What Maintains the A/N approach to life, the universe and everything?

How we approach life depends on a number of factors. This individual cocktail is blended from our genetics, the way our family operated, internal and external expectations plus the pay offs or costs we encountered over time. Thus, what we bring along with us as we encounter differing situations will impact the choices we make.

The appraisals, decisions and behaviours we make tend to be directed and influenced by a sort of pre-google guidance system – personal schemas. These will have been laid down and reinforced from an early age. They are ways of deciphering the busy world we live in and then identifying (usually automatically) options for responding. For A/N individuals, there tend to be some common themes within these schemas: be busy, do well, be responsible, don’t give up, expect highly of yourself, prioritise important things. However, these can become so familiar and well-rehearsed that we don’t pause to look for new or different ways of relating to stuff. Schemas around doing well tend to be reinforced as we progress through different settings e.g. praise and pocket money from our parents, kudos from the coach at sports plus improved social standing from our peers, positive feedback from employers and promotions for working hard. Thus, we can learn that working hard and pushing ourselves pays off … so we keep using this approach across many situations.

failure success

Another maintaining factor for A/N people is around uncertainty and difficulties tolerating this. With uncertainty, there comes negative anticipation. A/N folk feel safer and more confident when they know what is required of them and how to perform to meet a given target. Not knowing what is expected can feel threatening and unsettling, which tends to trigger off well-rehearsed (and usually helpful) behaviours such as pushing harder, doing more and not stopping. One of the biggest drivers in uncertain situations is the fear of failure and once again, this promotes the pushing and doing behaviours – no matter the personal cost. By doing even better than usual, one might get recognition and positive feedback, therefore the uncertainty is diminished and hard work is reinforced.

But … what if we don’t have to respond so automatically or rigidly to our schemas and what if we could learn to tolerate the uncertainty that is inherent in life?

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