I have to share an article with you that simultaneously makes me sad and sends me into rant-mode.
Recently, students from UVA and Harvard did a study that shows how much people don’t like to sit with their own thoughts for any period of time.
You can read more about it here, but essentially, they used a random selection of people and put them in a room alone with nothing but an electric shock machine. These people could either just sit alone with their thoughts for up to 15 minutes, or choose to self-administer an electric shock.
Yes, the choice is as easy as that: Just “be” for 15 minutes or shock yourself. No brainer, right?
Except an average of over 40% of people chose to shock themselves.
In the researchers’ own words: “Simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?
Clearly, a surprising number of people believe that their thoughts are more painful or uncomfortable than shocking themselves.
My first reaction to this was to be totally shocked (pun intended) and upset. But the more I think about it, the more it’s actually starting to make some sense in my mind.
The truth is, I see this happening on a smaller (or at least less physically painful) scale all the time.
Many of the people who end up coaching with us are living, day-in and day-out, with the discomfort and internal chaos of not knowing their passion and their bigger purpose.
IT SENDS A LOT OF PEOPLE INTO HABITUAL “NUMBING” BEHAVIORS
In everyday life, numbing behaviors seem slightly less drastic than self-administering an electric shock. Mostly, they show up as distractions — overeating, Netflix binges, endless Facebook scrolling, excessive exercising, bar-hopping, etc.
We’re trying to keep our minds busy every moment of the day, because if we stop for long enough to actually acknowledge our thoughts, we might have to face some uncomfortable truths and uncertainties.
I see this all the time in people who are less-than-satisfied in their job, but have no clue what else to do.
Figuring out what you’re really passionate about, deciding on your next career path, questioning whether you’re living your life in alignment with what you ultimately want … these are seriously big questions with potentially scary answers.
It’s no wonder most of us distract ourselves from mentally “going there” with a binge marathon of Scandal, complete with chips, dip, and wine.
“Numbing” behaviors are completely normal when you’re feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, and overwhelmed. But that’s not an invitation to keep doing them.
Sitting with the question, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” is uncomfortable. It opens up the door for massive uncertainty, self-doubt, comparison, overwhelm, judgment, fear, over-analysis, (shall I go on?).
BUT HERE’S THE TRUTH (THAT YOU ALREADY KNOW, BUT ARE MAYBE DISTRACTING YOURSELF FROM ACKNOWLEDGING):
“Numbing out” and distracting yourself is just as uncomfortable.
They’re still there, in the back of your mind, eating away at you and trying to get you to pay attention.
So would you rather be uncomfortable while gaining clarity, self-awareness, and forward momentum? Or stay uncomfortable in an endless cycle of distractions and mindless busyness?
Again, this seems like an obvious choice … but so did the shock experiment.
For the record, I’m totally not hating on TV marathons or the occasional night of junk food and good wine. In moderation — and, more importantly, with the right intentions — these things are perfectly great!
I’m a diehard fan of more shows than I’m comfortable listing out for you right now (ahem, it might be approaching double digits…).
The key is to ask yourself, “Am I doing this purely for relaxation and enjoyment? Or am I avoiding something?” Intuitively, you’ll know which is true.
SO NOW, I WANT TO CHALLENGE YOU:
Carve out at least 15 minutes this week to just “be.” Sit with your thoughts, maybe journal about how you’re feeling, and allow yourself to “go there.”
Then, come back and leave a comment to let us know how the experience was for you!
Kristen (+ Rachel)