Drifting through life – How to stop?

Drifting in the arctic

There are things in all of us that we need to face up to. Perhaps it is a relationship going sour, a health problem, or a business decision. When we find ourselves drifting, some crisis is likely to then occur. Better to prevent difficulties getting out of hand than allow circumstances no longer under our control to push us into a corner.

Drifting as a Pre-disposition

The problem is worse if we are the kind of person who isn’t used to taking the initiative – for whom drifting seems to be an inbuilt disposition. This might show in conversation: “I’m sure you’re right.” “I’ll leave that up to you.” Those of us who are a bit timid find others taking advantage of our ‘better nature’. One sign of this is if we were to feel fed up with the way others take advantage of us or feel quietly resentful when sidelined, or put on. We can be much too passive for our own good.

The freedom to change

The good news is it is possible to become more assertive and proactive. This is because of our inner freedom to change. One might object that this question of free-will is a bit controversial. Our social, legal, financial and physical circumstances affect the opportunities around us for what we can do. And our personal histories and temperament will also affect our sense of possibilities.

But despite this we do have personal choices. No one is forced into drifting through life. We can make up our own minds about things including whether to believe that we are free to make up our own minds! If inner freedom applies to small matters like whether to read this article, date that person, or take on that stray cat as a pet, then surely it also applies to more important issues such as which political party to vote for or which things to value in life.

If you doubt the freedom of personal choice, just consider these questions. Do you not feel you can adopt whatever attitude you please? Can you not change how you live your life? Don’t you feel responsible for how you react to events?

Actually many people do recognize that being human, we have many private choices in life; whether to continue drifting along with the crowd or to do our own thing; whether to adopt worldly or spiritual values. We may make decisions using so-called `enlightened self-interest’ or alternatively ethical ideas like what is fair or sincere. The outer determinants of behaviour do not prevent inner freedom of choice. Although our choices may sometimes need to remain hidden until outward circumstances change, inwardly we are in a state of balance between for example optimism and pessimism or honesty and self-deception, Which we turn to is our own choice.

One’s readiness to accept responsibility.

With private freedom comes a sense of personal responsibility. Sadly, not all of us face up to this. Easier to stay drifting along as if there were no deeper challenges to waken us up out of complacency. Often and in various ways we may slide into letting life around us govern how we think and behave – in a way that enables us to blame ‘it’ if ever we feel criticised. So it tends to be “someone else’s fault – not mine!”

Not surprisingly, psychological therapists generally accept that if clients persist in blaming some other person or thing for their problems of living, then no real therapy is possible. A therapist may ask such an individual whose partner keeps running him or her down or using violence “Why not do something about it like insisting on a trial separation to bring the other person to their senses.” In not accepting the responsibility for the way they live their lives, they cannot start to take hold of their own self and destiny.

And in my experience if I asked clients about the aspects of therapy that they found particularly useful, they often cite the discovery and assumption of personal responsibility.

However, readiness to accept responsibility varies considerably. For some individuals it is extraordinarily difficult and this issue is the main task of psychotherapy. Once they assume responsibility they give healing a chance, and therapeutic change almost happens automatically without much further effort for the therapist.

Most of us are facing life’s problems without professional help. But also here an act of will freely made is required. When we better understand the problems we are causing ourselves and our families, we may then either do nothing about it and carry on drifting along in our old habits or we may actually then resolve to change for example, our addiction to work, our avoidance of some personal issue or our emotional dependence on some particular person etc. We need to make a decision to take hold of our life rather than drift on as before.

Courage for change

Taking the bull by the horns seems scary at first. After all it is easy to imagine the bull may turn round and gore us to death. But if we take courage we find that it is not so dangerous as we thought. We may have had no suspicion that there was any courage within us to be found. Yet my experience with many anxious clients shows that courage arises within when they started to take responsibility for their own development; rather than drifting along and passively allowing themselves to be complacently swayed this way and that by the events of their lives.

A longer version of this article

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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