The psychological definition of coping is the process of managing taxing circumstances, expending effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to master, minimize, reduce or tolerate stress or conflict.  
What’s the con of coping?
First don’t read into this title too idealistically; it’s simply meant to make the point that “coping” with a situation can really trick you into believing that you are changing it or even eliminating it from your life. It can make you believe that you are dealing with a situation (and in part this may be true) but by definition, coping is just that, coping; and not too many situations are improved when they are minimized, and tolerated. Read the definition above.
How do we cope?
Here are a few the way I have in the past…
By going to seminars to learn more, talking with friends, ruminating, yelling, eating, tuning out, rationalizing, changing myself to adapt to situations that didn’t suit me to begin with, tolerating, obsessive exercising (this list can go on an on) and of course seeing a psychological professional. I’m sure most people reading this have coped with a situation in at least one of these ways or some other…
Now I’m not a psychologist, (I wrote a book with one with one and I see one from time to time, because that what works best for me along with my affiliation with The Mankind Project where I process my experience in a circle of men). I’m a fairly logical man, who at times is completely irrational (I do try to limit those times ) who like others, has had to go through a tremendous amount of personal change himself to address the situation of his life and I’m still doing it. After years of performance addiction where I thought big in the world but perhaps too big, and created consequences in my life that are still affecting me today; I am only sharing what I have discovered.
By no means am I saying that coping doesn’t have it’s place, it does. I am coping with certain things right now. And there are professionals who can help you particularly if they are also helping you understand your situation and also make changes.
The reason for coping is simple; you sometimes can’t change and / or eliminate certain circumstances in your life all at once or ever for that matter, and I’m sure simply eliminating an aspect of your life is not always the best choice.
Cutting yourself off can be it’s own form of a cover up or coping strategy. Many try and just get themselves into even more trouble. Believe me, it doesn’t work that well.
By the same token, focusing too much on coping with a set of circumstances without enough action on changing the actual situation, often times takes the focus off of changing the situation or even eliminating it from your life if that’s what’s needed. I can think of a few times in my life where I thought I had had a particular nuance of my life licked, simply because it wasn’t popping up as often, but in reality had engineered a fantastic method of coping, only to have it surface later.
Why do we cope, and not change or eliminate ourselves from a situation?
Each level – coping, changing and eliminating – bring with it it’s own unique type of stresses.
All are viable and needed at times and are steps, many times taken in tandem, and / or they lead to another level of action; but the bottom line is stress. We know what we know, good, bad or indifferent, and our identity can can get attached to that. Change, or or extreme change (no matter how much it’s needed), means our experience of the world changes and that can be scary. Our bearings and the very structure of our life changes when we stop coping and that can make even a warrior cringe (at least for a short while).
- Coping often times leaves the situation in place, while you adapt your values or goals to tolerate it or perhaps buy time to prepare for a change.
- Changing addresses the situation, more head on. You are are coping still, but the situation does not warrant an ending, though change is imminent. It’s uncomfortable to make the change, but then the situation starts getting better.
- Eliminating a situation, or yourself from a situation, is a more extreme change. You address the situation head on, and it can be very painful up front as it accompanies loss, self doubt or other more intense consequences in the short run, but ultimately, if it was a bad situation life can get much better relatively soon thereafter.
I share these with you because these 3 levels of action are key to ensuring your lifestyle is working for you.
Over the years of teaching Performance Lifestyle it has come to my attention personally (first hand) and professionally (working with others) that an inability to understand a present situation can really limit a lifestyle and prevent things from working.
That’s why we ask the question “Is Your Lifestyle Working for You?”. If you are overweight, believe me, changing your eating and exercise habits is only part of the change you need to make.
For example, recently, my business partner Rosie Battista went through a change (it actually started 10 months ago) where she wanted to lose weight which she had struggled to do for some time. Did she merely start eating less and exercising more? No.
You can read more about her story here.
Is her life perfect now? No, but it’s better in so many ways; she’s got other stuff (as we all do) to change still, but now she knows how. One thing is for sure, in retrospect, if she didn’t know how to make changes at a deep enough level, she wouldn’t have achieved one of her most ambitious life goals.
In her words:
It was a colossal switch in my mindset. I remembered that that was the very message I had taught my children. I had a choice.
I could choose to (1) listen to the nasty cousins and other naysayers, the biggest one being myself, who told me that I was too old, hormonal, and menopausal. Those who said my body would never respond, that I should accept my body as is, that I looked good for my age, that all women have fat around their waists and that I would never be able to pull this off or lose the weight that I had struggled with for so long.
OR… (2) I could decide that I was going to do it, no matter what.
It’s when we get caught up in stories (especially others) that we can land ourselves in situations that don’t work and just cope; but, we have the choice. Do I just cope with this? Change it? or Eliminate it?
Without the basic awareness of these three levels of change, it’s very hard to make changes period. Especially today, when we need to be able to change quicker than ever before given the ease with which we can get caught up in stuff, and I mean lots of it. It’s the information age and things happen fast.
We need to be able to assess a situation and take the next best step for ourselves. That’s what Rosie did, and I hope she keeps on doing it.
My suggestion is cope to the degree that you need to, and with professional help if possible, but no more than you need to. I would share this same advice if I were talking exercise. Exercise as much as you need to, to get the result, no more and if you’re burning out, then change!
Whatever you do, don’t fall for the con of coping without understanding your present situation, else the con is on and believe me, we live in a market full of impotent solutions that will help you cope, but never really solve your problem.
What is your real problem?
Are you changing it, eliminating it, or are you just coping with it?
I am writing this on the heals of a situation that’s been perplexing me for far too long. I thought I was changing it, but in fact I was only coping with it even with heroic efforts. The situation kept getting worse and the reason is simple, I didn’t understand the situation clearly (not as I do now) or completely for that matter. I simply didn’t change it. Now I am.
Changing a situation starts with changing your story – John Allen Mollenhauer