Now I am a sucker for great, impactful quotations and love what they do when they land in someone’s awareness and cause them to stop in their tracks and perhaps change their thinking. They can be life-changing.
Over the years I have had my fair share of favourites that landed just at the right time for me, people like Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Paolo Coelho and Maya Angelou amongst others have all played a huge part in my life changes since I first began to be aware that I could actually change myself, my thinking and consequently, my life.
However, this one from Elizabeth Gilbert is my favourite by far. It is simple and direct to the point and leaves nothing to interpretation. It is relevant to me personally as well as to my coaching work in helping others make the necessary shifts in order to transform themselves and their situations.
The ‘bullshit’ that she is referring to are the stories that we tell ourselves in order to try to keep ourselves supposedly comfortable and safe. It is also the lies that we concoct for ourselves and the false assumptions that we make in order to justify unhelpful and limiting actions that perpetuate a crap situation.
We all do it and it is an ongoing struggle because we have a tendency to make shit up in order to avoid what we perceive is difficult or uncertain if we took action to deal with our situation.
The number of times that I have done it myself (and still do it) could probably fill several volumes. Everything from “I need to persevere in this shit new job because I can’t have my CV showing that I stayed less than a year” to “I need to work late in order to give myself the chance of the promotion” to “I need to stay in this unhappy relationship for the sake of the kids/the finances etc. etc.” and many, many more.
However, as I subsequently found out, none of them were actually true. Those stories were my ‘bullshit’. But they kept me from the perceived or imagined ‘difficult or unpleasant’ action that I would have to take if I owned up to the truth and did what I should have done. This would have involved looking for another job immediately and getting away from a sweatshop, dog-eat-dog work culture and moving out of the unhappy relationship sooner.
Ultimately I did all of these things anyway and many more, some because I was forced through circumstances, albeit not on my terms, and others because I finally realised what was happening, that the story that I was telling myself was nonsense and untrue. However, not before I inflicted on myself large doses of stress, mental anguish, and bad career and financial choices.
I also see it all around me, in relationships, family, friends, acquaintances and clients. It is everywhere because it is part of the human condition, to tell stories and make excuses. I have become better at seeing it for myself now because of all of the experiences, learning and counselling I have had. However, I am not an expert, I still do it a lot and I still allow myself to fall under the spell of one of my bullshit stories before I catch myself and call them out.
I am grateful too that this experience has taught me to be pretty good at spotting it in others and in my coaching and teaching work, it can be incredibly helpful to see what is going on and help people, who have asked for help, to get to a place where they see whatever false story or untrue assumption that is stopping them dealing with a particular situation.
But being better at spotting it also has its downside especially with those close to you. People don’t like their bullshit being called out, they see it as threatening and judgemental however if you adopt the ‘let them find their own way’ approach then it can be very hard to watch them suffer and struggle as they wallow in their story.
The risk is that if you say something truthful but difficult that you could end a friendship or distance a close relative or lose a client. But which is more important, the love and concern that you have for that person or the possibility that you will upset them and drive a wedge between the two of you?
I am all for the latter and taking the risk every time.
Because perhaps the jolt of awareness might be the tipping point to them starting to think about doing something about the issue. That might be all it needs for them to make a decision to change their life.
To me, that is worth the risk. I know! It’s not an easy one. It is a high stakes dilemma.
What would you do?
What About You?
So, now that we are onto the topic of ‘you’, what are your bullshit stories?
Perhaps you don’t think you have any – alas you do. We all do.
And if you don’t know that you do or what they might be, there is a good way to find out.
Ask yourself ‘What am I struggling with or what situation am I unhappy about at the moment? Relationship, finances, job, health?’
Okay, so you have got something. Write it down.
Next, ask yourself ‘What am I telling myself about this situation that is allowing me to avoid taking action or changing what I am currently doing? What is my excuse?’
If you are unsure about this then look at the excuses that you find yourself giving to other people when you are inevitably complaining or just talking about the issue that you are unhappy about?
If you come up with answers along the lines of these examples, then you are onto something:
‘I need to go onto this new committee because it will be good for my CV’
‘I need to stay late because that’s how you get a partnership’
‘I can’t change what I am currently doing (job, relationship etc) until the kids are older (or any other reason starting with ‘until’)
‘He’s not like that all the time, it’s not his fault/I must have upset him/he is a bit stressed in work’
‘I haven’t got time to go for walks/to eat proper food because my schedule is too busy’
‘What would people say if I __________ (fill in the blanks)?’
‘I have to put up with this family situation because he is my brother (or another family member)’
‘This team member is not much good but he is a nice person so I feel bad letting him go’
‘She is really difficult to live with and her behaviour is awful with but I know she loves me’
Can you see what these excuse statements do to your situation? They take away your power. People offer these stories and excuses as the reason they cannot do anything about their circumstances and as a result, they don’t have to take any difficult action.
So, they stay stuck or even trapped and suffer in silence. They wait and hope that something will change, whether it be the other person or their circumstances. It’s like hoping to win the Lotto without having bought a ticket!
They are believing or assuming (falsely) that there is nothing they can do. They are giving away their power. This is the bullshit that Liz refers to.
And as I found, nothing will change unless either they recognise it as a limiting, usually untrue belief or assumption and start to deal with it from that place.
A change is forced on them by circumstances or another person taking action which usually catches them off guard and further removes their power and control.
So, take a minute to write down your ‘bullshit’ excuse together with the answers to these questions.
What are you waiting for or hoping will happen?
What is your excuse stopping you doing or taking action on?
How do you feel now that you see your desire/goal and your excuses in front of you on the paper?
Do you see how nonsensical it is?
Okay. So now that you know it is bullshit, what are you going to do next? Write down all of the things that you could possibly do to rectify your situation, no matter how small.
Great! How does that feel? The story no longer has power over you. You are free to make your choices around what you will do next.
The ball is in your court.
You can start living your life the way you are supposed to.
No more bullshit!