THE STRUGGLE BUS (HOW TO DEAL WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS)
Last weekend I had an amazing couple of days full of culture, community, romance and (yes!) even lazy time.
And despite thoroughly enjoying this soul-expanding weekend, I also struggled with low-level anxiety for most of it. My brain had some things it was working through, and I wasn’t able to coach myself to a new thought that felt better yet.
A few years ago, I would’ve done anything I could to escape these anxious feelings as quickly as possible. When I first discovered thought work, I got really great at changing my thoughts to ones that felt better because doing so offered respite from my negative emotions.
What took me longer to develop was what I experienced this weekend – the ability to allow negative emotion to exist in my body without resisting or immediately trying to change it.
Although we all want to change our thoughts, sometimes, we aren’t going to be able to do so quickly.
Sometimes, we need to take a ride on what I like to call the “struggle bus.”
The struggle bus is my name for the experience of knowing a thought causes your feelings but not being able or ready to change it yet.
There are a few different reasons that we may need to take a ride on the struggle bus.
Maybe we haven’t yet figured out what the thought causing our negative emotion is.
Maybe we’ve figured out the thought, but we still really believe it. We want to change it, but we can’t believe anything new yet.
Or maybe we actually do have a new thought we are practicing, but we still also believe the old thought. So we have moments of relief peppered with periods of suffering, as we put work into retraining our brain’s automatic thought patterns into more intentional ones.
Whatever the reason, “struggle bus” is a perfect metaphor for this process because it acknowledges our suffering and normalizes it. So often, we think we shouldn’t be struggling. If we’re feeling challenged and stretched and things seem hard, we think something is capital-w-Wrong. But it’s ok to struggle with new concepts. It’s ok to find it challenging and difficult to change your thought patterns. It’s more than ok – it’s a sign that you’re doing the work!
Another great thing about this metaphor is that a bus is moving. You may be struggling, you may even feel like you’re sitting still, but you’re actually moving forward.
Many of my students are desperate to change their feelings, so they try to rush the process and assume that if they slow down to feel more of the struggle, they’ll get stuck in it forever. But you can still get places even if you’re feeling a negative emotion.
There’s plenty of room on the struggle bus – you can take your negative emotion along with you and you’ll still make progress. You’re not succumbing to the emotion or shirking your thought work; you’re just allowing your emotion to coexist with you on your journey.
Not convinced? There are three reasons it’s important to hop on the struggle bus:
- Negative emotion is a part of life. It will always be. If you’re constantly resisting it and trying to rush away from it, you’re going to spend a lot of your life in resistance.
- You can’t get much done if you’re only willing to take action when you don’t have any negative emotion.
- It’s actually the willingness to be present on the struggle bus that allows you to eventually change the thought and get OFF the bus.
Look, we are flooded with ways to try to escape taking the struggle bus. Our entire economy is predicated on providing opportunities to escape our thoughts and feelings. But when you’re constantly stimulating yourself with external things like alcohol or food or shopping or Netflix, you never get a chance to actually let your brain work.
Think for a moment about professions or endeavors that are built around solving really complex problems. Theoretical mathematicians will work on a single problem for YEARS. Artists will spend their entire lives tackling a problem that they find fascinating. In these cases, the problem isn’t actually a Problem – nothing has gone wrong; they’re just trying to figure something out. It’s a question they are trying to answer, an intellectual puzzle they are trying to solve.
Your brain needs some space and time to puzzle over complex problems. Think of it as a creative process of sorts. Sometimes when you’re experiencing a lot of negative emotion and can’t figure out why, you need to give your brain some space to play with the problem. To look at it from different angles, turn it inside out, try on some hypotheses and see what happens. If you’re willing to be on the struggle bus, you give your brain some time to play with the question and figure out the answer.
And while this is going to sound impossible to some of you, the real transformation is when you come to ENJOY that process. You actually get excited to get on the struggle bus, because you know the struggle is going to teach you something you can’t learn any other way.
So the next time you’re resisting your negative emotion and thinking that something has gone wrong because you can’t change a thought yet, I want you to consider that this might be an invitation to even deeper work.
What if you can’t change the thought yet because it requires a whole new level of awareness that you need to create or unlock?
And what if you need to ride the struggle bus for a bit before you can get to the high-speed train that follows it?
If you can relax into your seat and allow the process, the struggle bus isn’t so bad. In fact, it can be beautiful in its own right, because it means that you’re going somewhere amazing. You just don’t know where yet, and that’s part of the fun.