The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Patching Cracks

 

June 13, 2018



For nearly a decade, I worked for a residential mental health facility. One of my favorite parts of that job was our annual trip to take kids to the upper parts of Minnesota, where we would canoe and camp with the clients for a week in the Boundary Waters. One year, I was working with a group of young ladies from our addiction treatment program. We were on the second day of our trip and one of our students was having trouble managing and paddling her canoe. She was sitting in the back seat, which is the position that essentially steers the boat. She was frustrated with her failure to get the hang of it. Around lunch time, she began yelling about her frustration. She then threw her paddle down and demanded that someone fix it for her. This was in the middle of a large lake. If I wanted to help, there was no good way to move them from where they were sitting. I sat for a moment, trying to figure out what to do about it. Then a realization struck me: She had to figure it out. So, I told the student that we would be eating lunch on the far side of the lake, and we paddled over, leaving the student there. After about an hour, she finally accepted that she would not be getting to shore any other way, so she picked up her paddle and figured out how to get to shore. This is a bit of an extreme example, but there are a lot of situations in life where we find ourselves stuck and we want to quit. Whether it be a marriage, job, financial, or whatever other kind of arrangement, there are times we find ourselves stuck in a miserable cycle or situation where we don’t see a clear pathway out. In those moments, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, “I quit.” However, this isn’t always an option.

There are a few keys to breaking out of ruts we find ourselves in. The first is the most obvious and difficult: Deal with our emotions. It’s easy to let frustration, anger, hopelessness, or other powerful negative feelings overtake us. The thing that happens when we let these powerful feelings take charge is, we stop thinking things through thoroughly. Instead, we freeze up or get tunnel vision so we don’t see our options. The key to effectively dealing with difficult situations we find ourselves in is cooling off to the point we are able to see our options beyond sitting stuck in our frustrations or giving up entirely.

After we’ve calmed enough to think more clearly, the next step is to identify simple steps to take to fix it. We often struggle with this when faced with difficulty because we begin to only see the big picture problem, instead of the steps needed to solve it. It’s easy to see a struggling marriage as too big of a mess to repair, but often marital difficulties can be repaired with some minor behavioral changes. We are unable to see those changes because we get stuck seeing only the big problem, not the smaller pieces. Breaking big problems down into little steps is the beginning of finding a solution. Sometimes we might need advice from an outsider to help us figure out how to solve the problem we are facing. A fresh set of eyes can often see solutions where we otherwise wouldn’t.

 
 

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