The ‘holding tank’

My world went through quite an expansion when I left home to go to university in the late seventies. I met many new people from many walks of life and learned about other people’s lifestyles, belief systems and histories. Many of the people whom I met during those first years away from home are etched in my memory. I remember having one deep discussion in particular, in my dorm room late one evening, with a new-found friend. We were getting to know one another’s views on life and in the process I realized that I was using a technique that I had not, until then, put a name to.

Fear of new concepts
I use this technique to this day. I thought everyone used it until I talked to this new friend and found she didn’t. Let me explain. When someone, or some experience in my life, introduces me to a new concept or a new piece of information, especially one with which I am not completely comfortable, I put it into what I described that night as a ‘holding tank’. During our discussion, I introduced to this friend just such a new and, to her, uncomfortable concept, and she immediately rejected it – out-of-hand, I thought.

I was surprised that she refused to even entertain the idea and that she was so vehement in her rejection. We had hardly even had a chance to discuss it. When I asked her why she wouldn’t even give the concept some thought, she said she already had and that the idea I was suggesting wasn’t possible for her. I thought maybe she had thought about it in the past and rejected it, but no, I was the first person to suggest it. She was rejecting it because it felt too unsafe for her to even sit with it while she considered the ramifications.

A holding tank
It was as she explained this that I was able to see my ‘holding tank’ system for dealing with the unknown. For me, it’s a bit like putting an idea into an isolation chamber while I give it a good sniff and figure out what it would mean to my belief system if I took it on board. I can then talk to other people about it. I might research it. I can compare it to what I have always believed in the past, to see if the new concept makes more sense than how I have seen things to date.

Because I have somewhere to put any potentially life-changing concept or piece of information, I don’t have to immediately make a decision about it. This system gives me the grace of time. Generally-speaking, I have noticed that if someone pushes me to make a decision faster than I am ready to, I am much more likely to say no, just to be on the safe side. Since rejecting change out of hand might not be in my best interests, I have developed this system to help me process the potential ramifications of the change, whatever it might be.

Entertaining the ‘guest’ of change
Over the years, I have often referred to this idea when working with clients. For it to work, we have to be able to make a little compartment within ourselves, within our belief systems, where we can ‘entertain’ a concept as we would an unknown guest in our house. We might only let this guest come as far as the front porch, at least until we determine how comfortable we are with it. Researchers are familliar with this process. They call it setting up a hypothesis, which has to be tested and then validated before it is accepted as fact.

In order to do this, we have to be aware of ourselves as ‘people who hold beliefs’ and be confident that those beliefs can change without us completely losing our identity. Gaining such an awareness requires a certain degree of objectification of our thought processes. It requires a ‘meta’ viewpoint. For me this has always been a natural way to see aspects of my beliefs and my behaviour, and the world, but I realize that this isn’t always so for everyone.

Some people can take such a meta-position naturally, without even knowing that they do. Others can be introduced to this process and, with some practice, can gain increasing levels of confidence and skill. Still others may never feel comfortable with it, preferring to whole-heartedly take the plunge into change, devil take the hindmost, or instantly reject the change as being too dangerous, or ‘not me’. These are different styles; each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Helping myself grow
I’m happy with my system because it gives me the space to explore with some sense of safety- real or imagined. Perhaps I’m overly cautious and could live a more adventurous life – some might say this is true of me. But at the moment this system suits my personality and allows me to be a little braver than I might be without it. It helps me to deal with being in my own personal ‘edge territory’ and potentially grow into a greater awareness of my potential self – which was last week’s subject.

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