The day you get to meet me professionally is unlikely to be a good one. Very few people have their fingers crossed for heart surgery. In fact, most of us would hope to avoid a serious encounter with a hospital at all costs. Generally, a major health issue or issue in your personal life might be something that we term a crisis. Some earth-shaking, soul-shattering event that challenges everything about you.
When faced with a crisis, there is a wealth of advice around. When one door closes, another opens. Everything happens for a reason. The only way is up. Be strong. In the midst of a crisis, these kind of sayings seem like the least helpful things that you can hear. But what if they're not useless cliches? I am beginning to think that they are code for: Crisis? Use it.
Most of the time, we are on auto-pilot. A combination of behavioural, biochemical, genetic and social cues keep our behaviour pretty constant. Smokers have habits and chemical dependency. Runners enjoy the fitness and are rewarded by endorphins. You speak to a friend, partner or colleague in the same way because it has somehow worked for you. All of these day-to-day, week-to-week habits happen because we like to just carry on without having to think about why we do what we do. Simply because it's hard to challenge deeply ingrained behaviours.
Sometimes, it takes some enormous event to force us to take stock of what we have been doing. It might be the heart condition, a relationship breakdown or the loss of a job that finally breaks through the years and years of pre-conditioned behaviours. It is truly a bolt from the blue that forces us to look very carefully at what we've been doing and perhaps make some changes.
What this all comes down to is being pushed outside your comfort zone. The immense internal discomfort that comes from a sudden jolt means that you have no choice but to at least look at what you have been doing. Has it made you healthy and happy or just given you the illusion that you were? Has your crisis challenged the 'it won't happen to me' mindset? Has the crisis shown you how much you have taken for granted the important people and aspects of your life?
Unfortunately, while a crisis might shake us to our core, it might not always result in change. In fact, in my line of work, even after open-heart surgery, a proportion of patients will continue to smoke or maintain an unhealthy body weight. I'm sure we have all gone on to repeat past relationship mistakes and the workplace is a merry-go-round of the same behaviours, even after discipline or a job change.
Is this because those of us who don't change after a bolt from the blue are weak? Absolutely not. The human condition is such that we are all set up to take the familiar road as much as possible. It's easy. It takes less brain power, less heartache and less discomfort. It's not about willpower or laziness or anything else that makes us feel small for not getting there. We are all wired that way, more or less.
A crisis is often a blessing in disguise because it is exactly what it might take to truly make a change. In the face of a major road bump in life, when people still cannot make the changes they may need, is it any wonder why we struggle normally? Subtle or gently-gently approaches have the distinct disadvantage of not inducing the level of discomfort needed to shake us out of our habits and force a reassessment of what really matters to us and how we can set about improving it.
Maybe it's not about doors closing or windows opening. Maybe it's about taking a good, hard look at ourselves and our life and working out what is really worth the effort and the discomfort and not ignoring it for the next crisis to come along. Crisis is just another opportunity for us to live the lives that we want to and need to.