You are driving to an important meeting that you cannot miss, and you are running late. Suddenly you see a yellow/orange light flashing on your dashboard with the symbol of a petrol pump.
What would you do next?
Same scenario, different moment… important meeting, you are late. Suddenly you see a red light flashing on your dashboard, with a symbol you do not recognise.
What would you do next?
When I ask these two questions to my clients, most say they would just drive on.
Welcome to the second of the analogies that I frequently use during client sessions.
We are conditioned to a pace of life that is dictated by multiple external forces, each competing for our time and attention. We let these forces run our lives, sometimes out of necessity and others out of convenience, often failing to recognise the signs that something needs our attention.
The car dashboard contains an indispensable set of instruments designed to alert us to the operations of our vehicles. The yellow/orange icon tells us we are low on fuel and should soon replenish. The red icon tells us of an imminent danger that could jeopardise the integrity of our system.
And yet, when pressed by life circumstances, we often ignore these very important signs.
It will come as no surprise then, that we do exactly the same when it comes to our own being.
You see, nature equipped us with a highly sophisticated “dashboard”, but we rarely pay any attention to it. We continue to blindly cater to the demands placed on us, and often only notice the sign when it’s too late.
The human dashboard is highly sophisticated and the three main types of instruments can be categorised as: physical sensations, emotions and thoughts.
This is the easiest category to recognise, and in my experience the one most frequently ignored.
When is the last time you did a full medical check up?
Why so long?
Cars beyond a certain age require an annual certificate of road fitness. Yet, we seldom treat our bodies to the same level of attention, unless something went wrong with it.
Whether it is muscular tension, unexplained headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema or psoriasis, a fluctuating weight or any other symptom, the body is constantly pointing the way to what needs our attention. But like the driver described above, we ignore the signs.
By far the most frequent physical sign I see my clients ignore is a change in sleep patterns. In my intake form I ask all new clients about some basic life habits, sleep among them. I have lost count of the percentage of people who rate their sleep habits as poor. When I then follow up with the questions, “does this concern you?”, “have you done anything about it?” I most frequently hear two resounding ‘no’ followed by something like, it’s just some stress and life demands.
You are in a meeting with your boss and her boss. You were asked to present a piece of work you’ve dedicated the last 2 months to.
Your boss cuts you off near the end of the presentation and is clearly taking the credit for the work that has been delivered. By the end of the meeting you feel betrayed and deep sense of anger starts brewing deep within you.
You walk back to your desk quietly, but secretly hoping you could turn to your boss and tell her what you really think about her behaviour.
By the time you walk to your desk you bury yourself in work and “forget” about the incident.
The evening, once back at home, you choose to wind down by pouring yourself a glass of wine and watching your favoured Netflix series.
A couple of days later you basically “forgot” what happened.
There are millions of examples like this; the point this example illustrates is how easy we find it to distract ourselves from the pain.
If the dashboard is telling you that something is wrong with the system, you can delay attending to it, but if you completely ignore it, at some point your system will suffer the consequences, and they are usually more serious than the original problem you were facing.
In the context of the dashboard thoughts are similar to emotions. They are always there, flowing, streaming, giving us a continuous commentary on many things that are happening within and around us.
Many clients, especially those trained to favour their intellect as the prime tool to “success” are well acquainted with their thoughts, and can hear what their mind is telling them. Their prime strategy, however, is to… “hey Doc, how do I get rid of these thoughts? They are impacting my performance / relationship / business / health, and I don’t want to hear them anymore”.
When I ask where those thoughts come from, most can easily access the reasons: work stress, marital discord, financial pressures, a sick relative, etc. And yet, when we investigate the options to remove the stressors, most come up with a beautiful range of rationalised excuses why they can’t address the problem at the source, “I just want to get rid of the thoughts”.
This is like saying, “I know the red icon on the dashboard means that my engine is running low on lubricant and may soon overheat and destroy itself, but I have all these “valid” reasons why I can’t attend to it now. Can you please have the red light disappear?”
I cannot stress enough the importance to look at the signs your body, heart and mind are constantly streaming. Your life depends on it, so get on it, start looking at and following the signs on your dashboard. Your vehicle will run a lot more effectively and efficiently, and you’ll enjoy a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
Stop putting your head under the sand, or as they like to say in American movies, “get your head out of your ass!”