Yes, I use a coping technique that Sara calls Buffers. Some that I can talk about, and some I don’t talk about. I don’t remember where I got this but, being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a tool that I use to break my buffers, allowing me to succeed.
Enjoy the post, John
What’s Your Buffer?
I want to talk about a specific kind of failure. It’s strategic, small, consistent, and self-inflicted. It’s a form of self-sabotage and I call it a “buffer.”
Here’s how you can tell if you have one (hint: I think we all have at least one…I think I have several). It’s a nagging problem in your life that’s so frequent and familiar you are beginning to assume it’s an immovable part of your personality. Some common ones are procrastination, overspending money, over-committing our time, emotional eating, social anxiety, always being late, chronic underemployment, and keeping messy, cluttered spaces. Any bothersome habit that’s a long-running distraction could be a buffer.
What does a buffer do? It insulates and helps maintain the status quo in your life. This is why we have them — our brains use them to protect us from the unknown life that could occur without them. Most of the time, a buffer is in place to protect us from failure. Big, scary, unknown failure.
Here’s how that works. When we believe we’re failing every day at something that should be easy (or seems easy to other people), we convince ourselves not to take real risks. We think, “Jeez, I can’t even figure out how to eat the right amount of food. How could I possibly have the discipline to run a marathon? I’m so bad with money, all my credit cards are maxed out. Clearly, I should never try to start a business.” Keeping that buffer gives you an excellent excuse to avoid reaching for lofty goals. And when we never reach, we never fail.
Buffers protect us from real failure by giving us a constant supply of predictable, safe failure.
There’s a big price for this protection. Buffers prevent us from fully experiencing life. They dull sensations. They lessen blows and diminish celebrations. They’re like a low-level static fuzz that prevents us from fully engaging with other people. Or from fully immersing ourselves in a new opportunity or project. They keep us locked in our minds so we can’t fully participate outside ourselves.
In short, they’re bad dudes. But, don’t worry, I wouldn’t have spent the last several paragraphs stressing you out if I didn’t think there was a solution. A cure for all buffers.
Discovering you have a buffer seems like bad news. I only recently started seeing my own. It’s actually great news. I think most people resign themselves to buffers and never learn the power they have to break free. So if you know you have a buffer, congratulations, that’s the first step.
Here’s how not to get rid of a buffer. Resist it by telling yourself you’re going to avoid that behavior at all costs. For example, if your buffer is over scheduling yourself, you might resist it by saying, “That’s it, I’ve had enough of being stretched so thin. No more wasting time online or getting sidetracked every time my email alert dings. Time to focus.”
The problem with that strategy is it’s like telling your brain not to think of a white elephant. The only way to avoid thinking about a white elephant is to suggest a totally different thought, without mentioning the elephant. You have to think of a behavior you’d rather have, in place of your buffer.
Instead of what you thought above, something like this will be much more effective: “I only take action on really important tasks. I decide what to do and when to do it. I keep my time to myself so it’s available when I find something suitable to spend it on.”
When you use those words, you’re giving yourself concrete direction. A real assignment to try. It takes practice and consistence (just like your buffer did), but if you persist in redirecting your thoughts toward the new behavior, it won’t be long before you’re finally free.
Unloading a buffer is an amazing feeling. Suddenly, results you could never achieve are easily within reach. You gain resources you’ve never had before. And you move from the position of out-of-control victim to proactive life leader. You are in charge of your obligations, your budget, your priorities.
What about you? What’s a buffer you’re struggling with right now? Or one you vanquished long ago? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Photo by Mattox.
© 2012 Sara Martin
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“Sara Martin is an artist and writer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more ways to maximize your creative life at ModernSentiment.com/blog.”
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