Just stop already! It sounds like the opposite of Nike’s well-known Just Do It campaign, but is it the opposite or a necessary part of the equation?
When I was 17, I skipped my senior year in high school to attend college. During my second semester, I went to see an on-campus counselor to discuss something with which I was struggling. I vividly remember his response to my question, “What should I do?”. “Just stop!” That was it. Two words: just stop.
A few years ago I worked with a life coach in LA. Subsequently, I interviewed a North Carolina life coach for our Cooking2Thrive interview series. During the work I did with each, there were times at which they identified that I was at a “point of choice”. In other words, I was at the moment in which I had to choose one thing or another.
We all face points of choice over and over and over each and every day. Some choices are trivial. Others are life changing. None can be ignored or avoided. Not making a choice at such a point is, in fact, making a choice.
Mindful exploration can guide us to make choices in line with our aspirations, goals, and intentions. Sometimes, the best choice is to just do it and sometimes it’s better to stop already. Living a physically and emotionally healthy life will require both.
When I look back at that college experience, I still feel angry. The counselor ignored the nuance of my story. His response felt dismissive. He didn’t ask any questions to determine why I was struggling or have me follow a feeling path toward the origins of that struggle. He jumped right to advising action.
That’s where a lot of us get stuck. In order to work past the struggle, we need to feel heard. We need the tools to trust ourselves so we can work through the layers of emotion that insulate us. Until we reconnect with ourselves, we will keep repeating the same actions. We know we should just stop, we simply don’t know how.
The other night, a friend awakened me with a phone call at midnight. His emergency? He believed a fast-food worker had messed with his food. “Why do you think that,” I sleepily asked. “She always leaves the counter after taking my order. I know she’s back there messing with my food,” was his reply. He went on to explain that she does this every time and he has previously complained to her manager. Though he wouldn’t directly answer the question, I ascertained that the food has never made him sick. His question for me, “What would you do?”
Even in my sleepy state, I knew the stated problem wasn’t the real problem, but I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to get out of bed to draw out the conversation until we reached the real problem so I said, “I’d stop going there.” Just stop already.
Was that helpful of me? Yes and no. Yes, I gave him a way to prevent the worker from potentially messing with his food, but I didn’t address the underlying emotional flashback that was triggered by the fast-food worker.
I know his feeling of distrust originates from very real experiences that traumatized him. I also know that he’s following some sort of internal script that most likely recreates experiences he’s internalized, legitimizes some way that he feels, or justifies his anger. While my answer wasn’t responsive to any of that, it did offer him an avenue to disrupt his own pattern.
If you work with a life coach, they may talk about working from the outside in at the same time you are working from the inside out. Deliberately choosing a different action than you would normally choose is a way of working from the outside in. And it can be helpful because it disrupts ingrained patterns allowing you to change your experience. Perhaps that was why the particular counselor I saw in college chose a two-word response.
The problem with his approach was that there was no attempt to build a foundation of trust, connection, or understanding. There was no overall strategy in which just stop played a recurring part. I felt like he may as well have said, “Just stop talking to me.” That’s how I responded. I never spoke to him again.
So how do you get to the point that most healthy lifestyle decisions become as simple as doing or not doing?
Everyone’s specific path will be different but there will be common themes that often include these priorities:
Quiet downtime. When you make time to do nothing, you have to discontinue the activities that keep you from sitting still with yourself. Just stop doing and start sitting.
Self-trust. If you have lived with trauma or in an environment of chaos you may no longer trust yourself. Bodywork like Somatic Experiencing, Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (or TRE®), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Yoga, and Tapping can help you reconnect your body and emotions.
Self-kindness. Everyone deserves kindness. Most of us are more likely to be kind to others than to ourselves. Why? Have you really done anything you wouldn’t forgive in someone else? Which brings us to…
Self-forgiveness. None of us are perfect. We all have the capacity for cruelty, recklessness, and violence. We will do things we wish we could take back. This is the state of being human. If we cannot forgive ourselves, we can never move forward.
Full feeling—being able to fully connect with your emotions, feel them and let them go. It is often the interruption of this process that keeps us stuck.
Being open to receiving. This sounds simple and pleasant. It is in itself simple, but it requires courage and intention to put down defenses, be vulnerable, and surrender if your life experience has taught you the world is not a safe place. For some of us being open feels very risky.
Gratitude. Practicing gratitude shifts your focus. Sometimes that shift is all you need to disrupt a destructive pattern of behavior. It can also be uplifting. Just do it!
Mindfulness. Some might describe this as being fully present in the moment. For me, it begins with breathing then an awareness of my body followed by an inventory of feelings. When I am mindful, all of this awareness can move and shift without judgment or meaning attached. I can simply be let it be. One of the effects is freeing myself from attaching a habitual pattern of feeling to a pain in my tummy or tension in my shoulder.
Intention. Being clear on what you intend can change the way you talk to your children, your spouse, or your mother. It can change the order in which you tackle tasks. It can direct your actions without the pressure of reaching a certain goal.
Flexibility. No matter how well you prepare, how much you plan, how much insurance you purchase, and how much energy you put into controlling your environment, life will throw you some curveballs. There will be floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, accidents, and betrayals. Being able to shift and change in response will help stave off depression.
The ability to reframe. Life is filled with change, loss, and challenge. Challenge can be reframed as opportunity, loss as an opening for something new, change as freedom to do something different. Being able to see the flip side leads to creative solutions, positive momentum, and unlimited situations in which to excel.
If you frequently recount the reasons you can’t make a change you say you want to make, just stop already. Pick one change and just do it. This can be a teeny tiny change. Then pick another one and just do it. Then assess. You may find that all of your priorities have shifted. Everything affects everything.
As for the underlying issues, with courage, commitment, and intention you can heal and move forward. Tiny changes serve to disrupt patterns leaving you an opening to experience things differently. Tiny changes can shift how you experience relationships as well. This will allow you to weed out the two-word counselor in favor of a trauma-informed yoga instructor or a reliable ally with whom you can be vulnerable.
Stopping and starting are not as much opposites as complementary parts of a whole. When you just stop something, it opens the space, time, and energy to just do something else aligned with your current values and priorities. To me, that sounds exciting!
Now, I’ll just stop already!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”