
Following the surgery and after coming round from the anaesthetic, I looked around the recovery room and the first thought I had was “what was all the fuss about?”
And for the rest of the day, I began thinking about this. Why is it our brains are so good at coming up with great ideas and then being so good at sabotaging those ideas when we want to execute on them?
This experience and the experience I had going to the ER in the first place has taught me that most of our fears about the future are unfounded. We tend to think of the worst when the worst is unlikely to happen and instead we should focus on the best-case scenarios.
When our brain goes off into “worst-case scenario” thinking, we need to pull ourselves back and focus on the “best-case scenario” — in my case being able to exercise and travel without fear. This means when we make our plans, create out goals or accept we have to go see a doctor about a long-standing medical issue, we define the outcome in clear, positive and easy to imagine ways. We should acknowledge our fears, be aware of them and be prepared to quickly shift our thinking away from the negatives and back to the positives.
Years ago when I finally stopped smoking, the same issues came up. It was very easy at the end of the day to go to my smoking balcony, smoke a cigarette saying to myself “this is the last cigarette I will smoke”, going to bed determined not to smoke again, only to wake up in the morning and after drinking a few sips of coffee, having the strongest urge imaginable to have a cigarette and giving in. I did that for years.
In the end, it took a huge effort and a lot of mental switching to prevent my brain from sabotaging my efforts. It always came down to saying to myself “I can do this!” Once it was done, I looked back and thought to myself “why did it take so long for me to do this?”
I see the same thing happening with people who become stressed out and overwhelmed at the amount of work they perceive they have to do. We see a mountain of work and our brain goes into overdrive telling us we could never get that mountain of work completed on time. Of course, the truth is we can get that work done and all we have to do is focus on one thing at a time and do whatever it takes to avoid distractions and interruptions. Two or three days of focused work and that mountain will have disappeared and we are back in control.
The trick is to look at the mountain, decide it can be conquered and develop a strategy to conquer it. Block a day or two on your calendar and tell your boss, customers and co-workers you need a day or two to catch up. In most cases, the people you tell will understand and support you. Obviously your brain is going to tell you if you block your calendar your boss will be angry — maybe even fire you — your customers will never understand and will take their business to your biggest rival (because your rival has no work to do and can be available 24/7) None of which is true, but we allow our brains to sabotage us like that.
Don’t allow it to happen. Focus on the positives. Focus on the outcome you desire. Acknowledge the things that could go wrong but don’t dwell on them. When your brain tries to sabotage you, push the positives back to the front of your mind. Remind yourself why you are changing what you are changing, doing what you are doing and what the outcome will be if you carry this through. Tell yourself: I can do this!
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