Episode 89: Should I stay or should I go? with Corrina Gordon-Barnes
Do you feel like you’re not enjoying your job or relationship anymore, and you can’t decide between staying or leaving? Want to know how to better relationships and take control of your life?
The ‘should I stay or should I leave’ dilemma isn’t rare. We all have standards and expectations of how things should be. When things don’t go our way, we often put up with these outcomes resentfully. However, putting up with things never really works, and this could lead to more stress. Through focusing, reflecting, and analysing things, we can control what we can and accept what we can’t control. Then, we become truly empowered individuals who know how to better relationships.
In this episode, Corrina Gordon-Barnes joins us to share how to better relationships and take control and stay in your zone of power. She shares how to make a good decision by questioning thoughts and assumptions. We also discuss how you can change your perspective to become more compassionate, accepting, and empowered.
If you want to know how to better relationships, stay in your zone of power, improve your decision-making skills, and be true to yourself, then tune in to this episode!
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Discover the role of acceptance in empowering yourself, taking control of your life and how to better relationships.
- Find out how to make the most out of your zone of power.
- Corrina shares her top tips for solving the ‘should I stay or should I leave’ dilemma.
[04:42] Corrina’s Coaching Journey
- For 16 years, Corrina has been coaching and helping people find what they wanted to do.
- She then realised the importance of feeling connected and how so many things get in the way of connection.
- Corrina eventually discovered The Work of Byron Katie. Through it, Corrina was able to teach people how to clear anything that got in the way of connection.
- Our amygdala doesn’t just function as a threat detection system; it also seeks connection and belonging.
- Our desire for belonging can sometimes get in the way of authenticity. Because we want to fit in, we sometimes do things we don’t want to do or stay in toxic relationships.
[09:07] How to Better Relationships
First, be compassionate with anybody caught in the dilemma of choosing between staying or leaving.
- Corrina believes that resolving this dilemma by making a pros-and-cons list is not a good decision-making strategy.
- She also discourages asking others about their opinion. Doing this would distance you from what you really want.
- Instead of listing pros and cons, list down all your judgments or complaints about the thing you’re thinking of leaving. Then, make another list of all of your fears about leaving.
- Acknowledge that the things you’ve listed down are all thoughts that aren’t necessarily reality. Then, question these thoughts one by one, and test their veracity.
[18:53] Staying in Your Zone of Power
When we encounter problems, thinking that we can’t do anything about them can cause us to feel more stuck.
- Rather than denying reality, it’s more empowering to accept it as it is and to focus on what you can control.
[15:36] ‘These are thoughts, and thoughts can be questioned. The next phase is you take just one of those thoughts… And you say, “Okay, Is this true?”’
- What’s in your zone of power often takes vulnerability and courage. People often avoid the things that are in their zone of power, because dealing with them takes a lot of courage.
- Often, we don’t utilise our zone of power because it’s naturally easier to blame the situation on others rather than going through the necessary discomfort yourself.
[24:00] Questioning Thoughts
First, have compassion for your predicament. Then list your reasons, complaints and fears about the situation.
- Question where your thoughts might be coming from, and identify if your source of information is limited.
- Find any evidence that might contradict your current beliefs, assumptions, and thoughts.
- With more varying evidence, you would understand your problem from a more multidimensional perspective and learn how to better relationships.
- Noticing these signs and evidence more openly would help you in making your decision.
[28:47] ‘It’s not really a decision. It’s more noticing what is actually, then, happening. And it’s that trust of that direction that you’re going in because you’re not being controlled by those stories anymore.’
[29:22] About Acceptance and Why People Stay
People tend to remain in their jobs or romantic relationships when they’ve learned to accept and stay in their zone of power.
[30:57] ‘You either stay or leave with love for your partner.’
- The things that are ours to do require courage, and the things that are other people’s involve acceptance.
- Accepting people doesn’t mean condoning negative behaviour. Acceptance is a choice, and it makes you address others with compassion and teaches you how to better relationships.
[34:29] ‘Accepting is a very powerful position of love and clear-sightedness.’
- Before reacting to a difficult situation, ask yourself if your response is mature, powerful and effective. Reflecting on this helps you learn how to better relationships.
- Rather than trying to change a person, it’s often better to accept them as they are.
[37:41] ‘It’s so empowering to realise that you have choices.’
[44:30] Making Choices in our Zone of Power
Often, we don’t follow what we want because we fear consequences that aren’t real. We have more power than we think, and making some choices sometimes just needs courage
[42:11] ‘Sharing [my son’s death story] with others enabled me to be powerful because I was facing reality as it actually was, not as I thought I wanted it to be.’
- We often blame other people for the pressure we experience. However, most of this pressure comes from ourselves.
- When you stay firm in your zone of power, you stay authentic and truthful to yourself.
[47:42] ‘I’m only going to do what is truthful for me that I am wholehearted about and that is authentic and in my integrity.’
- Don’t think of how a situation or person should be. Instead, think of a courageous conversation or action that you can do to reframe the problem at hand.
[51:32] Top 3 Tips for Deciding Whether to Stay or Leave
First, be compassionate with yourself that you’re in that difficult position.
- Second, list your complaints and fears, then recognise that they’re thoughts that aren’t unquestionable.
- Lastly, verify your thoughts, and identify the things you can do that are within your zone of power. These include acceptance and having the courage to make changes.
Corrina Gordon-Barnes is a coach and trainer focusing on how to better relationships. Her vision is for workplaces to have colleagues speak honestly, give and receive feedback gracefully and act with integrity. With 16 years of experience, Corrina has been described as HR’s ‘secret advantage’, helping workplaces build internal relationships and think through the most vital issues.
Corrina helps organisations by offering one-to-one coaching to both emerging and senior leaders. She also delivers training for new managers in coaching skills, time management, handling difficult conversations and giving effective feedback.
If you want to know more about Corrina and her work, visit Corrina’s website or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Do you feel stuck in a job or in a relationship that you’re really not enjoying? Do you feel resentful about things that should or shouldn’t be happening and powerless to do anything about it? Are you agonising about whether to stay and put up with the way things are, or whether you need to leave, but you just can’t make up your mind? You might need to approach things a bit differently.
In this episode, I’m chatting with Corrina Gordon-Barnes. A coach, trainer, and specialist on how to make relationships easier. We’re talking about how the real issue might be the assumptions and stories we’re telling ourselves about what’s really going on and how just putting up with things never really works. We chat about how to accept the things we can’t control and how this might lead to less stress and more love. We talk about how to take control over things that we can control so that we can either take action or have those conversations we really need to. This is a much more powerful place to be. So listen to this episode to find out the two different lists you need to make to start to make a good decision. Listen if you want to find out how to take control and stay in your zone of power and how to change your thoughts about the situation to become more compassionate, accepting, and empowered.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals if you want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm and have got used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in a pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to cross your work in life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together we can take back control and love what we do again.
I wanted to let you know that we’re now taking bookings for our Shapes Toolkit programs for late 2021 and 2022. Now, these programs help doctors, professionals in health and social care and other high-stress jobs take control of their workload, feel better and beat stress and burnout. We’ve got a whole range of options to choose from: from holiday programs to webinars and workshops, both online and face-to-face.
We’ve also got some brand new sessions on how to influence and negotiate even if you’re not the boss, dealing with conflict, and how to support your team through the new ways of working without burning out yourself. We’ve also got bespoke sessions for those new to roles in general practice and for frontline staff on topics, such as how to reduce drama on the frontline, and how to respond to even the most outrageous rudeness.
All our training is based on neuroscience and principles of coaching, productivity, and wellness research to give people practical tools that they can use straight away. Find out more by emailing me or get in contact through our website. Now on with the episode.
It’s fantastic to have with me on the podcast today, in fact, back on the podcast because I think, Corrina, you did one a while ago. We’ve got Corrina Gordon-Barnes, and Corrina is a coach and trainer. And she’s got specific expertise in how to make relationships easier. So welcome, Corrina.
Corrina Gordon-Barnes: It’s such a superpower, isn’t it? I can just make your relationships easier wherever I go with this magic wand.
Rachel: Will you come to my house, please? Sprinkle a little bit of magic. With teenagers, and two cats and everything, we could use it. Yeah. So first of all, it’s brilliant to have you with us because I always find your wisdom and your insight really, really helpful. But secondly, how on earth did you get into this whole thing of making relationships easy? So I’m thinking, as a coach, you maybe could have picked an easier topic or an easier speciality?
Corrina: What could be more fun? Do you know I found that there was a theme running through all the work that I did as a coach? I’ve been coaching for 16 years. And I was helping people with their careers actually to start with, helping teenagers find what they wanted to do, help women find their passion, all these different areas, marketing. And actually, at the heart of all of it was connection. It was this belief that we all want to feel connected, and so many things get in the way of connection.
Then what happened was as a certified coach, I then found The Work of Byron Katie, which is another approach that I laid on top of the coaching I already had. And that was suddenly the how-to of how to click anything that got in the way of connection because I think that’s our default. I think our default is connection, and then on top of that, we have all these thoughts, beliefs, assumptions that never get questioned. But if we can question them and clear them, we are just left with connection. So that’s what we want. And so it’s the most fulfilling work that I can imagine.
Rachel: It’s interesting because the work I’ve been doing recently talking very much about the amygdala and how that puts us into the flight, fight or freeze zone—how it is your threat detection system. I’m starting to read a lot about the fact that the amygdala is not just looking for a threat, it’s not just moving us away from the threat, it’s actually seeking connection, seeking belonging. It’s this deep, deep-rooted, physiological, neurological response, where we are moving away from people not liking us and seeking connection and deep connection. It’s almost this reflex that we’ve got.
Corrina: Yes, and that desire for belonging can, sometimes, get in the way of authenticity. So that desire to seek approval, to be loved, to belong, to fit in can sometimes mean that we go against our own true nature. That would be, I guess, the flip side of that desire for belonging.
Rachel: So you say that because we want to belong, we then make ourselves into something that we’re not in order for other people to accept us? Or we don’t have those conversations we should have? Or we don’t speak up or say if we disagree? Things like that.
Corrina: Exactly, that. How many times has someone asked you, ’Oh, would you like to do, I don’t know, ‘Would you like to come to this party?’ Let’s say. And no part of you wants to go to the party. I mean, it’s funny imagining parties in the middle of COVID times, but just nothing in you wants to go. Yet you want to be part of the gang and belong and everything. And so you say yes, and you go along to the party, and you spend the party feeling completely like you don’t want to be there. In your head, you might even tell the story, ’They made me come.’ Because that’s like the way of, kind of, putting blame on them for us doing something that we didn’t actually want to do. So, that’s the dark side of wanting to belong.
Rachel: I guess another dark side would be staying in relationships for too long that are toxic or not feeling that we could leave a job that we really should know that we should be leaving because of the relationships that we’ve gotten and because of the belonging.
Corrina: Yes. What will happen to that kind of feeling of community, if you broke up with a partner, a marital spouse, potentially losing the entire extended family. You’ve got in-laws, you’ve got parents-in-law, sisters-in-law, cousins, and all of that. There’s such a strong urge to want to stay, to keep the status quo, to stay belonging to a community that you’re already part of. Absolutely. A job or a team of colleagues, maybe a project that you’re working on. It could be a house that you feel like you’ve been in a while, you belong with, could be a city that you’ve built up lots of connections with. So, often, we’re not being very truthful about what is our current inclination and desire because of that need to belong.
Rachel: It’s a very tricky one, then. So how do you help people when they’ve got these dilemmas? When they’ve got difficult relationships? When they’re not quite sure what they should do? Because of their drive, the belonging is so, so strong.
Corrina: Well, the first thing is to be incredibly compassionate with anybody who feels caught in that ‘should I stay or should I leave’ dilemma because it can just be exhausting. It can be a constant dialogue, ‘Should I stay? Should I leave? Should I stay? Should I leave?’ That kind of limbo feeling of never really having quite both feet in somewhere. So you’re not wholeheartedly in something, but also, you don’t have the clarity and the decisiveness to leave. So you’re flip-flopping back and forward.
When clients come to me, whether it’s, normally, a relationship, that’s my position. God, this is hard. It’s so hard that you are in that ‘should I stay or should I stay or should I leave’ place. So we start there, and we really look at what, often, people do to try and get out of ‘stay and leave’. There are two things people often try and do. One thing is that they do a pros and cons list. I remember when I actually had a place at Oxford University when I was 17. And I made my list of reasons to go and reasons to leave. And I remember I had this long list of reasons to go, and then there’s one reason not to go. But actually, that one reason ended up winning for right or wrong reasons. But we make this pros or cons list. And we’re weighing up very logically and very, almost, mathematically how many things are on each side of the equation. I would argue that it’s not a great way of making a decision.
The other thing we do is we poll our friends. Now we do a little kind of informal poll. ‘What do you think? Do you think I should stay? Should I leave? What about this?’ And then that’s not great because you end up with lots of other people telling you what to do. And again, you’re distanced from what your heart, your soul, your spirit is saying is the right thing to do. So that’s the two ways I wouldn’t suggest making a decision about whether to stay or leave.
Rachel: Yeah, I can see that. There’s a decision I need to make the other day, and I very nearly drew up a pros and cons list. Then there’s no point because I know what the pros and cons are. I’m still just as stuck because a lot of it is on an emotional level as well. And I know people talk about using your intuition, too. I don’t know where I stand on intuition because sometimes mine is completely wrong, actually.
Corrina: Yes. I think you make a really good point about that list. You already know the pros and cons. They’re already there. That’s why you haven’t made a decision yet because you know there are reasons on either side. So, just writing them down isn’t necessarily going to really help that much. So the way that I do work, it’s going to look a tiny bit like a pros and cons list to start with, in that, it’s two lists but they’re completely different lists.
So the first list is all of the criticisms, judgments, complaints with whatever the thing is that you’re thinking about leaving. So if it was a person, it might be, ‘He doesn’t listen.’ ‘She doesn’t pull her weight.’ ‘He’s not on the same page as me.’ ‘She doesn’t care about me.’ So you just make that list of all those kinds of things, which just come up—those thoughts which come up in your head. You take dictation from your mind. And you write them down: all your problems. If it’s a job, it might be things like, ‘My manager doesn’t respect me.’ ‘My colleagues are cliquey.’ ‘There aren’t enough opportunities for growth.’ ‘It doesn’t pay enough.’ ‘There’s not flexible enough working conditions.’ So that is your list of all the reasons why it’s really hard to stay wholeheartedly in whatever it is you’re staying in.
You, then, make another list of all of the reasons, all of the fears about leaving. ‘If I leave them,’ so let’s say it’s a person. ‘If I leave, the family will be decimated, devastated, broken forever.’ ‘If I leave, people will judge me.’ ‘If I leave, I’ll never find someone else.’ If you haven’t yet had kids and you want to, ‘If I leave this one, I’ll never find someone that I can have children with. I’ll have left it too late.’ So really valid fears, you put down on another list. If it’s a job, maybe it’s the fear: ‘My CV will look choppy.’ What else might you have for the job?
Rachel: It’ll be just as bad somewhere else?
Corrina: Just as bad somewhere else. Yeah. Maybe there’s a particular job you’ve got in mind. And you’re already saying, ‘Oh, but you know, if I leave, then these problems are going to be in that new job.’ When you’ve got these two lists, again, just that compassion with, ‘No wonder I’m stuck. No wonder I’m in limbo because there are all these reasons why I can’t stay with my full heart. But there are all these fears, which mean I can’t just leave.’ That’s terrifying.
Rachel: Wow, that must be pretty overwhelming. I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, my word.’ But it’s good to get it out there. In fact, I was coaching someone yesterday about something, and he had all the list of stuff. He had the list, but it wasn’t till we found the reasons behind the thinking, and what was actually the problem, and really going on. And then it’s like, ‘Ah, okay. That is the thing.’ And I presume a lot of these things, one or two of them will be ‘The Thing’, and the others probably don’t matter as much.
Corrina: Well, the thing to do is once you’ve got those lists, is to go, ‘These are all thoughts. Everything I’m looking at now on my lists, this is not reality. Although some of these things may well be very, very true, I’m not looking at reality. I am looking at two lists of thoughts: thoughts that wake me up at night, thoughts that stop me from going to sleep, thoughts that are just rumbling around my head when I’m out for a walk. These are thoughts. And thoughts can be questioned.’
So that’s then, the next phase is you take just one of those thoughts. Let’s say, ‘My manager doesn’t respect me.’ And you say, ‘Okay, is this true?’ You are interrogating to see, is that just an opinion? Is it just one possibility? Or is it a rock-solid fact? Because often, we are trying to make these decisions based on unquestioned assumptions, thoughts that are not facts.
Rachel: I think this is a really interesting and important point. And I think people really struggle with this sometimes. It’s your thinking that’s causing the stress rather than the actual situation. And so, it’s like you said, some of these things may be true. But all of the things that’s causing us distress, is purely our thinking around what’s going on. Is that correct?
Corrina: It’s correct, which I find incredibly good news. Because your thoughts, they are just thoughts. They are interpretations. They’re assumptions. They’re beliefs. And so many times, they haven’t been questioned. When I’m lying there at three in the morning and my thoughts are going around, they’re not actually being questioned as I lie there. I’m not going, ‘Is that true that my manager doesn’t respect me? Let me really look at the evidence. Let me look at that time when she walked into the room, and she said, “What’s this?” I just assume that that means she doesn’t respect me. But let me just sit a little bit longer with is that actually exactly what was going on? Could there have been something happening in her world that day? Could it be that that’s just her communication style, but actually, she really does respect me?’
Now, we’ve all had those occasions when someone has looked critical. Like I’ve been given a talk, and someone’s being sat there like this, like, I thought, ‘Oh, gosh. Oh, gosh. I think I’m talking absolute rubbish. Oh, no. I better stop talking.’ And afterwards, they’re the first person in line to say, ‘That was amazing! I got everything!’ And that’s just their face! That’s their concentration face!
Rachel: Yeah. I’ve had that on Zoom. That person is just looking away constantly, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no. That person is so disengaged’ or whatever. And then, actually, they were making notes on another computer, and it looked like… There are assumptions that we make, and I get that. Probably many of our listeners are thinking here, but there are things that are actually going on. Like, say the workload is horrendous or something has happened, like, ‘I have got a complaint.’ That has happened. You can’t say, ‘Is that true or not?’ What is it about? Why is it my thinking that’s causing problems rather than the actual thing that’s causing the problem?
Corrina: Right. Well, let’s get specific. Can you give an example where someone’s like, that’s absolutely just true? Blanket true.
Rachel: Yeah. So let’s say, I have so much administration to do in a surgery that I have to stay for two or three hours afterwards. I get home two hours late every time because there is too much work to do.
Corrina: Yes. Well, it sounds like there’s a fact in there. If there was a fact that there is no physical way of doing the work required of that job description, then we’ve got a fact. And so the thought in there that I think is one to be questioned, is ‘There’s nothing I can do about this.’ So if we question that, and we say, ‘Well, actually, you know, is there something I can do about this? Often, is there a conversation that I can have?’ It might be quite a brave conversation. It might be quite a vulnerable conversation. And they’re two places which we might not want to go, so it’s actually easier to go with, ‘Oh, this is just the way it is. And it’s impossible, and I can’t do it.’ Rather than, ‘Do I need to have a very vulnerable or brave conversation with either my partner about me coming home two hours late, or with the people I work with, or someone somewhere? What is my power? What can I do if the facts are that?’ It’s not going to be the facts that are actually causing the problem. It’s that ‘I can’t do anything about it.’ Or something like that.
Rachel: Yes. It’s not the thing that’s causing the stress because having two hours extra work, that doesn’t cause stress. But thinking, ‘It’s not fair. I’m not gonna be able to do it. It’s always gonna happen. I’m stuck.’ Then it’s those thoughts that are causing you the stress, not the actual fact of the thing.
Corrina: Exactly, and those thoughts actually, possibly, adding to the work. So those thoughts are possibly, you know, if you’re having those thoughts, you’re not going to have your full focus on the work. That might take longer. And you might just not be as clear-minded because that’s all running in the background. You can’t go, ‘Oh, hang on. There’s a shortcut I can take.’ Or ‘Oh, there’s this person that I could delegate to.’ Or ‘Oh, maybe there’s a different way of doing this that takes a shorter time.’ Those might be possible once your mind is clearer of those thoughts.
Rachel: Okay, thank you. Yes, I just wanted to clear up that thing about, it’s our thinking that causes the stress not the actual thing because this is where people get stuck in the training that we do, isn’t it? When we look at stories in your heads, it’s not the actual thing. It’s that lovely quote from Eleanor Roosevelt’s: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’
Corrina: Yes, absolutely.
Rachel: So you very much come from the place of, you write down these two lists are your thoughts about what’s going on, and then you can start questioning them.
Corrina: Yeah and just to go back a tiny bit. This is very much not about denying reality. If your work takes two hours, and that is a rock-solid fact, then isn’t it more powerful to say that is the fact rather than ‘it shouldn’t be this way’? If we’re saying ‘it shouldn’t be this way,’ actually for me, that is the denying of reality. Because the reality is there is two hours of work. And it’s just such a more peaceful, like, you can just feel within you that the difference between, ‘Oh, there’s two hours of work, and it shouldn’t be this way. And why is it always down to me? And this isn’t the way it should be?’ Versus, ‘Okay, there’s two hours of work. What do I want to do about that?’
Rachel: Yeah. And this is the difference between being in your zone of power, which is in that circle, about what you can control, and outside of your zone of power.
Corrina: Yes. And what is in your zone of power, often, is about being vulnerable, about being authentic, about being brave. What is in your zone of power often takes courage. That’s the word that I like to think of when I’m thinking about it. In my zone of power, and I’ve probably been avoiding something that’s in my control, in my zone of power because it takes a whole load of courage. And it’s so much easier to blame others, the situation, the system, life than actually stepping into, ‘Oh, this is going to involve an uncomfortable decision or an uncomfortable conversation.’
Rachel: Yeah. And that’s not denying that the blame is on life, or the system, or the organisation. But actually, you can’t do anything to change that. Unless literally, you are the head honcho. But, everyone has a boss, and a boss, and a boss, and a boss. So there’s a limited amount that you can do to change the way of the system. So the only thing you really are in control of is what you do, your own actions.
Corrina: Yeah. And that’s what questioning these assumptions that say, it’s a romantic relationship, ‘He should pull his weight more.’ It’s a very common one. Not to be too gendered, but that does tend to be that direction. You know, ‘He should pull his weight more.’ ‘Okay, well, what is the reality? And then what can I do about it? What is the conversation that I need to have? What is the responsibility that I need to relinquish? And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. And then we deal with the consequences of that.’ Rather than, ‘Well he should pull his weight more.’ It’s ineffective. It doesn’t do anything.
Rachel: Let’s go back then. So you were saying the first thing you did is question the thought. Is it true or not?
Corrina: Yeah, so we go right back. So first of all, compassion for being in a ‘should I stay or should I leave’ predicament because it sucks. Number two is the list of all the reasons, all the complaints, and all the fears to complaints that make it hard to stay, fears that make it hard to leave. And then, you question things on either side. You question.
You sit with, literally, you sit with, ‘Is it true that he doesn’t pull his weight?’ And you interrogate it as if you have no agenda. You are just looking for the sake of truth. Now, ‘Is that true that he does not pull his weight?’ You’ll notice that your mind brings images, brings scenes of the kitchen, the bins, the laundry room, wherever your mind pulls images for. You’re gonna find loads of loads of images that say ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, he doesn’t pull his weight.’
Then you say, ‘Okay, is it true? Is it true? Can I find any evidence that it might not be completely the whole truth? Okay, I suddenly see him doing this, you know, he drove here. And I suddenly see him cook this meal. And I suddenly see that he fixed this.’ And it just starts to break the kind of blinkered-ness of ‘this is the way it is and that’s all that there is’. And it becomes a little, maybe greyer, in a good way, a little less black and white. And you start to just notice that softening, like, ‘Okay, there’s more going on here than I first thought.’
And then maybe look at one of those fears, like, ‘If I leave, my children will be dysfunctional forever because they’re gonna come from a broken home.’ Okay, first of all, you see all these images. You see your own childhood, or your parents’ divorce, or you see friends you know or situations, people you know who haven’t been able to form great relationships because of their… All of these can come flooding out because you’re always going to have your confirmation bias first. You’re always going to have the default assumption come first. And then, ‘Can I absolutely know that’s true, that this is gonna f my kids up? Is that, can I absolutely know?’ Maybe you suddenly find images of other people you know where actually, their kids thrived when their parents split up and were more harmonious with each other or where those children developed a sense of having stronger standards in relationships. Suddenly, again, it becomes just a bit greyer and a bit more multidimensional.
Then, you’re sat here with the grey, more the grey on this side, and more the grey on this side. And then what happens is you start noticing you moving in a certain direction. Because these unquestioned assumptions aren’t there on either side, just kind of banging against either side, everything’s kind of softened and gone greyer. And then you just notice, ‘Oh, without that thought that he doesn’t pull his weight, I’m noticing more that he does. I’m noticing a real gratitude, actually—the things he does that I don’t do. Gosh, I’m noticing this. I’m noticing, oh, actually, I went to give him a hug or a kiss. And I haven’t felt like doing that for a while.’ So you start to notice without the thoughts there, there’s a draw there.
And then, similarly, on the other side, ‘Oh, without the thought that my kids are going to be decimated by this, I notice that actually, I am moving away from him, that I’m not as committed as I thought I wasn’t. And I’m just kind of being honest and noticing that I’m going in a different direction.’ And so, both of those movements are so much more natural and fluid and authentic. Because you don’t have unquestioned stories holding you in place.
Rachel: So, questioning the stories in our heads is always, really, really helpful. And it’s, then, what do you do with that in order to make these decisions?
Corrina: Yeah. Well usually, there isn’t a decision that gets made from your head in that way. Like how I was describing, you just notice, like, let’s say it’s a job we’re talking about, you might just notice that ‘Oh, I notice that I’m Googling or going on whatever website, to look for other jobs. I just noticed that.’ Or, ‘Oh, I noticed I’m actually having these different kinds of conversations with my manager. And I noticed that I feel more connected to her.’ And so it’s not really, then, a decision. It’s more noticing what is actually, then, happening. And it’s that trust in that direction that you’re going in because you’re not being controlled by those stories anymore.
Rachel: I think when we talked about this before, Corrina, I said to you, these people that come to you with like, ‘Should I stay? Should I go through a relationship?’ What tends to be the outcome? How many people stay? How many people go? And you said, ‘Actually, the majority of people end up staying.’
Corrina: They do. They do.
Rachel: What’s behind that?
Corrina: Well, because I think when we get together with someone, if we’re talking about a romantic relationship, and we fall in love, and we often, that kind of traditional honeymoon period, is because those thoughts haven’t started to arise yet, right? So we just see how compatible we are, and how much we love them, and that magic, and that feeling and all that connection and it all just feels amazing, and then something happens. They don’t put the dishes in the dishwasher, or they stop being interested in having sex with us, or they start being a bit kind of hazy with money, or whatever our issue is, right? You’ll have the thing which comes up. That starts happening. And like I say, that gets in the way that blocks us from feeling that inherent love and connection with that person.
So even in the situations where the person does leave, if they’ve done this work, they are leaving with love. They are leaving with that initial love and connection that was there. They may be seeing that ‘Okay, we’re not actually compatible as a partnership anymore.’ But they’re not leaving out of anger or resentment. They’re leaving out of ‘I love you and I noticed that I’m leaving because this is no longer the place for me to feel most myself or most to be connected with my vision of what life is to be’ or whatever it is. But either way, you actually leave with love. You either stay or leave with love for your partner. Because that’s where you were to start with.
Rachel: Yeah, and how much better is it to leave like that than to leave in a horribly acrimonious sort of way? I guess that’s so true for jobs as well. We always want to leave well, and not burn our bridges, and do it respectfully and all of that. And I know that when we talked before, you were saying that actually, I said to you, ‘How does that work, the people that have decided to stay?’ And I guess it was something around being able to put up with things much more because you actually loosened your, ‘Well, they should be like that or they should do this.’ Is that the way that you see that people managed to stay?
Corrina: I wouldn’t use the words ‘put up with’. I would say accept. Again, back to the zone of power, in our zone of power, the things that we need to do are things which revolve courage. The things, which are other people’s, involve acceptance, so it’s that. I like to use the example of someone’s funeral. But you know, when you go to someone’s funeral, let’s say my granny’s funeral, right? And she was, as all are, not actually, weirdly, not the granny I was talking about in the last podcast, who then, did die off the last podcast very soon. My other granny who died earlier. At her funeral, people were honest. She was a little bit racist. She was a little bit, you know. She didn’t listen very well. She wasn’t very interested in…
All the things that were true about her, we said with love because we accept her as like, “Oh, yeah, Granny, you know, hadn’t quite got her head around same-sex relationships or what you know.” She actually did, but whatever it was, somehow when someone dies, you actually accept the things that made them, them: their quirks, their faults, the fact that they always left their nails, they clip their nails and left them on the side. People actually laugh and feel really affectionate and kind of, ‘Aww, remember her nails.’ But when they’re alive, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, the nails!’
I kind of say it like that. We accept people like we would if they were dead. And we accept, so what’s your original question?
Rachel: It’s about putting up with things versus accepting them.
Corrina: So, putting up with, let’s say someone clips their toenails and leaves it on the sofa. The resentment way looks at them and goes ‘Ugh, that’s disgusting. You’re so disgusting. I can’t believe I’m with such a disgusting partner. You would leave your toenails on the side of the sofa.’ Acceptance looks like, ‘Oh, look. Oh, toenails on the side. But wouldn’t I miss them if they were dead? There they are. Isn’t that lovely that they were obviously so busy or so caught up in their thoughts that they didn’t think?’ Now, doesn’t mean that we can’t, in our zone of power, say ‘It really doesn’t work for me that you leave your toenails on the sofa. Could you please put them in the bin?’ But there’s an acceptance.
There’s actually an affectionate, loving acceptance of this is who this person is. This is all that is true about this person that is completely outside of my power. And I noticed that I’m still staying. I noticed that even with all these aspects, I noticed that I’m still staying. There’s something about that love that’s keeping me here. Acceptance is that putting up with it. It’s a kind of victim position where you’re kind of tolerating and, ‘Oh, poor me aren’t I amazing that I’m putting up with?’ And accepting is a very powerful position of love and clear-sightedness.
Rachel: Yeah, so putting up with it would be, ‘Oh, toenails on the sofa again. That just really irritates me, but I’m not gonna say anything for the sake of harmony.’
Corrina: Yes, exactly. ‘All this harmony that I’m feeling on the inside.’
Rachel: ‘Oh look, that goes that pile again.’ And then I have a choice, don’t I? I have a choice whether to say, ‘Darling, that’s disgusting.’ Or just sweep them up myself.
Corrina: Put a little toenail dish on the sofa. All the things that are in our power, we have so much power when we actually see reality as it is, not constantly behind this veil of, ‘Well, it shouldn’t be like this. They shouldn’t be like this. They shouldn’t be like that.’
Rachel: I think it’s that ‘should’ word. It just gets you. I remember ’cause I’ve done some sessions of the work with you, Corrina. Before COVID, when I was sat in a cafe doing some work, it was really lovely, and a woman came in with a baby that was screaming. It was screaming its head off and it started to, I get quite affected by noise, it just starts to really irritate. And this baby was obviously very distressed. And obviously, complete lack of empathy, not thinking back to my three kids when I would have been knackered and tired and think I just need a coffee. I’m thinking, ‘She should take it out. And it’s really disturbing everybody else and she should—’ And I just thought, ‘Hang on a sec. It’s your thinking like that that is causing irritation. And should she? Well, of course, she shouldn’t.’ The reality is the baby’s here. She’s a young mom, obviously looks knackered. It’s my thinking about that. I just thought I can choose to just ignore those. Just put my headphones on. And once I sort of it, it still irritates me a bit, but it was much less. And I was thinking, ‘Oh, come on, she should. She should. She should.’
Corrina: Because ‘she should’ requires absolutely no action from us, or we just get to stay there complaining and being the victim. So in that situation, for example, I could move. I have that power. Sometimes we completely forget we have that power. Or I could ask her to move. I can do that. Again, that’s the courageous bit, right? To go up to someone and say, ‘Oh, what’s the name? Lovely baby. I appreciate you, but I’m actually having a really important business meeting here. Would it work for you to move?’
So I actually did this. I sat, not with a crying baby but a man who was lighting up a cigarette. I was sitting on a bench, and I was about to eat my lunch. And in a Cambridge College garden. Museum. Fitzwilliam, I think, Museum. Sitting outside on the bench, and a guy came, sat down next to me, and started rolling a cigarette. And I just noticed that it wasn’t going to work for me while I ate my lunch. So I said to him, ‘Are you gonna smoke that now? Because if you are, I’ll move.’ I really took responsibility for that. And he went, ‘No, okay, no problem. I’ll move.’ And he went and sat on the grass. It’s like it hadn’t occurred to him that it would bother me. And I was fully prepared that I would have if he’d said, ‘Yes, I’m going to smoke it,’ and just sat there looking at me. I’ll say, ‘Great. I’m gonna move now.’ It’s just so empowering to realise that you have choices. You don’t just have to sit there.
Rachel: Yeah. You always have a choice. Now, this is something that people really struggle with, Corrina. In all the training, it’s like, you have a choice. ‘I have no choice about when I leave work. No choice whatsoever.’ Okay, well, you did have a choice. At any point, you could, halfway through your work, you could stand up and leave. I mean, the consequences are, you might get the sack. But you are in charge of when you leave. And people really think, ‘I don’t have the choice because if I get the sack, I can’t provide for my family’ and blah. The choices have consequences that you might not like but you always have a choice. And that is quite difficult. Because to get ahead is unlikely because that choice of you speaking to that person on the bench is something that people… ‘I don’t like that choice of having to say something. I don’t like it.’
Corrina: Yeah, get it. Isn’t there so much in life that we just don’t like? And the thing is that we can stay in that position. And we can stomp our feet, and we can rant and rave. Let’s just kind of go to a quite big example of this. When my son died, when Alfie died during labour, I didn’t like it. That was not my choice. The thing is that I can scream, and I can shout, and I can cry, and I can wave my fist at life and say, ‘F you. How dare you.’ Or I can point absolutely to something else that made me a victim and say, ‘I don’t like this. This shouldn’t have happened. I don’t want it to happen.’
Like what does it do? What does it do? It doesn’t bring the person back. It doesn’t change the situation. I can see that the man with a cigarette isn’t going to move; that woman with a baby isn’t going to move. None of that’s going to happen. So we have to ask ourselves: Is this a mature, powerful, effective position, right? Anytime we are in that, ‘This shouldn’t be happening. I don’t like it,’ position, is it mature? Is it powerful? Is it effective? And I haven’t found that it is. To just acknowledge that, of course, you don’t like it. And if you want to be peaceful, if you want to feel powerful, then you have to take another option.
Rachel: And I really liked the question that you often ask about this, but which is where would you be without these thoughts? ‘Where would I be without that thought?’ Okay, trivial. ‘That man shouldn’t be smoking.’ ‘That baby shouldn’t be crying.’ ‘Where would I be if I thought that I shouldn’t have to work this long? It’s not fair.’ And it’s quite right that it might be true that it’s not fair.
Rachel: The reality’s happening, right?
Corrina: Yeah. There’s so much that’s not fair. We can look at anything. The racism that’s currently being poured out onto our England team, that shouldn’t be happening, right? But what’s the point of me sitting here saying it shouldn’t be happening? It is happening. What can we do about it? What laws can we put in place? What education can happen? So just notice that anytime we say it shouldn’t be happening, we’re not being powerful. We’re not being impactful. We’re not having any kind of effect on life. We’re just being at the effect of life. Again, completely reasonably, it’s not unreasonable to think that these things shouldn’t be happening. But the reality is they are.
Rachel: And I guess it is okay to feel the emotions around that, isn’t it? So well, when Alfie died, obviously, so much sadness.
Corrina: Yes. And actually, more authentic sadness was enabled. Like real, pure, beautiful grief was enabled because I didn’t keep the story that shouldn’t have happened. This shouldn’t have happened would have kept me in a kind of pretend grief where I’m kind of, ‘Oh! This shouldn’t have happened!’ Whereas, ‘Okay, well, it has happened. How do I want to be with that?’ allows me just to cry, and to love, and to feel, and to connect and to do things, whether it’s educating around bereavement care in maternity or sharing his story with others. That enabled me to be powerful because I was facing reality as it actually was not as I thought I wanted it to be.
Rachel: And so I think, it’s interesting when you say that people end up, quite a lot of the time, staying with their partners, or staying in the job or staying with that friendship. And presumably, it’s not all about, surely the partner, sometimes it’s a toxic family relationship, or even a colleague, or work, or a friend or something like that. They are able to stay because when their friend, or their partner or their work does something that previously would have eaten them away at their core, now, they’re just saying, ‘Oh, look at that.’
Corrina: Absolutely. ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting that that’s happened.’ And again is this something that I want to do something about? Is there a conversation or an action that is courageous that I need to take? Or is this just about me going, ‘Not my business.’ ‘Not my zone of power.’ ‘Not my lane.’ Whatever you want to call it. That’s just them, being them, doing their thing. And so what I see when people stay after doing this kind of work is that they stay with more love, acceptance, a kind of recommitment. It’s kind of renewing your marriage vows or recommitting. So sometimes, for example, people have worked with me who aren’t yet married and haven’t had children. And soon after our sessions, they do get married to the person that they weren’t sure if they were going to leave. And then, they do go on and have children if that’s what they choose to do.
The key is that it’s with choice. It’s with power. It’s not just, ‘Oh, well, we might as well get married because we’ve been together a couple of years. And that’s probably what we should do because we’re in our mid-30s.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve actually seen this person through new eyes. I’m experiencing them completely afresh. I’m remembering not just what brought me to them in the first place but all these things and the ways in which they’ve changed that I thought were negative, but actually, I’m seeing the benefit of. And, oh my gosh, I want to marry them! And, oh my gosh, I want to build a family or build whatever other projects with this person.’ So it’s really not just staying two feet in but jumping two feet in.
Rachel: So that’s that, rather than trying to change that person, you suddenly start accepting who they are: quirks, foibles, and all. And it’s about changing the story that we’re telling ourselves in our heads and staying in our zone of power about where we have got the choice about what we do.
Rachel: And sometimes that makes you slightly more or less affable. Perhaps, wrong word. But it’s you know, ‘Okay, you darling, you’re choosing to watch cricket all day today. That’s great. I’m going to go and do something else rather than stay there in the sitting room with…’ Actually, for me, it’s football. I can’t. I shouldn’t say this. I cannot stand football. My family just berate me about this. Apparently, it’s the worst thing in the world. But I’ll admit it here because it’s just an, I don’t know, a few thousand people, right? I cannot stand being in the room when there’s a match on. And people like, ‘Well, Mum, you should join in and watch with me.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t want to. I’m really pleased that you want to watch it. That’s great. But I’m just going to go, and do something that brings me joy.’ And that’s going to be much better for the family. So you have to be quite strong sometimes.
Corrina: Yes. How liberating. So here we are two options, right? You could stay in the room and sit there going, ‘Oh, I hate football. But they told me I should be here, so I’m gonna sit here.’
Rachel: And accidentally cheer for the wrong side. Which doesn’t really go down very well.
Corrina: Maybe you’re on your phone, you’re not really there, right? You’re there, ‘I’m in the room with you because you told me I had to be, and I’m on my phone.’ It just feels victimy, disempowering, all of those kinds of things. Or you go, ‘Brilliant. They’re all occupied. I’m heading to get my nails done.’ Whatever it is you want to do: going for a run, going to the gym, going to do yoga, anything. And you can’t tell the story, ‘They made me watch football.’
Rachel: Yeah, that story: They made me.
Corrina: It’s red flag alert. Red flag alert.
Rachel: Yeah. ‘They made me.’ ‘They should.’ ‘I ought.’ Is that another one that people…?
Corrina: Absolutely. Because at the end of that is some kind of fear, right? ‘I ought to because otherwise,’ and then how would you finish that sentence? ‘Because otherwise, they’ll think I’m a killjoy.’ Otherwise, there’s some kind of fear. ‘I ought to join that…’ Let’s say back to a job. ‘I ought to join that after work, Zoom drinks thing, even though I have no desire to whatsoever sit on Zoom another half an hour with a glass of wine like, no, that’s not what I want to do at all.’ ‘I ought to,’ the fear is, ‘because otherwise, they’ll think I’m a party pooper.’ Or ‘They’ll have conversations that are important that I’ll miss out on.’
And again, you just look at those fears. And you question them. ‘Is that true? Is that what’s going to happen? Can I know that? Is there some way that I could mitigate that? Could I say, “I’m not going to join the after-work drinks. But if anything important comes up, work-wise, please let me know.”’ That’s a total zone of power. And again, truthful to the self. ‘I’m only going to do what is truthful for me, that I am wholehearted about, and that is authentic and in my integrity.’
Rachel: I think when people are thinking, particularly about jobs as well, they think there’s all this pressure. ‘They made me.’ But actually, when you dig deeper into it, rather than, ‘They made me.’ It’s an ‘I ought.’ And actually, a lot of the pressure we’re putting on ourselves is from us thinking rather than from somebody else.
Corrina: Yes. It’s interesting. Sometimes we have the story like, ‘Well, no, I have to stay till x time because otherwise…’ And then you can look at a colleague who’s not doing that and feel really resentful. ‘Well, how are they getting away with it?’ It’s because they’re not running the story that they ought to. And you can actually use that as an example of actually, ‘Look, that consequence that I thought would happen to me if I left on time, that hasn’t happened to my colleague, actually.’
Rachel: Yeah. I was talking to someone who was saying, ‘I’m so frustrated. Duty day today, gotta get everything done. And just as leaving, walks out into the pharmacy, there’s are 10 prescriptions on the clip. Then they have to go and… I feel I ought to so that when the next person comes in the next day, I ought to…’ And then just realising that actually, someone else leaves theirs. If you’re finished, you’re finished. And it’s totally fine.
Corrina: Because then you change the system, don’t you? If you stop doing it, the system, then, has to change. Again, a different conversation, a different dynamic has to be put in place. If you, I often use the example of changing your dance moves. If you’re always in a dance with someone, let’s say with your partner. You always do this, and they do that. And then you do that. He looks a bit grumpy about something. You say, ‘Well, what’s wrong?’ And then, he says, ‘Well, why do you always…’ And then you do. It’s like a certain dynamic happens.
Let’s say instead, and I’ve done this with so many clients, and they’ve come back and been like, ‘It’s completely different.’ They’ll say he’s been grumpy, and you just don’t do your normal thing. And you happily go on, and go, and sit down, and read a book or whatever it is. He suddenly lost his dance partner. He’s like, ‘Oh, hang on a second.’ And then what you’ll notice, invariably, is that, then, he changes because there isn’t that… It’s just that dance has gone. So if you leave your prescriptions on wherever, something about the system, the game, the dance has to change.
Rachel: Yes. And you’ve also got a choice, haven’t you? You can either go back. Leave it and feel really, really guilty about it. Or you can leave it the next day just by saying, “I have finished. I left them. Is that okay? Is there anything we could change about the way the system goes? Maybe we can have an agreement that after 4 pm…?’ It’s that sort of, doesn’t have, you know, it’s actually for you. You then take the control, and the power and think about things that you can do. And often it’s just little things actually, isn’t it?
Corrina: Again, it’s potentially a courageous conversation or courageous action. There’s always a question that I would ask. It’s like, ‘If I’ve been doing that kind of “shoulds, I ought to, they should, that they made me,” all of that,’ a different way of thinking is, ‘What is in my power? What is a courageous conversation or action that I could have, that I could do that might just shift something here?’
Rachel: Small things, small changes that are gonna help. So, Corrina, we’re really nearly out of time. If you were to give us the top three tips for deciding if you’re in a difficult relationship, a difficult job, a difficult friendship, any sort of thing. What would be your three top tips for dealing with that or beginning to start to deal with it?
Corrina: So number one: compassion. Just be so compassionate with yourself that you’re in that position. It’s a natural, normal, healthy human place to be. Nothing wrong with you for that, being in that place. And it’s hard. That just being compassionate, like, ‘Wow, I’m in a really hard place with this limbo.’ Number two: you list out your complaints and your fears. You recognise that they are their thoughts, so they can be questioned. And then, number three is that you question them. And when you question them, then you’re left with noticing what are you doing. Noticing are you being drawn in one direction or another? When that, those kinds of black and whites are greyer.
Rachel: I would just add to that. Once you start to question your thoughts, it’s about ‘What can I do, then? What is in my power? What do I need to have the courage to do? And what can I accept?’ Like you were saying, it may be that just making those changes, a bit of acceptance and a bit of courage, that’s enough to change the whole situation, to change the whole dynamics.
Corrina: They either use, again, it’s not having a bias for either leaving or staying. It’s that if you stay, you stay in that recommitted place. And if you leave, you can leave with love and peace towards that person, or the job, or whatever it is you’re leaving.
Rachel: Thank you. That’s just been incredibly helpful. I think there’s a lot of people here, listening, taking notes going, ‘Okay, right. I need to ask that question. Is that really true? What can I do?’ What we’ll do is we’ll make a zone of power download available for people to download, which is just a handout that talks a little bit more about the zone of power, so they can have a look at that. And Corrina if people wanted to contact you, how can they find out more about you and about your work?
Corrina: Yep, so corrinagordonbarnes.com, but I will spell that because my name is the Bob Dylan spelling way so Corrina C-O-double R-I-N-A and Gordon, G-O-R-D-O-N-B-A-R-N-E-S.com. And you can also connect with me on Instagram, I’m corrinagb or Twitter, I’m @corrinagb.
Rachel: Brilliant. Thank you. So we’ll put all of those links in the show notes as well.
Corrina: And oh, LinkedIn.
Rachel: Brilliant. Will you come back another time? Because I think there’s so much more that we can explore about this.
Corrina: Absolutely. I’d love to.
Rachel: Thank you so much, Corrina. See you soon.
Corrina: See you. Bye.
Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list, and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it, then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So, keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this.
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E32: How to take control of your thoughts with Corrina Gordon-Barnes
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