There are many labels we can take on that help us understand ourselves better, and I'm all for it when it's done from that place—of wanting to understand and free ourselves—rather from a place of wanting to close down or box in.
Two labels I love, probably because I see them so often in coaching, are “moderator” and “abstainer.”
Most of us are good at doing nearly anything we want—because we have the ability to moderate it. We can go for a full day of shopping, or have a piece of bread when we’re out to dinner, because we know we're able to not go overboard with whatever it is that we're going to do.
But most of us also have certain situations where we find it beyond impossible to moderate effectively or appropriately. The reasons why are varied, and don't really matter. In those times, facing the inability to make a half-way good choice, a person is probably better served by seeing herself as an abstainer: a person who just says no.
We all know that with addiction, abstinence is generally the only path to any sort of peace from the chaos addiction brings with it. You can’t be a drug addict and have just a little bit of heroine. A little bit is a gateway to a whole lot of hurt.
And that’s true for people who aren’t addicts, too, but who find it hard, situationally, to moderate; abstaining is a beautiful thing because it's so much easier to not go near a slippery slope than to try to manage the slide when the natural ability to manage it is missing.Can a person get better at self-control (the ability needed for moderating)? Sure. But if you ask someone who, faced with certain circumstances, finds it nearly impossible to do that, chances are she's tried and tried and tried. She's read about how to do it, she's maybe seen a therapist or worked with a coach, and while she gets how to do it it in her head, putting it into practice often feels impossible. Having the will-power required to moderate feels impossible.
I see this most often in business in the areas of standards; specifically, in making exceptions to standards already created, such as:
- Allowing a client to pay late because she asked for an extension
- Stepping over your regular business hours
- Doing things for a client who asks for special consideration “just this once,” but where it’s never really “just this once.”
- Letting a PC lead your consultation process because she “doesn’t like” the way you do it.
- Anything you do behind the scenes to step over standards in how you work ON your business (like blowing off your bookkeeping because a friend asked you to lunch, and not bothering to reschedule the time to do it)
Are any of those tricky for you to try to manage? If you find them (or other things) to be so without also opening doors to additional requests or demands that you don’t know how to moderate, abstaining can absolutely help.
To move away from feeling like you can’t get a grip on what’s happening, or to prevent feeling like a failure, and to get out of the trying and into the doing (and to feeling like a success) try the path with ease by staying away from that which is difficult to moderate. Great language to use is, “I don’t do X” followed by a suggestion about how to shift the situation in the future.
“I don’t accept late payments. How can I help you structure things so that you can consistently pay me on time?”
“I don’t work evenings, weekends, or holidays. Let’s get better at planning things in advance so you won’t feel like you need to ask me, and so I won’t have to say no.”
“I don’t do things that are ‘just this once’ because they rarely are. Let’s figure out how to structure things so that you won’t need to ask me.”
“I don’t stray from my process. Would you like to continue going through it with me?”
Can you see the strength of the position behind the “don’t” statements?
“Don’t” is a much stronger message to your self and to others than is “won’t” or “can’t,” which both sound like they can be negotiated. Negotiating on standards is a super area in which to be an abstainer.
So try the “I don’t” language, and try abstaining where it’s hard to moderate, and let me know how it goes for you. Instead of a gateway to chaos, it should be a gateway to peace that leaves you feeling immediately more in control and able to stand in your truth.
I’d also love to hear about other areas where you struggle to moderate, and what else you may have learned to do to move beyond the struggle!