New Years: A Time for Self-Exploration
The beginning of a new year is an obvious time for reevaluation, but it’s also an opportunity for compassionate self-awareness. We focus so often on what we need to do — thinking that if we do certain things, we’ll have certain outcomes, and then we’ll be a certain way or feel a certain sense of satisfaction.
This year, though, instead of a New Year’s resolution — a commitment to “do”-ing something — we invite you to a New Year’s exploration: What do you need? How, and who, do you want to be? And what’s keeping you from getting there?
Do "Pain Points" hinder our decision making and keep us from moving forward?
There’s a concept in customer service called identifying the “pain points” — the places where, in a process, people repeatedly get hung up and make decisions that aren’t conducive to the desired outcome. In a business model, for example, if it’s too difficult for me to edit my online shopping cart, I might not complete my transaction. This is an example of a pain point — it’s an interruption in constructive flow. This concept may also be useful as we consider the way we live our lives:
- What are the places were we continue to get hung up and make decisions that are limiting?
- What are the old fears and habits that keep us moving down a road that isn’t quite where we want to go — the things that make us abandon a new endeavor or give up on something that has captured our imagination?
Business experts say that the most important part of learning about pain points is that first they have to be differentiated from solutions. A medical example of a solution is, “I need a bandage for my skinned knee.” And, this may be an easy fix. Don’t we wish almost everything could be fixed with a good Band-Aid?
But, thinking of this in an analytical way, a pain point explains the problem, but doesn’t immediately suggest the solution. It allows us to focus on the need. For example, how many times, after all, do children come to us needing a Band-Aid when they really just need a hug or attention? For that matter, how many times do we do this as adults when we want someone to just listen to us rather than fix our problems? See? Needs, not solutions.
Identifying a pain point in this example would sound more like, “I need to stop my wound from bleeding.” Getting right to a proposed solution — even if it’s the right one — skips over a true understanding of the process. Maybe consider:
- What caused the wound?
- Is a bandage really the right answer, or might it need stitches?
- Are there additional ways to support healing the wound or to keep from making it worse?
- Do we just need to stop the bleeding, or are there ways we can also help alleviate what’s hurting?
Identify Your "Pain Points"
So many times we jump to identify solutions (and hasten to make resolutions) without actually taking the time to identify our individual pain points.
- Are you unhappy in your physical body?
- Are you dissatisfied in your personal relationships?
- Are you lacking a sense of purpose because you’ve undergone significant life changes?
- Where are you hurting?
- What are your human needs? And which unfulfilled ones need attention?
While it can be tempting to skip ahead to the fix, it’s important to first honor the things keeping you in a process that’s unfulfilling, dissatisfying, or that keeps you from following through. The helpful part is that you also release the immediate pressure to identify solutions — you can actually come to a deeper understanding of what’s happening in your life, and why, and then go from there when you’re ready.
Another important element of identifying pain points is that they need to be concrete and specific. The grief journey can be so overwhelming that we often just want to feel better. We long for things that are abstract and not possible (“the way it was before,” etc.). While it’s important to spend time in appreciation, communing with the joys that we’ve experienced, those big needs can be staggering and, frankly, exhausting. If you often return to thoughts like “I want to enjoy life again,” or “I want to feel better,” you may be better served to look more deeply into what is contributing to those needs. Maybe it’s, “I’m lonely,” or “My sleep is very disturbed and it’s making it difficult for me to function during the day.”
As you look into the things that are negatively affecting the way you live, though, try to avoid immediately rushing to identify blanket solutions like, “I need more friends!” or “I need sleep aids.” Instead, think:
- How did this happen?
- When in my life was it different?
- Were these changes sudden or gradual?
And, here’s the kicker — are they all a result of my grief, or are there other things at play as well? Were these things in motion before your loss?
Sometimes this level of honesty can help us get out of the habit of manifesting broad-sweeping and unattainable fixes — you know, like the time machine, the magic wand, or the magic pill.
Once we understand what happened to get us to that sticking point and what we want the other side to feel like, it may be that we can then hold the need with more understanding and compassion. It may be that we can identify ways to move beyond it, to find ways to meet the needs that are relevant, honest, enduring, and truer to the wound than just a bandage or a pledge to do better.
If you’re tired of resolutions, and even if you aren’t, maybe this is the year for us all to move toward a more courageous acknowledgement of our own pain points...our own personal obstacles. Maybe those insights can then lead us to ways to become our own problem solvers — creating ease and comfort in our own lives wherever we can, and creating space to live the best way possible in an imperfect world.