Not sure where I first heard this term, but it feels like it originated right here from my own existence. It’s a term I use to describe how it feels to be completely entrenched in responsibilities but holding on for dear life, knowing that one gust of wind can knock me out of the ring.
It’s not a good feeling. In fact I have recently learned the term “anti-fragile” (see Naseem Taleb’s book with the same title, which focuses on things that ‘gain from disorder’.). Anti-fragile is the opposite of white knuckling. It means not only can I withstand anything that comes my way, but the challenges are not just overcome, they are used as fuel for strength. This concept is extremely powerful and like any skill must be built over time.
Back to white knuckling. Does this term resonate? Ever train, or study, or work, or diet, or ‘will’ something to be, so intensely that you just want to get to the finish line before (in the words of the late Jim Morrison) “…the whole shit house goes up in flames!”
Some examples: “I just have to stick to ’this’ diet, focus on completing ’this’ project, earn “x” money, meet ‘that’ deadline…” or worse “I just have to get through this one family gathering, one social event, that one meeting, this one baby shower…” (no offense but these are always hard for me).
My experience is that we all have occasions where we’re just barely holding on, or at least feel as if that is the case. But I am happy to share that actually, there is no merit in white knuckling. It’s one of those habits that just “has to go!” Holding on so tight that the skin on my fingers literally turns white, is actually a sign of fear, insecurity and doubt.
Try replacing the white knuckling habit with acceptance of outcomes. It’s important for us to stay focused on the parts of life we have identified as central to our core (family, work, community) but dangerous to be attached to the outcomes of our best efforts. Like the archer metaphor (noted 3/20/21 post) we need to take our best shot, but then let the arrow land where it lands.
We must practice cultivating confidence (self trust) that we “have what we need and know what to do” at any given moment. Acting out of fear is what brings stress, anxiety and white knuckling to the party. Instead of breathing short, shallow breaths while repeating the mantra of the Little Engine that Could (“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can) experiment with the alternative of settling down.
Take some slow, deep breaths. Put some some space between your actions, and subsequent expectations. Or better yet, abandon expectations and just let it rip. Learning to trust ourselves, anti-fragile style, brings energized tranquility to the party, instead of fear.
It’s a much easier pace to maintain. The added bonus is that when we release our anxiety, expectation and attachment to outcomes, we sometimes find that they far surpass the best future reality that we conjured up in the first place.