A remarkable number of people dislike being alone with their thoughts. Like truly alone—without a phone, TV, laptop or tablet to help pass the time.
What about you? As an introvert who recharges by being alone, I enjoy the time I spend by myself. But if I were to count the minutes that I spend without being occupied, distracted and entertained by technology, they add up to far less than I think.
The constant distraction has a cost.
It allows us to continuously go from text message, to social media feed, to email, to YouTube video, to Snapchat, to Netflix episodes with too much ease. The desire to see what’s new on multiple mediums is magnetic in its pull and insatiable in its indulgence.
Many people spend much of their time going from one medium to the next, and in the nonstop chatter of the virtual world, they lose touch with themselves. They focus on sensationalized, fabricated happenings instead of what’s really going on in their own mind and life. They may add in other substances like alcohol or drugs to further distance themselves.
It’s all too easy to indulge in self-sabotaging illusions if you have something you want to avoid, protect, or ignore. There may be a sense that something’s not quite right deep within. It’s a feeling of emptiness, a nagging idea that there needs to be a change. It comes up in the rare gaps when you have a moment to reflect.
But we don’t like the gaps. The empty space seems heavy; it’s the start of what feels like a bottomless rabbit hole of unpleasant thoughts, fears of the unknown and scary feelings of Worryland.
The gap feels like an unproductive use of time in our fast-paced, external world of immediate gratification.
So we relieve these gaps with being connected, distracted and numbed on a continuous basis. We live in the illusion that everything is okay by not figuring out what’s wrong. We unfortunately often succeed in avoiding what’s best for ourselves for an extended period of time. We put off doing what we need to do—which is sitting down and facing what’s behind the jumble so knotted that we’re afraid once we start we’ll have an never-ending mess on our hands.
If we can tolerably overlook the need to reassess an area of our lives, most of us prefer to do that. In the short term, it seems easiest. We push on and say that we’re just fine, thank you very much. The longer we take to address the situation, the more into stagnancy we slide. This is why it often takes us reaching a point of no return, hitting the bottom, or experiencing a major spark before we face the phase we need to go through before we can make change in our lives.
Reassess. It’s the first step of change.
In 2014 when I was reassessing my career track and what I should do with my life, there were weeks of conflicting feelings, combating thoughts and internal turmoil. In those weeks, it felt like I was standing on a thin sheet of ice and every step I took increasingly cracked the surface, revealing the depths of what seemed unmanageable. Things crawled slowly and sluggishly during this time.
During the Reassess stage, all the signs of your body point to slowing down. Your body slows you down on purpose because there’s something you need to process and deal with. As the light dwindles and darkness approaches, it’s tempting to run back to where the light’s receding. This is when the chill of the stillness of winter sets in; you feel it in your bones and just the thought makes you shiver. But in order to move forward, you need to face the darkness.
It’s in the gap of darkness where the sorting of emotions and feelings take place, the realizations are uncovered, and the roots of growth begin. We’re conditioned to rush past this stage to the desired result. But really, it’s a necessary part of the process.
It’s in the pause that allows for the shift to come.
Many of us don’t even want to think about it. The pause is uncomfortable—it’s vulnerable, fear-inducing, and emotional. It’s often easier to blame the lack of progress on how busy you are, the stress at work, or the lack of support from family and friends than it is to acknowledge that the main responsibility lies within you.
With the accessibility of the internet and other distractions, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find that time to truly reassess. Many of us spend the majority of our day in a distracted state. That’s why it’s important to create pockets of time when you’re alone without any distractions.
Be brave and sit with just your thoughts. Give yourself the opportunity to listen and connect with what needs to be processed. Whatever it is, everything passes in time. The trying times will pass, and it’ll go away faster if you don’t try to fight it; the passing must happen before you can take the next step.
It’s in the sitting still that awareness comes about. With awareness, there’s no flattery or hiding of the truth. The dust clears and you see what was hiding underneath the surface all along without the costumes it had on. You see the self-protecting part of you that wanted to preserve your self-esteem, to avoid painful memories or to shield you from failure. You see the twitch to play a video game, go on Facebook, check your email or binge on a movie marathon as a distraction from what you need to face.
Take the time to simply sit without any technology or distractions.
Some people call this mindfulness. Others achieve this through meditation. Others journal and spend time in reflection. Really, it’s about developing the mindset to dance with the potential upcoming change. To this day, I attribute my ability to move past that tough period of reassessment in 2014 to a practice I committed to for three months. Some people do yoga, take a walk, run, or paint. Whatever it is you do, it’s taking time without distractions to think and process through what needs to be surfaced.
For many, it’s easier said than done. There’s no one else to do the work but you. There’s no way to rush the process or skip ahead. It’ll likely be challenging, but in retrospect you’ll look back and realize how important this period of time was.
During times of Reassess, it’s important to reserve time to just be.
Be alone, be you, be vulnerable without distractions. Be okay with not knowing what’s going to come or what to do next. Don’t be hard on yourself for what you don’t know yet. Know that while the act of reassessing may seem like it’s time-consuming and inefficient, things are happening under the surface.
Self-care is important during this time. Be kind to yourself. Do small things that bring you joy. Think about all the good in your life, using gratitude to appreciate what you have and gather the energy to improve.
Be open to the feelings of pain, hurt, disappointment or fear. Write down what you’re feeling and thinking in a journal. Talk about it with a close, supportive and trusted friend or professional—one who can be nonjudgmental and help you process what’s going on. Realize that by being willing to be uncomfortable, you are increasing your capacity to deal with uncertainty. You’re flexing the muscles you need to get through the process. Know it will pass and clarity will come in small bits and pieces when you’re ready.
The Reassess phase of the REEBO process is oftentimes the easiest to overlook and postpone. Not only are we afraid of what we’ll find when we take the time to uncover but the next stage, Erase, can be even more daunting. I’ll share more on the necessity and role of erasing in my next article.