“So, how do you feel?”
“I feel like I’m grinding through life, sort of like I’m pushing a heavy boulder uphill. Every day I’m grinding forward, but it feels relentless.”
“So how does this feeling of ‘grinding’ actually show up in your body?”
Pause. Interesting question.
I was receiving supervision from one of the most respected therapists within the ACBS and the question threw me for a moment. I scanned my body as mindfully as I could.
“I notice I feel a bit tired.” Pause. “And I notice that I have some tension in my shoulders”.
“OK. Anything else?”
“Hmmm. Not really. The tension is certainly there but it’s not that severe. It’s actually pretty bearable.”
“OK. So what would the person you want to be do next?”
Another long pause.
“I guess I would take a few more breaks, but other than that nothing, actually”.
And there we had it. For several weeks my mind had been telling me about the grind; how tough my life was and how relentless. But on closer examination that story turned out to be based on feeling slightly tired and having slightly sore shoulders. From where I was now – skillfully led to a different perspective – my life was actually going really well. I was doing the work I wanted, with people I liked, whilst making my own small dent in the universe. If this is a grind, then it is the kind of grind I would definitely have chosen.
This is a clue to one of the most powerful lessons within contextual behavioural science; that part of our lives (or ‘context’) is shaped by the words that we use to describe it.
If we get it wrong, language has the capacity to sell us a version of life that is not particularly accurate or helpful and which may leave us feeling shortchanged. In my case this was certainly true as it was detracting from the joy and privilege I felt when doing my job.
This was a timely reminder that whilst language is incredibly useful and powerful, it should come with a warning. Checking in on the accuracy of the metaphors we us in everyday life is really useful (as the brilliant Yvonne Barnes Holmes makes clear in this talk about constructing effective metaphors).
But every now and again it also pays to connect to our actual ‘felt’ experience of life, and separate this from the language we use to describe it.