Sometimes it can feel as if you are trapped in the same old routine and unable to escape your own personal Groundhog Day of recurring frustrations and emotions.
You can wake up each morning fearing it’s going to be a replay of the days and weeks before, and all your efforts to change your situation end with the same result again and again.
When life is like this it is stressful, which is a normal response to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and lack of control.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful to have $1 for every time you got stressed?
What’s not normal, though, is to suffer stress every moment of the day for years and years. Unfortunately, this is the state of existence in which most human beings find themselves and its impact on individuals and the community is immense.
We live in an exciting age. We have at our disposal instant information at our fingertips. Technology has advanced more in the last 15-20 years than in the whole history of humanity. There
are great benefits, but there is also a downside…
With the ever-increasing speed of technological advancement, we feel more overwhelmed and inundated than our parents or grandparents ever did.
Stress has soared by up to 30% in 30 years. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is associated with a significant burden of morbidity and disability.
It also has a significant impact on world economies, with an estimated cost to the global economy of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. More so, mental stress claims are one of the most expensive types of workers’ compensation claims in Western countries.
Stress not only has the potential to cripple our own personal livelihood but also the potential to cripple business and national finances.
The Cause of Our Own Problems
The common denominator in all our problems is our self, whether we want to admit it or not. Other people and situations may seem similar in our day-to-day life, and it’s easy to blame them for our woes, but people and events are just moments that pass.
We, however, are the permanent factor in all our experiences.
Fortunately, we can walk or run away from other people and situations that cause us frustration and stress. We can’t, however, run away from ourselves.
Which can be a problem. A big problem.
Especially when we turn to alcohol, gambling, drugs (prescribed or otherwise), and other means of escape, like having an affair, or continual job seeking, or travel just for travel’s sake.
I learned this lesson the hard way as a young man in my early twenties.
I had just graduated from the Adelaide University medical school and was very excited to travel to Sydney, where I had been invited to do my internship at St. George Hospital. I was hoping for a fresh start in a new city with new friends and new colleagues.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. I flew to Sydney bringing all my excess baggage with me. I had hoped to wipe the slate clean and begin anew, but all that had changed was a change of scenery.
I was still frustrated, stressed, and unhappy with myself and my inability to find peace and happiness.
What I slowly realised was this hardened truth:
No matter where you go, you can’t run away from yourself. You are always there.
Your problems always follow you, no matter what new job you’ve just secured, or the new relationship you’ve just begun, or the next holiday destination you’ve just landed.
This is also true of your relationships. You bring your problems to the new relationship. This is evident in the divorce statistics, where every second marriage in Western countries ends in separation or divorce. But it’s actually worse for second and third marriages—60% and 73% end in divorce respectively.
So here is the takehome lesson:
Wherever—or whomever—you run to, you always bring your baggage with you.
A Prisoner of Your Own Desire
In the jungles of Africa, legend tells of an ingenious method to catch chimpanzees. In a small cage, hunters secure a banana to one of its bars as bait. The cage itself is also fixed, usually to a branch of a tree, so that it cannot be wrenched loose.
Once set, there is only one way to access the banana: the chimpanzee must place its hand through an opening to grasp the bait. The chimpanzee is free to let go of the banana whenever it realizes it’s fixed and it is just as free to remove its hand from the cage and flee to safety.
Yet the chimpanzee will not let go of the banana, even when the hunters have returned and are poised to bag their prey.
Herein lies the beauty of the banana trap: the chimpanzee has been trapped by nothing other than its own self:
It is a prisoner of its own desire.
Seneca, a Roman poet around the time of Marcus Aurelius, said:
“He who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.”
There is probably an event in your past in which you have hung on to that has caused, and may still be causing, unnecessary stress, frustration, despair, even anger.
Yet our primate cousins aren’t the only ones to fall victim of The Banana Trap. Probably every human being that has ever lived has, at least once in their life, become trapped in it.
Learning to Let Go
The Banana Trap is nothing less than the physical or psychological experience of stress and suffering caused by our unwillingness to let go of our ‘bananas’.
These ‘bananas’ are the internal and external stressors we hang on to, and they tend to fall into four categories:
- Pleasure and Pain
- Beliefs and Behaviors
Each ‘banana’ is different and unique to each person because it is based on our:
- Instincts (Fight and Flight responses)
What will trap some will not trap another. Here is a list of some common ‘bananas’ that trap us in The Banana Trap:
POSSESSIONS: House & Car, Work & Career, Partners & Children, Jewellery & Art, Money
EMOTIONS: Fear, Anger, Hatred, Pride, Greed
PLEASURE & PAIN: Sex, Sport, Entertainment, Drugs, Illness
BELIEFS & BEHAVIOUR: Religion, Atheism, Socialism, Capitalism, Just Causes
Although it may seem daunting and overwhelming, freedom from The Banana Trap of repetitive emotions is possible.
This is because the one true thing you have control over is the power to choose.
You have the power to choose what you focus on. And what you focus on, you experience.
Focusing, therefore, on your ‘bananas’—Possessions, Emotions, Pleasure and Pain, Beliefs and Behaviors—and then choosing to let go of them, frees you from confining walls of The Banana Trap.
Not only that, it prevents you from returning to your old ways and hanging onto whatever is causing you pain and stress.
It keeps you free for as long as you choose.
That’s your power. That’s your power to finally escape your own personal Groundhog Day.