Just think about it...

Blog - Just think about it...

Robert Aurbach | Published: February 24, 2015

"The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances."

— Andrew Bernstein

This quote was among several that the resilience coach, Graeme Cowan recently posted. I'm not sure who Andrew Bernstein is but it strikes me as profoundly true and potentially helpful.

Have you ever been in a car, having an animated conversation with a friend and failed to notice that the traffic was barely moving? Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and noticed that the same amount of traffic caused a much more intense reaction?

What changed? Not the traffic. It was your thoughts about the traffic. In one case, your focus was on something you were enjoying. In the other, the focus was of how the world was conspiring to make you late.

The person or circumstances that we focus upon are not the real cause of the distress. Our thoughts about the events are the real culprit. Unfortunately, most of the time we look for causes for things that happen, and our perceptions follow our focus.

Our compensation systems ask a claimant to focus on the “cause” of his or her distress. He or she has to prove that the injury is related to work, and in the case of psychological injury, there’s the issue of reasonable administrative action to focus us on “who is to blame”. That makes the job of the rehab professional much tougher. The worker gets stuck on his or her story about the cause of the problem and the story creates focus on distress.

Where we place our focus can cause resistance to return to work. If we've fixated upon a particular person as the source of all our problems, then we avoid the workplace where they are. Sometimes we avoid all workplaces that might hide another person like the offender.

We limit our lives, when the limitation doesn’t fix what hurts. If the thing that hurts us is our thoughts about what happened, then we can’t really avoid the pain by avoiding the workplace. We carry the place where the pain is around with us, wherever we go.

I’ve said the role of the person assisting return to life after injury is to get the injured person to "change the story".

To succeed, the story must change from what it was when the worker first met you, to something that will allow him or her to regain control over his or her life. They must be able to retake control over their focus to regain that control.

If you remember that the experience of distress is in the mind of the beholder, then you have a better idea of what kind of changes are possible. There are lots of variations on the theme, “That was then, and this is now”. If you can uncouple the worker’s present experience from what "caused” it in the past, the need to avoid the cause disappears. This is hard, because the compensation scheme tries to bring the worker’s attention back to it, over and over. But it’s worth the effort.

You will have success with a client when you can get them to realise that they can retake control over their experiences, at the speed of thought. This morning I got myself out of a grumpy, tired mood just by looking through the fog at a vibrant green paddock near the train station, and deciding to focus on the beauty of the colours and the light. What will work for your next client?