“It’s not about the nail!” This well-known video clip is an exaggerated, yet eye-opening portrayal of a couple having a discussion about an issue. At the start of the video you get a glimpse of a woman telling a man about how sore her head is. When the camera pans out, the reason for all the pressure on her head becomes rather clear. The woman has a big nail stuck in her forehead! The man in the video clip is ultimately trying to fix the problem. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch this video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg
There is not a day that goes by where I don’t have this deep transcending urge to fix things. When a picture frame on the wall is askew, I need to adjust it. If a toy stops working, I’m there with the screwdriver ready to replace the batteries. I may even be mowing the lawn or painting a wall. There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I feel when I fix things. I know that I get stoked on getting out there and making things right again.
My wife, who I love dearly, isn’t perfect. I know she isn’t, because we all are flawed. However, in my brain I have painted her up to be perfect, so when she comes to me with a problem, I jump into fix it mode. My perfect wife has an issue, so I must fix this, so she can be perfect again…. Men can be stupid. But in all seriousness, our conversations go somewhat like this.
Wife: “I had a really hard day. The printer stopped working so I ended having to go to Officeworks to get them printed, I got every traffic light red and then I was late for this important meeting I had scheduled……blah blah blah” (important Blahs….). In my head, I have already stopped listening and solving the problem. I am thinking: “Just fix the printer and all your problems disappear”.
Me: “Did you try turning the printer on and off again?”
Wife: “I don’t know, I just couldn’t get it to work.”
Me: “Sometimes it can just be an issue with the connection. Did you check the internet, or did you try reinstalling the software?”
Wife: “Why are you talking about the printer, that’s not the issue here.”
Me: “Then what is the problem?”
Wife: “I’m just stressed and have all this work to do and I think my colleague was upset I was late for this important meeting…”
Me: “Well, if you fixed the printer you wouldn’t be late, stressed or frustrated.”
Wife: “Can’t you just listen and validate me? All I need you to say is ….”
This is one scenario where letting go becomes crucial. I have to let go of this deep-seated impulse to fix or control the situation. Instead, what I need to do is put down my screw driver, pick up a hot tea and tell my wife, “It sounds like you had a really hard day. I totally get why you felt so stressed. It is going to be ok”. Simple right?
In life we constantly face problems and adversities that are out of our control. It is important that we know when to surrender and let go. This is not something that comes easily, and for many of us it does not come naturally. It is human nature to want control. It gives us a false sense of security. So we fight or hold on for dear life to whatever it is. Instead, learning to surrender completely is quite a vulnerable action. It leads us to a place where we realise that it is ok to let go. We can’t always be Mr. Fix It.
Situations in which we may need to learn to accept and let go could include, losing a job, an unhealthy relationship, having a car accident, or going to hospital. There is nothing more anxiety provoking, and out of our control when these kinds of things happen. Letting go does not mean that we roll over and give up. It also does not mean we are weak. The Serenity Prayer sums it up well:
“ God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.
I have had a few injuries throughout my life. When you are physically injured, you are forced to step back and allow someone else to support you. It might not come naturally; however, you eventually learn to accept that certain things are out of your control and that you just might have to lay down your pride.
Not only do we try to control external events that may not be in our control, but we also have a tendency to try and control internal events. These internal experiences include our thoughts and feelings. As males, we tend to have this default reaction when negative thoughts or feelings arise. We try to get rid of it or reduce it as soon as possible. We might try control strategies like pushing it down, not talking about it, or sweeping it under a rug and pretending it’s not there. We might have thoughts like “I should be able to control this”, “Suck it up” or “Don’t be a baby”. Other control methods may include the use of distraction, substance abuse, partying hard etc. The law of paradox applies her. Have you ever noticed that the more you try to control these internal experiences, the more they seem to pop up? It reminds me of that old school arcade game where you have to hit the crocodile to make it go away. However, as soon as you get rid of one, another three pop up! An alternative to controlling unwanted thoughts and feelings is to learn to accept it. To let go all the attempts to control it. What tends to happen is that when we accept uncomfortable feelings, and let go of the struggle, we can actually focus our energy on the things that are important to us. When I paddle out for a surf, I have to navigate many rips. I have gotten stuck in many rips before. Our default human reaction is to paddle harder against the rip to get back on dry land. However, what we know about rips is that you are never stronger than one. Paddling against one just leaves you exhausted and that is how many people drown. The trick is to let go, let the rip take you, until you can get around it.
Whether it is external problems which we cannot influence, or unwanted internal experiences which we try so hard to control, the same challenge applies. Learn how to accept, when to let go, and what valuable things to focus on instead. It’s not about the nail.