Slaying the Dragonflies

To conquer big hard things, start with practicing on little hard things.

Slaying the Dragonflies

Think about something you want to conquer in your life. Do you want to write the next bestselling paranormal romance novel? Do you want to climb the highest mountain? Do you want to overcome pesky emotions and operate from a place of robotic peace? Whatever it is you want to conquer, you are simply not just going to wake up tomorrow having achieved that goal.

I know, what a bummer sentence to read. Here's what you can do:

  1. You could quit. Give up. Embrace the pipe dream because the steps you need to take to achieve the goal are too hard. I don't mean this facetiously. If you think what you want is too hard for you, you can acknowledge that and move onto a different goal. No shame. The challenge here is that we usually want something for a reason. So you might have to do some work to change your perspective on why you want to achieve that goal in order to choose a different goal.

    Here is an example: Say you want to write the next paranormal romance best seller (Is this only me? Heh.), but you have never written fiction in your life. You know you need to learn and practice the craft of writing, learn how to write a novel, and actually write. You know these steps and have wanted this for YEARS, but you have never moved. You are paralyzed by the goal.

    So what if, instead of berating yourself for not making it to that best seller list with a nonexistent book, you change your goal. You decide to test if you even like writing by writing a paragraph a week of anything fiction.

    Being realistic about our goals begins with understanding that unmet goals are a decision. They are a decision to put off what we think matters to us for the other stuff of life. They are an opportunity to either actually put effort towards the goal or to practice the skill of self-honesty. Is this actually a goal you want to achieve or is it just something that feels good to want?

    I encourage you to give some serious thought to quitting. What would happen if you stopped wanting this goal? If stopping is too painful, then keep reading.

  2. If your goals is to climb the highest mountain, you can go right to that mountain and start climbing without any physical or psychological training and hope that you stay alive. I know this sounds unreasonable, but people do this kind of thing all the time when the goal isn't a mountain.

    For example: You want to stop feeling jealousy, so you tell your partner they should go on a long weekend for the first time with their other partner and you will be great and celebrate their happiness. They may have never even stayed a full night with their other partner, but you feel great about this idea...

    Again, I am not trying to be facetious. People really do choose this method. I am again going to be a downer here: this almost never works. When you are in an emotionally calm state, your brain will tell you that you can handle anything. However, when your amygdala hijacks you and you are in emotional distress, the world will come crumbling down and you will ruminate hard.

    While I appreciate the courage of this approach, I have seen the disasters that follow. This approach does not set you, your partner, or your partner's partner up for success. It is usually a one way ticket to disappointment, frustration, and, you guessed it, more jealousy. So what can you do instead?

  3. I want you to think of your goal, and break it down into small, realistic chunks. You might begin writing the best seller by writing for 20 minutes each day. You might begin with one hour hikes each week to start toward climbing that highest mountain.

    You might consider smaller, challenging but achievable emotional experiences to understand how you react under emotional duress and what you need to soothe yourself. If jealousy is real bear for you, consider starting with observing a different emotion and what you do when you are in the throes of feeling.

    Here is an example: consider anger. Make a list of all of the things that have made you angry in the last month (dumb drivers, a work email exchange that just won't quit, when you told your child to pick up their socks and their socks are still there one whole week later). This step is to make you aware of some of your anger triggers - what situations elicit anger in you?

    Once you have an awareness, the next time you feel anger, bring attention to the fact that you are experiencing anger. Separate the you that is feeling the experience from the you that is able to acknowledge, "Oh hey I am experiencing some road rage!" Practice this for a few months. Yep - just hold the emotion and the acknowledgment that you are experiencing the emotion at the same time.

    The next step is to choose a different behavior than you normally would. Again, if you feel road rage when someone is driving slowly ahead of you and you normally ride their tail or shake your fist or fly around them through the slow lane...choose to pull over until they are so far ahead of you that you can't see them, or sing along with the radio and give them a good distance. It doesn't matter what you choose. The step here is to understand you have a choice that is different from what you are compelled to do out of habit.

    Finally, acknowledge that you might not be able to control or change your anger triggers, but you can practice different behaviors when you feel the feeling.

    This practice is what I call, "Slaying the dragonflies." Instead of attacking the threat of a huge thing directly (the dragon); choose to practice with smaller, achievable things (dragonflies). The anger might always be there with you, but you can make choices that change the outcome of your experiences.

There is so much more I can say about what comes next; what comes after you slay some dragonflies. I will be saying it soon enough.

Until next time. In curiosity,

Dr. S. Kay Webb