Why You Just Can’t Stop Working

by Sara Avery on June 29, 2014

Why you can't stop working“Why do I feel guilty when I’m not working?”

Sound familiar?

Or, are you too busy to even think about it?

Do you have fond memories of relaxing and having fun years ago?

Or, are you lifelong workaholic?

Have you struggled to create balance in your life?

“Just separate work and home,” people tell you. You can’t seem to do that, so you blame it on smart phones and 24-hour work culture.

But even on days off, do you keep yourself crazy busy?

Have you struggled more over the years to take time off?

Why is it so difficult to have a life?

The 2 Main Issues Here

Issue 1: “Why can’t I stop. . .working, doing, going?”

This is about the inner drive that demands you to conduct your life in a certain way.

Issue 2: “Why does it keep getting harder to take a break?”

This is about the mechanism that causes your inner taskmaster to grow into a bigger and bigger monster over time.

The Source of Issue 1

You’re not alone in this.

In fact, you couldn’t have more company.

Everyone. . .I mean every last person in the world. . .has it.

The reason you can’t stop working is that you feel there is something wrong with you being just the way you are.

You absorbed this Learned Distress® early in life, and it became trapped in your sense of self, which stores how you feel about being you.

Then, your sense of self became the automatic, generating force behind every moment in your life.

Before you had any choice in the matter, you absorbed the feeling that there is something wrong with you, and now it’s generating all your negative moments, without your conscious input or control.

Your Demanding Inner Master

Learned Distress is a horrible feeling, so your brain also developed ways to survive with it.

One survival mechanism is to work hard to overcome or avoid Learned Distress.

If you can only work a little more, be a little more perfect, keep things under control one more day. . .then, you’ll be OK.

Or, if you keep going 24/7, you won’t even have time to feel that there’s something wrong with you.

Right?

Do you see why it’s so hard to “achieve balance”?

Your rational brain says, “Rest and fun are good!”

But, your survival mechanism says, “You can’t stop now! There’s still something wrong with you!!”

So, you make like the Energizer Bunny and keep going. And going.

How Time Piles on the Misery

Issue 2 is the fact that over time, the intensity of your need to work all the time has increased. Right?

Years ago, you could take breaks. Take vacations. Evenings and weekends were for relaxing.

Now, there’s just a never ending stream of projects, and you keep putting more things on the list.

Here and there, maybe you take time off. But, it takes more effort to make yourself do it.

Deep down, you’re scared of having free time.

Here’s why. The amount of Learned Distress your brain stores isn’t a constant.

It keeps growing in intensity through your life.

In fact, it intensifies every night.

The Peril That Sleep Holds

Your sense of self gets renewed while you sleep.

Think of it as a rechargeable battery that stores how you feel about being yourself—good or bad.

During the day, your brain uses the contents of your sense of self to generate moments that feel the same as those stored feelings.

At night, your sense of self gets recharged with the energy of the most intense feelings you experienced that day.

Most of the time, are your most intense feelings the good ones or the bad ones?

Like most people, you probably answered, “The bad ones.”

So, you go to sleep, your brain recharges with your Learned Distress, and you wake up feeling that there’s something wrong with you a bit more intensely.  Time has gradually turned up the volume on your Learned Distress dial.

Then, to try and overcome or avoid that intensified feeling, you work a little harder. A little longer. You put off vacation another 6 months.

Ugh.

The Promise That Sleep Holds

There’s another kind of feeling stored in your sense of self.

I call it your natural well-being. It’s the feeling that you are completely good being yourself exactly as you are.

This wonderful feeling is the core of who you are. It’s the little kernel of energy you began life with, before you started to absorb Learned Distress.

Well-being has been at work in your life, just as Learned Distress has.

Any moment that feels good effortlessly is the automatic output of your well-being.

So, I bet you’re thinking, “I want to recharge with well-being at night, instead of Learned Distress!”

That’s exactly what a researcher named Mimi Herrmann figured out how to help you do.

She spent 20+ years discovering how we absorb Learned Distress, how it becomes the source of our negative moments and situations, and then how we can unlearn it by telling our sleeping brain to recharge with the good feeling at our core, instead of the bad stuff.

Then, I helped her refine the process. We distilled it down to three integral elements that allow you understand what you want to change, how to communicate that to your sleeping brain, and how to understand and navigate the repeating cycle of change that results.

Engaging in those three elements permanently removes layers of Learned Distress.

As layers peel away, natural well-being takes over as the automatic, generating force behind more and more moments and situations.

The Output of Well-Being

You’re well acquainted with the output of Learned Distress.

You feel that there’s something wrong with you and you struggle to overcome it or avoid it.

Even when you’re successful coping with or avoiding the Learned Distress, and therefore achieving a positive result, you’re still largely experiencing the outcome of your negative feelings.

Have you noticed that it has become harder to for good things to happen in your life? That’s because you’re having to leap over, struggle through, or wiggle under your Learned Distress and then make those good moments happen.

What’s much less familiar is the effortless experience of feeling good and having good things happen easily, as a result. That’s well-being working for you.

Clients often don’t even notice this shift until someone else points it out to them. “Wow, you’re so much more relaxed!” “You came out with us for girls’ night! You’ve never said yes, before!”

Then, once they realize something is different, they tell me that their demanding, inner taskmaster has quieted. It might still talk, but in more of a whisper than a scream.

Others have told me that for the first time ever, they leave free time open for themselves. People who have avoided feeling their Learned Distress will notice those negative feelings coming up to be released. But, they’re first shocked to discover that it doesn’t kill them to feel that stuff, and then they’re delighted to find that they can enjoy some real down time.

My friends and colleagues will tell you that I have a long history of working a lot. What I’ve noticed is that now, I can take breaks and enjoy them, rather than feeling anxious about getting back to work. And, much to the surprise of people close to me, I actually initiate fun things, rather than what I used to—reluctantly go along with them, at best.

What Do You Really Want?

You’ve read about the people on their deathbeds who say, “I wish I had enjoyed my life more. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.”

Now, you understand why so many people experience that regret.

Why so many people, despite their best intentions at achieving balance, find that they’ve lived at the mercy of their inner taskmaster.

Do you want to keep overcoming or avoiding your Learned Distress, or would you like to discover what it’s like when life flows from your core well-being?

There’s a really important reason to choose the latter.

It’s not because you’ll feel better and enjoy your life more—that’s just a side benefit.

It’s because your natural well-being is the source of the uniqueness that you have to offer to the world.

The more you tap into it, the more good you can contribute in ways you’ve never imagined.

Your friends and family, your community, and your world will benefit tremendously when you openly share that deepest part of yourself.

They’re waiting.

Are you ready to say yes?

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, career, health, and self-expression. Learn more about working with her.

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10 Inner Challenges Aging Parents Trigger

by Sara Avery on June 15, 2014

The challenge of caring for aging parentsNothing has prepared you for this.

Your parents are getting closer to the end of their lives, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Soon, you might have to reverse roles and become the authority in their lives.

You may have to make tough decisions. . .ones they don’t like.

You will watch their health. . .physical or mental. . .decline.

Does this worry you a bit?

Or, are you downright panicked?

Feeling overwhelmed?

Wish you could turn back the clock and keep things the way they used to be?

Your Biggest Trigger

Good, bad, or ugly. . .no matter what your relationship with your family is, they can trigger you more than anyone else.

While they aren’t to blame, your negative stuff developed early in life in relation to them.

Specifically, before age 2 1/2, you absorbed the feeling that there is something wrong with you, which I call Learned Distress®.

To handle this icky feeling, your brain developed survival mechanisms to cope with, control, or completely bury your Learned Distress.

No matter how hard you’ve worked to deal with it, that negative stuff keeps building in intensity through your life.

And then, the difficult situations you face as your parents age can shove it right up in your face!

This inner negativity probably won’t be a complete surprise.

But, you might feel it more intensely than ever before.

Here are a few of the most common inner challenges people face when their parents age and near the end of life.

1. I Don’t Know How to Handle This

Does this thought cause you to panic?

When parents age, you’ll deal not only with the unknowns inherent to anyone’s life, but with many new conditions and decisions you’ve never encountered.

Fear of the unknown is a huge piece of Learned Distress for many.

When you face the unknown, do you feel like you have to already know everything?

Or, do you feel like you have to work really hard to figure it all out. . .read a lot, talk to experts, rack your brain for solutions?

Or, do you despair at the fear that you can’t possibly even figure it out?

These are common survival mechanisms for the Learned Distress that tells us we have to know exactly how the pathway and its outcome will look.

2. I Can’t Handle This

Ever had the thought, “I’m just too weak”?

You might notice the feeling that you just can’t do this coming up a lot.

You may have to watch your parents decline physically and/or mentally.

You may have to visit hospitals or nursing facilities where you’ll see many elderly and sick people suffering.

You may have to stand up to your parents when they aren’t acting in their own best interest, anymore.

You may feel that you can’t survive the death of your parents.

Learned Distress can make you feel that you just don’t have the inner strength to handle these big challenges.

3. I Need to Fix It All

Do you only feel comfortable if things are under control?

Or, do you need people to do things your way, in order to feel comfortable?

Or, do you need everything to end up in a pretty picture?

Your aging parents will challenge all of these survival mechanisms.

Moments. . .or days or years. . .will feel completely out of your control as your parents age.

4. I Need Things to Be a Certain Way

So, maybe you’ve reconciled yourself to watching your parents age and pass away.

You’re realistic. You know it won’t be all rainbows and roses.

But, you have an idea of how it should go.

As long as things go according to plan, you’ll be OK.

This survival mechanism will not stand up as your parents go through their own, unique aging process.

You’ll be surprised many times along the way, and things may feel out of control, as a result.

5. I Need Things to Stay the Way They’ve Always Been

Change, itself, is a huge challenge to your survival mechanisms.

In fact, your survival mechanism desperately needs things to stay the same.

Aging parents may need more help from you, instead of the other way around.

They might downsize and move.

At some point, they may not remember who you are.

Many more changes than those might happen.

As they do, you may find yourself clutching to the way things were, just to feel like you’re still on solid ground.

6. For Me to Be OK, I Need Them to Be OK

“It’s not about me. I just want you to be happy.”

If that’s something you say a lot, you may find it very difficult to see your parents suffer the effects of aging.

You may find it difficult or impossible to separate how you feel from how they feel.

You may feel like your life is declining with theirs.

As a result, you may try harder and harder to “fix them” at times when you ultimately need to accept their unique pathway to the end of their lives.

7. I Should. . .

“It’s never enough.”

Your parents’ need for greater support may trigger this feeling in one or many ways.

Maybe you visit or help them, but feel you should offer them full-time support.

Maybe you live far away and feel guilty that you can’t be there in person.

Maybe you feel like you need to be loving and supportive in every moment, even when they push all your buttons.

Maybe your relationship with them hasn’t been emotionally healthy, and although “good” kids “should” take care of their parents, you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

“Should” is a word that can alert you that your survival mechanisms are in high gear.

8. I Don’t Matter

This core Learned Distress can be triggered many ways.

Maybe your parents aren’t able to express gratitude for your support in ways that feel good to you.

Maybe you become the sole caregiver and feel that you have to do everything, yourself, without any acknowledgment.

Maybe you feel taken advantage of by your parents, siblings, or other family members.

Maybe you are so focused on taking care of your parents that you forget to take care of yourself. You might wake up one day, realizing you lost your own life in the process of trying to take care of theirs.

9. It’s Not Safe to Take Charge

Unless you’ve always stood up to your parents, this can be very difficult.

You may need to take away the car keys, take over the bill paying, make medical decisions, and fulfill a host of other functions that parents can no longer do themselves.

If your survival mechanisms include needing to defer to others, your parents probably trigger that need more than anyone else.

So, you might struggle with swapping roles with them and becoming the decision-maker in the relationship.

10. But, Who Can I Depend on Now?

If you’ve depended on your parents in some way as an adult, you might feel a looming black hole as they begin to age.

If they can’t be there for you, anymore, who can you lean on in difficult times?

What if they start to need the kind of support from you that they have always provided?

Learned Distress can make you feel very dependent on others, and even the fear of losing that support can be overwhelming.

The Good News

Feeling a big discouraged? Don’t be!

At your core, you have the opposite of Learned Distress.

It’s the feeling that you are all good, exactly as you are. I call it your natural well-being.

Well-being is the kernel of energy that you began life with.

It is the very core of who you are.

Your well-being can provide so much. . .peace, inner strength, patience, flexibility. The opposite of all that bad stuff I listed above.

Learned Distress and your ways of surviving with it intensify over your lifetime and come to overwhelm your core well-being.

But, whether or not you feel connected to it, your well-being is there, waiting to be uncovered and support you through your challenges.

Tapping into Your Core Well-Being

You have more access to well-being earlier in life, but as Learned Distress takes over, well-being feels increasingly distant.

Your survival mechanisms give you a way to cope with, control, or bury your Learned Distress for a good part of your life, but at some point, those survival mechanisms become overwhelmed and stop working.

Any big stress, like your parents shifting into their final stage of life, can blow up your survival mechanism for good.

Although it will feel horrible to you, this breakdown has a magnificent silver lining.

It’s the point at which your brain will allow you to peel away Learned Distress permanently.

Until that point, your Learned Distress and its survival mechanisms hold on for dear life. . .they’ve been keeping you going, and your brain can’t even imagine there could be another way.

But, when the brain allows layers of Learned Distress to be removed permanently, well-being shows you a new way that is characterized by ease and an inner knowing that you matter and that you have everything you need within you to face challenges.

“Better than I ever imagined” is the way people describe tapping into their core well-being..

They take on what would have felt impossible and terrifying before with more strength than they knew they had in them.

When they’re in situations they know would have pushed them over the edge in the past, they sometimes don’t even notice that it was a “trigger” situation until we talk about it later.

They have a new sense of flexibility in situations that used to make them panic and try to control everything.

They discover and are able to share their own unique contribution, instead of trying to fulfill a role they’ve always felt they “should.”

They meet the unknown with more grace and peace than they knew they had available to them.

It’s up to You

As your parents approach the end of their lives, how do you want to be?

It will be a time of many challenges and unknowns.

Do you want to cling desperately to your old ways, or would you like to breathe more easily and walk alongside them patiently in their journey?

Would you like to tap into the well-being at your core that allows you to give your parents, yourself, and everyone involved more peace and joy in the entire process?

If you’re not on good terms with them, would you like this to be a time full of regret or peace?

What I wish for you is the ability to look back on your parents’ last stage of life with a sense that you contributed the best of yourself and experienced the best of them, as a result.

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