Author Update: During the twenty-plus years as a co-founder of Life On Purpose and a Life On Purpose coach, I often returned to the principles outlined in the following article (which is also available in the book, Spiral of Fulfillment). I hope you enjoy reading and applying it to your life.
Some people call them vicious circles or cycles. I prefer to think of them as downward spirals of life. I’m referring to those periods that we can all become trapped; like in the whirlpool of water as it drains from a tub. If we’re not careful and mindful, these downward spirals can suck the life right out of us. They’re like the Spiral of Fulfillment in reverse. When we find ourselves trapped in such a downward spiral, our lives can look and feel pretty bleak. Here are a few simple and effective steps you can use to free yourself of such life-draining periods:
1. Notice The Spiral You’re In
As is often the case, awareness is the first step to intervention. Much of the power of a downward spiral comes from our continuing to be unaware of the direction of our life. Like a whirlpool, a downward spiral’s power picks up strength and speed the longer we’re in it; so it follows that the sooner we become aware we’re trapped in a downward spiral the easier it will be to change the direction of our life. It’s often helpful to remember a downward spiral reversed becomes a spiral of fulfillment.
Of course, one aspect of a downward spiral that can keep us stuck is that we often become frenetically busy; too busy to take the time to reflect upon our lives. I see this often with my clients. As they get more in touch with their life purpose, they begin to take on new projects that allow them to express their purpose, but they may also drop out of the very practices and exercises that help them to stay awake and aware of their purpose. This may include missing or postponing coaching sessions.
Then, a few weeks later, they may report feeling stuck and off purpose. One of my first questions is to ask which of the ‘tools for living on purpose’ they continue to work with to stay present for their life purpose. More often than not the reply is that they’ve been too busy to use the tools.
I’ve seen it in my own life as well, and I’m the guy that invented the tools and knows how effective they can be. The good news is that once we become aware of straying off course, we can begin to move back to the purposeful path.
2. Allow Yourself To Be Fully Present For Your Life
When you first notice you’re in a downward spiral, the tendency is to quickly react in an effort to free yourself. This initial reaction is often based in fear and may only exacerbate the spiral. Another common tendency is to feel guilty or ashamed for having strayed off course, which only further complicates the problem, especially if you allow yourself too long of a “pity party.”
Instead, take some time to notice what is happening in your life from a detached position. Become a witness or observer of your life by stepping outside of it for a while. One simple way to do this is to imagine you are in a movie theater reviewing the “Story of My Life” movie. Watch and observe what’s been happening in your life without getting caught up in judging yourself.
3. Consciously Release The Thoughts And Emotions
Downward spirals of made up of “molecules of meaning” that arise from and are consistent with fear, and lack-based thinking and emotions, so you can begin to “dismantle” the downward spiral by identifying these thoughts and emotions, and then gently letting them go.
A useful exercise to help in this process is to envision a large bottomless trashcan in front of you into which you toss each thought and each emotion attached to the thought, paying particular attention to the ones that feel most disempowering to you. Another approach is to write it all down then burn the paper thus releasing their hold on you.
4. Resist The Temptation To Indulge
Don’t get sucked into the drama of the movie or the story of your current situation. There’s no point in watching the movie over and over. This will only suck you further down the spiral. Observe and move on. Another way to stay stuck in the story is to keep telling it to yourself and others over and over, in the process making it feel more real, and in the process, making yourself feel more hopeless.
Be on the lookout for friendships that are built on sharing one another’s dramatic stories of whoa and
foreboding. Such relationships only serve to keep
each other stuck in life and serve no positive purpose. “Misery really does love company,” so watch out who you invite to your pity party.
5. Commit To Changing Directions
Make a conscious choice to change the direction of your spiral. You may write down your choice as a declaration or share it with a friend, loved one, or your coach. Draw a line in the sand. As you make the choice, begin to consider what life could be like if and when you move through the downward spiral, and you reverse its direction.
You don’t need to try to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” It’s fine to start with a small step. “I’m going to feel stronger and more on top of my game tomorrow,” is a fine way to start.
6. Know The Makeup Of A Downward Spiral
Knowing the basic elements that are the composition of a downward spiral will make it easier to change its directions. As I said before, downward spirals are composed of “molecules of meaning” that can be further broken down into the basic components of fear, and lack-based thoughts and emotions.
This includes such things as doubt, worry, “shoulding” yourself, jealousy, anger, fear, frustration, etc. All of these come together to affect who you think you are (i.e.: loser, failure, unlovable, etc.) that then determines the actions you take and what you say out loud to yourself. All of which then determines what you have, as in the results with which you measure your life.
7. Use The Law Of Attraction To Change The Spiral’s Direction
The Law of Attraction states that “like attracts like.” So just as fear and lack-based thoughts will attract more thoughts of a similar nature, the same is true of love and abundance-based thoughts. By changing your thoughts and your emotions you
change the direction of the downward spiral.
This is where clearly knowing your life purpose can come in handy because your life purpose statement can be a powerful leverage point for making such a “purposeful pivot.” But, even if you don’t yet have that clarity of purpose you can use the strategy by identifying thoughts and feelings akin to Universal Love, a sense of abundance, and a willingness to flow with life.
One way to start making such a shift is to remember one or more times when you were in love with life. Perhaps it’s a memorable time like the birth of a child, or graduating from college. Or it may be something as simple as remembering a time when you were walking on the beach and felt closely connected to the rest of life. Use these positive memories to help redirect the flow and focus of your thoughts.
8. Practice Patience And Persistence
Remember you didn’t get into the downward spiral overnight, so don’t expect reversing direction to take place in an instance. Just as it takes time to stop a car and put it into reverse, it will take time before you’ll see the evidence that your downward spiral has become a spiral of fulfillment. In the meantime, continue to affirm and trust the process.
Continue to lubricate the process with positive affirmations and memories. Spend time with other people who have a positive outlook on life. Take some time to be of service to others who are less fortunate than yourself.
9. Begin To Gather Evidence For The Turnaround
As you continue the turnaround process begin to look for physical evidence that the process is working. Start with the mindset that the evidence is there already and your job is to find it like a detective?, rather than wondering whether there is any evidence or not.
Evidence can come in all sizes and it all counts. There’s no piece of evidence too small to claim. Keep looking as you continue to set the intention that all is in Divine Order even when it doesn’t always look or feel that way.
10. Debrief, Declare The Accomplishment, and Celebrate
At some point you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the turnaround is complete. Before moving on take some time to acknowledge what you’ve learned from the experience, declare to yourself the accomplishment and celebrate it. You’ve made major progress along your purposeful path. “Celebrate, celebrate — dance to the music.”