shy-1024x590Picture your decisions as situation rooms in your home, each room populated by lawyers advocating for and against the options you face.

Some of these lawyers are welcome company presenting options that please you. And some are unwelcome, representing options that worry you, inconvenient choices and their consequences you’d rather not face.

To enter a situation room is to face a decision and, as with entering a room at any social gathering, some rooms feel easier to enter and stay in than others. You scan the room, see who’s present and if everyone feels like safe company, you feel no urge to exit. But if scanning the room you spot dreaded company, you mutter, “Oh, Jeez, she’s in here. No way do I want to face her. I’m outta here” and duck out as soon as you can.

There are situation rooms in the house you never enter, simply because your decision is made. You have your MO, your modus operandi, a plan you’ve committed to and never think about anymore. For example, you’re committed to raising your children, and there’s no way you’ll re-evaluate that MO. It’s a done deal.

Yeah, maybe you’ll look back on your life and decide that raising kids wasn’t worth it. If you entered the “Should I raise my kids?” situation room, you might encounter an advocate who would tell you your MO is a dead end. You should cut your losses in child rearing before wasting anymore of your life on raising them.

But you don’t go there. In for a penny, in for a pound–you’re committed to raising your children. That’s your MO and you’re sticking with it.

Other rooms you’re happy to enter. You’re not sure what to do yet about the decisions in them but none of the advocates in these rooms scare you. For example, you’ve got money and it’s time to buy new car. You’re happy to visit your car-decision situation room. In there you’ll find advocates encouraging you to choose any of a variety of cars, but you’re happy to face any of the options they present.  Entering that room is like entering a room at a party where you’re popular enough to feel safe with anyone you might encounter.

There are other decisions, or situation rooms you’re ambivalent about, drawn to because the decision feels pressing, but averse to entering because you dread facing the options represented in it. For example, for people whose marriages are troubled, there is a room whose door is marked “Should I leave my marriage?”

Imagine being in these people’s predicament.  Entering the room you would find two lawyers, one advocating exit, which would be a relief in some ways, but scary too because you’re not really sure how you would get by, whether you’d ever find another partner, or be contented alone. The other lawyer advocates staying in the marriage, which again would be easier in some ways, but scary in others, the consequences including the possibility that you’ll regret having stayed, the marriage stifling your spirit, and proving unsustainable in the long run.

You’re choosing between the lesser of two evils, the best of two dreaded options, options you don’t want to face so not a room you dare enter or stay in too long.  You’d rather visit other rooms, like maybe that one with the car choice in it, or maybe a room in which the only decision is what to watch on TV this evening.

Trouble is, the advocates leave their rooms sometimes, finding you and tapping you on the shoulder wherever else you are.  You were minding your own business during a TV ad when suddenly you find yourself in yet another argument with your husband.

Your show comes back on but the argument has rekindled in you doubts about whether your marriage is sustainable.  Your MO is to just watch TV but the option to leave your marriage, represented by an advocate, has come out of the room to find you.  He tapped you on the shoulder, nagging you to revisit the room marked “Should I leave the marriage?” a room you dread visiting because all of the options you encounter in it are scary.

You have your MO’s, your choices made. You’re just living those choices, maybe enthusiastically, maybe just by force of habit, but with some MOmentum, the ongoing work you do to live out your MO, for example showing up for your children, your marriage, your work, your hobbies, your church–anything you are committed to doing, no questions asked.

The more frequently those advocates come out of their rooms to tap you on the shoulder, the harder it is to sustain your MOmentum.  They eat into your MOjo, the enthusiasm that fuels your MOmentum.  When your MOjo flags, when your enthusiasm is sapped you feel compelled to revisit whether your MO makes sense. The advocates who tap you on your shoulder sap your MOjo, saying for example, “Hey, you’re plan ain’t working, it’s time for you to rethink your commitment to this MO. Come visit the situation room and consider other options you can slot into position as your replacement MO, ‘cause there must be something better than this.”

We all have ways to ward off advocates like these, ways to say “Nope, not going there.”.  When you feel you can’t face your options, you can leave things to chance, saying, “it’s not up to me,” or “I should just go with the flow.” You can call it sinful to revisit a room, counting the rooms as off limits for moral reasons.  You can distract yourself in other rooms where the decisions are easier, the options more pleasant, no advocate too scary to face, like which car to buy or what to watch on TV.

Of course, you don’t always enter a situation room alone. Whenever you’re making a choice with other people you enter a situation room together, like arriving at a party with family, spouse, colleagues, friends or collaborators.

Debating something with someone is like entering a room populated with options, to wonder together which option to choose as your collaborative MO. Sometimes you want to stay and attend to the decision, but the other person or people you enter with spot a scary option or two and say, “You know, we don’t belong in here. Let’s move on.” You find yourself trying to drag people into rooms they’d rather not enter, and likewise dragged by others into rooms you don’t want to visit.

In recent articles I’ve explored the joy we experience when we’re in what Mihaly Czikszentmihaly calls “flow” or what I call “serious play.” I said that I experience serious play in situations in which locally “it’s all good,” where none of the choices I face are too daunting and none of the consequences for taking them are too terrible. Here I’m suggesting that serious play is possible in situation rooms that feel like play rooms, no scary options present in the rooms.

I’ve argued elsewhere against the variety of philosophical and spiritual approaches that urge you to simply feel safe everywhere always.  I don’t think they can or should work.  None of us can honestly say it’s all good, or all small stuff.  We can’t accept “what is” in some kind of blanket passive way.  It would be stupid to try.

Still, with effort we can make some dreaded options less dreaded simply by habituating to them, occasionally visiting the rooms where they dwell, staying a little while before exiting relieved to get away.  With time these options become less terrifying, which doesn’t mean they’re the best options or the worst, but ones you can visit calmly as you evaluate your options.

Not all situation rooms can be made into play rooms, but more can than we think, if we learn to identify the options in them that scare us, and make ourselves less scared by spending some time with them, like braving up at an awkward party and saying to the guest you’d least like to see, “You! I thought I might find you here. Dude, what’s up?  What have you got to say for yourself?”

Call it Threat Adaptation Therapy. It’s not cognitive therapy in that it doesn’t simply swap one affirming source of MO-jo for another. And it’s not mindfulness practice, which encourages you to drop all shy aversion to all of what is and could be.  Rather, it’s focused desensitization to the options and consequences that you can’t bring yourself to visit but know you should.