Learning to Live in the Middle

Letting Go of Either/Or and Saying Goodbye to the Anxiety That Comes With It

As we prepare to move into 2019, a lot of us are thinking about what we want next year to look like. We’re goal planning, making New Year’s Resolutions, and thinking about things we can do to be happier or make our lives better in some way.  And while this post isn’t necessarily about resolutions, I figured that it’s good timing in that it might help make things easier, reduce stress and anxiety, and it can probably be tied into whatever resolutions or goals that you’re already thinking about. 

A lot of my clients have recently been struggling with the “all or nothing” mindset.  For some, it’s about perfection and achievement. If they don’t believe they can do it perfectly, or get the exact results they desire, then they figure “what’s the point?” and do nothing instead. The fear of not succeeding perfectly, of disappointing themselves and anyone else involved, paralyzes them and keeps their self esteem low with their inner critic’s voice going loud and strong, preventing their goals and dreams from being realized.  

For other clients, living in extremes means getting stuck in old patterns because “I’ve already fucked it up, so I might as well go ahead and keep on doing it.” 

It might be someone who is in recovery or struggling with an active addiction.  This could be anything from substance use (drugs and/or alcohol), a shopping addiction, or an eating disorder, etc. Or it might be someone who has simply set a goal to do something different – setting boundaries within a relationship; working out at the gym or beginning a new diet; or practicing healthier coping skills for dealing with stress.  

There’s usually this idea or pressure that once you decide on something, you’ve got to go balls to the wall, be 100% in it, it’s all or nothing, you either go big or you go home.  And if you can’t do it all just right, or if you slip up even just a little, then you’re a failure and might as well phone it all in. Drank once in the midst of recovery? Might as well throw away my anniversary chips and the progress I’ve made in my step-work. Moved too fast in a relationship when trying to break old patterns? Might as well just go with it, revert to old habits, and see what happens. 

If we’re trying to live up to perfectionism, we’re going to fail.

We don’t live in a perfect world. Far from it. We’re human. We have feelings; wants, desires and urges; we make mistakes because that’s how we learn; and we rarely ever get something right on the first try. 

Plus there’s the whole rest of the world that we have absolutely no control over.

Our plans, goals, or resolutions may not always be 100% feasible due to external events or situations. For example, I might have this plan that I’m going to start working out every night after work.  It’s my first week into it and I’m pumped. And then my boss tells me that I’m needed after-hours to help wrap up a project that’s due tomorrow. And then tomorrow comes and I have to rush off to make sure I’m on time to watch my child perform in the choir’s spring concert.  By the third day, I’m exhausted and decide to go home instead, and by the fourth day I figure that I shouldn’t bother because I’ve already missed three days in a row. 

It’s really easy to go down that path. But what if we gave up at the very beginning?  When we were babies and were learning to walk, we didn’t just magically get up one day and start walking all over the house. It took a few (okay, sometimes a lot of) times of falling down over and over again before we finally got the hang of it and could stay standing for more than 2 or 3 steps. Then guess what?  Yep. We fell on our asses again. But did we give up or stop there? No. We got back up, took a few more steps, until we got comfortable and confident with it, and then we were off to the races and our parents wished we were still just crawling because then we were getting into everything!

Just because we’ve gotten older doesn’t mean that this whole concept changes — we still tumble and fall and make a mess of things before we get the hang of them sometimes. Life gets in the way and we have to take detours and readjust. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying or stick ourselves in this box where we feel trapped and then end up hating ourselves for it. 

Instead, we’ve got to start living in the middle.

We’ve got to realize that we, and the world, is not made of, nor does it exist in, a reality that is only black and white.  There is a whoooooolllleee lot of gray. And guess what? That’s okay!  Life doesn’t have to be perfect or about extremes and either/ors. There is plenty of room in the in-between.  

So let yourself be human.

Let yourself live in the middle. Give yourself permission to set a goal that is actually attainable by letting go of the rigidity of it all. Instead of building a brick wall for a boundary that no one can penetrate, maybe you build a fence that allows you to see who’s on the other side and choose who you want open the gate for.  Rather than saying “I’m never going to do XYZ,” maybe you find middle ground and do it less often or set guidelines or parameters to help yourself stay on track. And maybe you tell yourself that if you don’t succeed in reaching whatever goal it is you’re trying to get to, that it’s okay, and you’ll get back up and try again. 

The point is… its normal to make mistakes or take steps backwards.  And that when you do, it doesn’t mean that you have to throw in the towel.  It just means that you take a breather, regroup, and try again. And know that it doesn’t always have to be all or nothingit is possible live in the world of some. If you can learn to do that, you’ll allow yourself to simplify things and maybe lessen some of the stress and anxiety that comes along with living in the world of either/or. 

One thought on “Learning to Live in the Middle”

  1. Ruth M says:

    Love this! Thanks, Danni.

Comments are closed.

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