The people described in this blog are composites of many different clients with whom I have worked. Names and identifying characteristics are fictitious, and any resemblance to a single person is coincidental.

The utility of futility

If at first you don’t succeed try again.  Then try some more.  Then if you don’t succeed, try giving up.

The utility of futilitySome things in life are futile.  The vulnerable truth of being human is we are not 100% in control of outcomes in our lives, and some things we cannot make happen.  Even with our very best efforts there are other factors which need to come into play to facilitate the outcome, and when they do not, we are faced with the fact of our limits to control.  I call this place the place of “I can’t”.  And we don’t like ourselves there and we do not like how we feel.  So we keep pushing and pounding and forcing things because “this just has to work!!!”

When faced with goals that are unattainable persistence is dysfunctional, and even bad for your health.  Researchers have found that mental and physical health is negatively affected when people are unable to accept that their efforts will not get them the results they want in a particular situation.

We need to be able to recognize brick walls and stop flinging ourselves against them.  We need to know when to fold ’em.  But to be able to recognize and accept our limits we need to be able to tolerate the feeling of dissonance.  Dissonance is the body experience of muscle tension and agitation.  If we (mis)read these sensations as signals of danger, we will be driven to keep on trying despite the evidence of futility.  Dissonance is really just telling us that we are in the place of “I can’t” and we need to feel the discomfort there.  We are barking up the wrong tree.  We are headed down a dead end path.  We need to be able to really feel the feedback from our bodies so we can correct our course.

Being able to correct course, to give up in the face of futility, is a measure of resilience.  It is part of healthy coping.  When we can accept our human limitations we can adjust our direction.  But first we need to be with and feel what is there inside.  Dissonance does not feel good but it is a reliable signal.  It invites us to let go of what we could not make happen.

Only then, with our open hands, can we reach for what we can do.  We can matter in what we feel even though we cannot make things the way we want.

In giving up our illusion of omnipotence, we find our power.  Our connection to ourselves in what is true.

Photo Credit: Sparker

Dr. Sandra Parker, copyright 2009 - Dr. Sandra Parker. The stories & quotes in this blog are fictional. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only.
(translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)

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