Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Contrast Makes Things Clearer

Sometimes it takes a good contrast to help you really see something clearly.

I have often struggled with a problematic way of relating to a new, complex task. If I'm faced with a task that is overwhelming to me, and requires a lot of knowledge that I don't currently possess, I often have an 'immediate reaction' that causes me to panic. I actually have a knee jerk response that feels very much like the task facing me is impossible. It isn't based in reality. It isn't based on my past successes. If it were based in my proven ability to figure things out, I would have no doubt that I could figure it out. My track record in regards to figuring out complex tasks is quite solid.

So, why would I instantly feel that I won't be able to figure something out? Often I have that reaction before I even have all the data! It is kind of frustrating, but it FEELS VERY REAL!

Last night, I helped a very good friend out with a bunch of computer problems. I helped set up her new laptop over the weekend, and everything running fine when I left her on Friday night. Then Comcast set up her high speed internet, and her wireless router. The first time she turned her computer off and back on after that installation, many things went wrong. My friend panicked. She called me.

What struck me about the conversation was how entirely panicked she was. She kept predicting doom and kept proclaiming the problems were unsolvable. She had called her comcast installer, and he had basically told her he didn't know how to help. This confirmed, in her mind, that it was hopeless.

I saw, in her, a greatly magnified form of what I do. It was very interesting to watch!

I kept assuring her we would solve the problem. She kept saying she didn't know how. I kept telling her I would guide her through it.

There were several problems that we had to resolve, and we went at them one by one. She would frequently leap ahead to other problems, and I would ask her to stay with me in the current process. I promised her that we would get there.

What amazed me, is that even though I'm the knowledgeable person in this arena, she kept insisting that things were hopeless. For example, she had saved a document, and couldn't find it again. She kept saying, "The file is GONE! It's just GONE! I'm going to have to do it all over again!" I would respond that the file was not GONE, we just had to find it. In a short time... we found it, of course.

The fear of 'not getting the task done' was so strong in her, that she kept catasrophizing the situation.

At one point she told me that the Comcast guy had said he didn't know what was wrong, and that nothing he had done could be causing her problems. (The computer wasn't starting properly. It was sometimes hanging on boot, other times it was giving us error messages.)

I kept telling her that the computer was working perfectly when I left, and that the only thing that had happened to the computer since then, was the Comcast installation.

She told me again that the Comcast guy said it wasn't him. I got a little flabbergasted and said, "OK... are you going to believe the Comcast guy or are you going to believe me?"

That calmed her down a bit, and we methodically went through a troubleshooting process. We uninstalled several things that he had installed (that are totally unnecessary for her and are incompatible with Windows 7). I helped her locate her files, and learn to navigate a bit better.

She's all set and happily getting her work done now.

The contrast of seeing her do what I do in a greatly magnified form, showed me how seriously that 'energy' of panic and hopelessness was impairing her ability to be present to the solution process. She really couldn't think straight when she was freaking out. I had to tell her to take a deep breath a few times so she could answer my questions and we could continue to sort out the problems.

I do the same thing. Seeing this extreme example gave me a clue of how to work with myself more effectively when this happens.

Calm down.
Take deep breaths.
Know there IS a solution.
Know there IS SOMEONE who can figure it out, even if I can't.
Apply good reasoning.
Let the solution present itself!!

Next time I get the chance, I'm going to see if I can go through this sort of experience with a little more peace and confidence in myself!