All the time I have clients coming to me who feel stuck. They feel trapped in a circumstance that they don't know how to get out of. They’ve tried everything, they've exhausted their options — or at least that's what feels real to them. So they do their best to cling to hope, and stubbornly struggle against the onslaught of whatever it is that holds them back or holds them down. And all the while the resentment, the quiet despair, builds in the undercurrent of their souls.
By the time they come to me, they’re usually pretty beat up by the whole thing. In some cases, they're desperate for a change. But when we start exploring some new perspectives on their struggle — perspectives they actually hadn’t considered before — this really interesting thing happens.
Have you ever watched the Animal Planet channel — when they cage up a wild animal, haul if off somewhere else (presumbly somewhere safer) and release it back into the wild? Ever notice how lots of times when the handlers open the cage and step away, the animal for whatever reason won't come out? It wants nothing more than to be free and away from these meddlesome humans, but it just sits there on its haunches growling in the back of the cage! It's like the animal doesn't really buy it. It's got to be a trick. Only it's not a trick; the animal is free to go. But it just won't leave the cage (the cage it hates, by the way), and so the handlers have to shake the cage and freak out the animal just to get it to step back into freedom.
I've noticed that we can be a lot like that caged animal when we get stuck in certain (unfulfilling, unproductive, unpleasant, unhelpful) ways of looking at a challenge in our lives. We get stuck in a perspective, and it becomes very much like a cage we hate but refuse to leave. Maybe the perspective is "this is hopeless" or "I've tried everything and nothing works" or "I hate this but I'm too tired to care anymore" or "I give up" or a thousand other self-defeating ways of looking at something. But even though we want a way out, when we're asked to step out of the cage and consider a different perspective (a different attitude or different way of looking at the issue), we often fiercely resist. The new perspective might be something like "This can’t defeat me" or "God will show the way" or "This is a great opportunity." And you can just feel the tension in the air rise. Our minds are instantly filled with all sorts of bold pronouncements: "But that’s ridiculous!" or "You've got to be kidding!" or "That's just wishful thinking."
The cage is open, but we don't want to come out.
Consider the struggle many singles face around the issue of their singleness. Perhaps you want to be married, but for whatever reason it’s not happening right now. What do you do with that? How do you interpret it? Unfortunately, many singles tend toward a whole host of self-defeating perspectives when it comes to their missing mates: Everything from “Something must be wrong with me,” to “I can’t be happy unless I’m married,” to “I guess God doesn’t really care about me.” These perspectives leave singles feeling miserable for the most part, and do little to move them toward any sort of productive solution. But even when offered positive alternatives (such as “Being single is a wonderful gift,” “I don’t need a spouse to live a rich, fulfilling life” or “God is leading me in the way that’s best for me”), they still often stubbornly cling to their self-defeating perspectives like rancid security blankets.
Why do we want to stay in the cage of a powerless perspective? Well for one thing, it's comfortable. Even though we don't like it, at least it's not unknown ... you know, like the space "out there" beyond the bars. And sometimes we also think it's all a trick. We're just much too smart for these ridiculous mind games. "Change my perspective? You may as well ask me to believe the sky is purple!" We're not going to be fooled, no sir, not us. We know what's up with life out there. We know how it is. And nobody's going to tell us different.
And in part, that’s true. Nobody can control the way you choose to perceive your circumstances. How you look at a challenge in your life is totally up to you. Nobody's holding a gun to your head saying, "Think self-defeating thoughts about this or I'll shoot you!" So if you want to stay in the cage of a perspective that leaves you feeling powerless and defeated, you absolutely can. That’s your prerogative.
But here’s the thing: You don't have to. You really, really don't have to.
Marcel Proust wrote, "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Oftentimes the reason we haven't found the solution we’re looking for isn't because the struggle is too big or we're too small or God is too absent or Satan is too strong. It's because the cage we've chosen to sit in is blocking our view of the answer that’s been right in front of us all along.
Michael D. Warden is a Professional Co-Active Coach, nationally trained through the Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, CA, and a member of the International Coach Federation. Michael’s clients’ one common trait is their passion to live a bigger life — to discover what they're here for, and boldly go after that vision with confidence and authenticity. Find more on his life and work at www.michaelwarden.com.