I can’t think of any real-life situations where I’ve come across a red flag warning — traffic cones though, I’ve seen plenty of those. Maybe NZ prefers high-vis orange as its warning colour? But for those sea captains, sailors, and race-car drivers out there (I’m sure I have a large audience amongst those groups), you’ll be more familiar. A red flag means WATCH OUT! DANGER! SLOW DOWN! STOP!
While I don’t seen many literal red flags, metaphorically I’m seeing them all the time. They’re those familiar patterns of behaviour and those familiar phrases that either fall from your lips or reverberate around your head, and they all mean WATCH OUT! DANGER! SLOW DOWN! STOP!
They’re warning signs that the path we’re going down is taking us somewhere unhealthy, or even plain dangerous, so we’d better change course, slow down, or stop altogether. Easier said than done though, because usually there’s an emotional momentum pushing us on, and those repeated patterns of behaviour have become neural ruts which are oh so hard to shift.
I often see my red flags waving mid-way on a Saturday afternoon when I look at my mental checklist and realise that there is so much left that I had intended to do, and I just remembered something else “urgent”, and the kids still haven’t done their chores, AND I’m supposed to be enjoying this day! My mind goes into hyper-drive, I start shutting cupboard doors a little more firmly than necessary, kids get growled at for no reason, I’m muttering under my breath, getting critical of anything and anyone, making lists, and telling Dave “I’m FINE!”. Yeah, not fine.
I’m learning that all that stuff isn’t a sign that I should just push harder and keep on going. They’re telling me I need to slow down and change course, readjust my expectations and, probably, take a quick turn around the garden.
Recognising the problem is the first step towards change, so take a moment to consider what your red flags might be. They can be things like:
- unreasonably harsh words and tone
- melancholy thoughts… maybe even playing that old sad song you love so you can have a good wallow in the melancholy
- binge eating
- zoning out on social media / TV / Youtube
- getting hyper-focussed on details in an effort to feel in control of something
- shopping just for the pleasure of holding some pretty things in your hand
There’s a whole lot of different possibilities, and not all of these things are inherently bad, but sometimes they’re a red flag that you need to attend to your inner world.
Self-awareness is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself (and everyone in your world actually). If you can say, “Oh, you’re doing that thing again where you…”, see the warning in it and make some changes, then… well, you’re avoiding trouble. Maybe not a boat collision or a racing car crash kind of trouble, but often an interpersonal collision or an emotional crash.
So, you see the red flag, then what?
Take a pause…
…as best you can. Often my red flags are waving like crazy around 5.25pm, because dinner needs to be on the table soon — I’m hungry, everyone’s hungry, and some small person thinks this is a good time to ask me a million questions OR ask me to do something for them OR poop in their nappy… A pause is hard to find. I’ve been known to take an unnecessary bathroom break just for the purpose of finding my equilibrium again.
Then do something different. And do what it is your soul actually needs. Do the things you know you need to do (more on that here).
Maybe it’s just sleep, maybe it’s some leisure time. I’ve learnt that while lying on the couch scrolling through Instagram while eating chocolate feels like leisure, and the world tells me that it’s the height of relaxation to switch off, it doesn’t actually RESTORE me. Sometimes recreation has to be active to re-create you. “Active” might just mean reading a book instead of scrolling through your social media feeds, but sometimes even that just offers you a short escape then plonks you right back in the same puddle of emotions when you close the book. Getting active, getting creative, and getting connected are the best kinds of leisure.
Sometimes you need more than just leisure. You need to talk it through with a friend, you need to make a shift in your schedule, you need to address some deep-rooted issues. If that same red flag is waving again and again about the same kinds of things, that’s a hint that maybe you need to make a bigger shift here.
So what are your red flags? I’m interested to know, so comment below. Know them and listen to them and then, trust me, everyone wins.