HOW TO ESCAPE A SELF-MADE PRESSURE COOKER
What is the point of pressure? I pondered this as my recent holiday came to an end. I’d spent a week living on the beach, exploring places of natural beauty and enjoying a freedom-fueling road trip. Driving through lush rain-forests and along coastal roads, I felt a sense of freedom and expansiveness. But as I reached the outskirts of the city, getting closer to home, I felt my energy change – my body began to feel heavy and tired, it was almost as if I could feel this sense of freedom coming to an end. My body was literally sensing that I wasn’t in freedom-loving territory anymore. I was coming back to routine, responsibilities, work and commitments, it was the sensation of…pressure.
What is pressure? It’s not really tangible but we all seem to know what it feels like – an invisible buzz-kill! The thing that can turn a fun, creative or joyful project into a drag, dread or sense of obligation. It comes in many forms: a recurring thought, a constant reminder, a nagging feeling…an item that stays unticked on your to-do list that generates a sinking feeling every time you look at it. Often, it’s related to a task, event, activity or project that you have committed to doing and have not yet started or you have failed to complete.
As I observed my body changing as it neared the destination of my life’s required tasks and responsibilities, I realised that pressure is simply heaviness. It’s an ‘energetic heaviness.’ Pressure is the stale, dense energy that you are lugging around day and night and that you are not moving. It is energy that feels stuck, constricting or suffocating. The problem with this stagnant energy is that you feel blocked from doing anything with it – it seems to weigh you down so much it paralyses you.
We know what the absence of pressure feels like – a holiday. When there is no ‘pressing’ thing you that have to do, no-where you have to be, no-one you have to please and the most difficult decision you have to make is what to eat for your next meal. Holidays are simply when you give yourself ‘time off’ from your usual routine and responsibilities, but even when we ‘return to reality’ why does that have to automatically equal pressure? I believe it’s because we seem to think that ‘pressure’ is something that originates from external sources and is something that happens to us, instead of realising that we are the source of our own pressure.
When I worked for a big corporation it was really easy to believe that pressure came from outside of me. I felt pressure coming from ‘demanding’ managers and ‘difficult’ clients and from totally unrealistic workloads and deadlines. It was easy to blame these external factors for my feelings of pressure, stress and heaviness. If they all just went away I’d be able to relax and rest, right?
It was a rude shock when I stepped out of the corporate world expecting life to become one big coastal road-trip of freedom only to find…pressure. Pressure to please, pressure to make money, pressure to meet deadlines, pressure to do things quickly and above all, pressure to be ‘better’. What the hell? The pressure was coming from me.
How many times have you wished for your boss/staff/client/husband/wife/parent/child/friend to stop asking for you to do something? Their request or demand feels overwhelming and you hear yourself saying “I just don’t need the added pressure.” The next time this happens, stop and ask yourself – where is the feeling of pressure really coming from? Perhaps they are just asking a simple question. Have you ever walked in the door and innocently asked your beloved, who is busily cooking in the kitchen, “What time will dinner be ready?” only to have to duck your head to avoid being hit by an airborne kitchen utensil? As the spatula went hurtling past your head you might have even retorted: “I was just asking a question!” Were you putting pressure on them or were you just asking a question? When someone asks something of you, are you registering it as a simple question or are you feeling pressured?
The truth is, the only person who can apply pressure to yourself, is yourself. If someone is asking or even if they are ‘demanding’ something from you – this can only translate to ‘pressure’ if you let it. If you have a strong, robust boundary that is firm on your timeline and on your willingness to do something, then any unreasonable request or insistent demand will simply bounce right off you. For example, if you are extremely clear and firm in your conviction that you do not want to volunteer for the school fundraiser, then no matter how strongly someone insists that you volunteer for the school fundraiser, no matter how much ‘pressure’ they place on you in the form of recurrent requests and guilt-tripping hints – their requests or insistence will fall flat. You are clear you don’t want to do it, you are committed to other plans (or what is right for you) and you continue to feel light, clear and peaceful in a ‘boundary bubble’.
But most of us are not in a clear and peaceful boundary bubble – we’re in a bloody PRESSURE COOKER of stress and overwhelm. And while we’re suffocating under the weight of conflicting requests and obligations and busy complaining resentfully about all the ‘requesters’ and ‘demanders,’ we’re failing to notice that this pressure cooker we’re in is totally of our own making. The feeling of pressure we’re experiencing is all down to our very own lack of clarity, grounding and purpose – and poor boundaries.
In his book No Boundaries, Ken Wilber defines pressure as ‘disowned drive’. He believes that pressure results when you have disowned your own internal drive, it’s never something that originates externally. While you might start out with a healthy motivation to do something, you might get distracted or interrupted and ‘disown’ your drive to do it, resulting in pressure.
This is how it works:
You decide that you really want to clean out your wardrobe. You’ve been reading The Life Saving Magic of Tidying Up and you’re pumped – you are going to de-clutter, become all zen from your new minimalist life and save the Earth by recycling the results of your past unfettered consumerism. You are committed. You get started and you’re loving it. You’re productive, ruthless in your purging and strategic in your organisation. As you’re filling up your charity bags you are wondering why you left it so damn long to do this – it’s so easy, and it’s SO freeing!
Then you decide to try on some of the clothes you are unsure about. You’re umming and ahhing in front of the mirror when the phone rings. You chat to your friend for half an hour. You have a cup of tea. You have some lunch. You decide to get back to a few emails. You decide to check Facebook and Instagram…Before you know it a couple of hours have passed before you re-enter your bedroom. You walk back in and survey the site – piles of clothes, shoes, scarves and hangers all over the bedroom. And suddenly, YOU HAVE LOST THE WILL TO LIVE.
Nooooooooooooo. Make it go away. Now.
What happened? You WANTED to clean out the wardrobe. Then you LOST your DRIVE to do it. You have become detached from your motivation and now it feels like PRESSURE. And it feels like a weight of expectation that is coming from OUTSIDE of yourself because you’ve forgotten that you wanted to do it and you have (for one reason or another) disowned your internal drive.
Now think about when someone has asked you to do something and you have agreed to do it even though you don’t want to do it. You have NEVER owned the drive or motivation in the first place – no wonder it feels like pressure! But how many times do you then see the person asking or the undesired task as the source of the pressure? It’s not. The source of the pressure is the disowned drive, the fact that you don’t want to do it!
I’ll give you a moment to ponder the significance of looking at pressure this way. It explains so much – the book you want to write, the half-knitted jumper you want to finish, the bedroom you want to paint, the course you want to finish…have you simply lost your motivation? And also, are you looking to escape the pressure by further disowning your motivation? Have you chosen to deal with the pressure by avoiding, escaping or procrastinating? The solution is to re-own your drive.
So how do we avoid putting ourselves in our own pressure cooker? I use a little exercise called the ‘Flow Finder’ and it’s as simple as asking yourself a series of questions to help you take responsibility for your drive (what you want to do), your timing (when you want to do it), your style (how you want to do it) and your rhythm (setting boundaries to support your choices).
Once you take responsibility for your own choices you are empowered and energy can flow. If you do not take responsibility for your choices you are simply resisting or blocking the flow of energy, causing heaviness and pressure. If you want to learn how to work through these questions, then you can download the FLOW FINDER from the Well For Myself - Mind-Body Wellness D.I.Y. page on my website.
Escape your pressure cooker and find your flow!