Giving Yourself Credit

As I was driving to work the other day, I couldn’t stop beating myself up for all the things I wanted to improve, but was still struggling with. Then I realized something, I’ve come so far in the last few months. Not very long ago, I would have been smoking two cigarettes on that half-hour drive to work. Now, I hardly even have any interest in smoking my vape. Some days I completely forget about it until late in the evening.

I started thinking about how rarely I give myself credit for the things I do accomplish. Once I reach a goal, there is never a moment of celebration. I go straight on to the next goal. I switch automatically from criticizing myself over one thing to criticizing myself over something else. In the back of my mind, I always think I’ll be happy, I’ll be able to congratulate myself once everything is perfect, once I’m perfect. It’s hard to acknowledge that that “perfect” moment, that “perfect” me, will never exist. There will always be things I want to work on and aspects of myself that I want to improve. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be proud of where I am right now.

This time last year, I was a heavy smoker, I was deep in the grips of an eating disorder, I was more depressed and anxious than perhaps any other time in my life. I have made so much progress since then. More than I ever thought I would be able to. I had nearly lost all hope of redemption. Now it’s been months since I’ve bought a pack of cigarettes. Not only have I been recovering from my eating disorder, I’ve been practicing mindful eating. My mental health overall has improved so much that I’ve even started taking a lower dose of my anxiety medication. Soon I am going to be dropping it down again, and hopefully will be able to wean myself off of it completely in the next few months. I’ve also taken my art to the next level by buying myself an electronic drawing tablet so I can more easily edit my drawings. Despite my initial fear of failure, I’ve gotten surprisingly good at using it.

All of these things are incredible achievements that I deserve to acknowledge and take pride in. I may not always meet my goals as quickly as I plan to, but I keep trying anyway. I am always working to improve myself and my life. My commitment to the effort alone is worth being proud of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this hesitancy and difficulty regarding giving myself credit for the good things I do. From a young age, many of us are taught to be humble. And while that may be a virtue, it’s also important to be able to acknowledge your talents and accomplishments. Not only will that make a significant difference for your mental health, but it will also make it easier for you to keep pursing your goals. If you never allow yourself a moment of rest to appreciate all you’ve done, how can you expect yourself to maintain motivation to continue moving forward?

Today, give yourself the gift of self-reflection. Particularly, try to reflect on all of the positive changes you have been able to make in your life. Just for today, try to focus on the things you’ve done or are currently doing well. Remember that it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. The things you still want to work toward will be there waiting for you tomorrow. Today you deserve to rest and enjoy how far you’ve come.

False Narratives

What are some of the lies that you tell yourself? Maybe they don’t even seem like lies to you. We all have a personal narrative. It is probably unknown by those around us and maybe we ourselves have a hard time recognizing what that narrative is. After all it never feels like a story we are creating. Most of the time that inner voice talking to us seems like an honest assessment and observation of reality, no matter how cruel or warped it may actually be. But this story only has as much power as we give to it. All stories have the potential to be interpreted in a completely different way if we only allow our minds to open to the possibilities.

One of the lies my inner voice loves to use is: I can’t be nice to myself, not while I’m such a train wreck at least. I have to be mean and critical of myself in order to motivate myself to do better. Otherwise I would never do anything or make any progress in my life. Up until yesterday, I never even questioned that narrative. Even when I tried to rationalize or reason with it, it was more about how to prioritize self love and self compassion over personal progress towards my other goals. I was still working within the lines of the false narrative I’d been feeding myself.

Then I heard someone talking about that very narrative from a different perspective. I was initially just relieved to realize that other people told themselves similar stories. The best part was that moment of clarity when this person explained why this story is laughable on its face. So if you are someone who tells yourself the same type of story, take a moment to really think about it with me. Remember when you were a child? If not, do you see how children in your adult life behave? Do those children seem unmotivated? Were you unmotivated? Of course not! Children are full of energy and curiosity and motivation and enthusiasm. Do you think they need a harsh, demanding inner voice to be that way? Did your harsh inner voice even exist within you when you were a child? I know mine didn’t and I was much happier and quite frankly, more productive, back then.

All along I was buying into the false dichotomy my inner voice was offering me. Be mean to yourself or surrender your goals and aspirations for yourself. Even in that scenario, it wouldn’t be worth continuing to not love myself in exchange for being successful. I was having a hard time convincing myself of that though. It is such a relief to know that I don’t even have to choose one over the other. Being kind to myself isn’t going to turn me into a lazy blob with no aspirations or motivation. It will probably even do the exact opposite. Just imagine how much more energy I’d have to work toward what I want to be working toward if I wasn’t using it all up being anxious and/or angry with myself all the time.

I feel so much freer after realizing the absurdity of just that one lie my inner voice was preaching. I’m sure there are many more false narratives in my head to unravel. The next time my inner voice is telling me something that makes me feel badly about myself, instead of just accepting it as fact, I want to challenge it. If it’s too hard to disengage from in the moment, it might also be a good idea to simply write down what your inner voice is telling you in that moment. Then once you’ve gotten some space from the situation, you can come back and take a look at what you wrote down. I hope we can all learn to listen to our own inner voice in a neutral, passive way so that we may learn something new about ourselves and hopefully discover new ways to improve our lives and our relationship with ourself.

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The Fear of Mediocrity

I like creating because it fills an emptiness that used to be there. It’s so simple, and so lovely, that humans are like this. That we want to build with our hands. That we want to assemble and construct. That we derive joy from stacking pieces together, and stringing words together, and assembling colors on a page, and moving, and singing, and baking and knitting. Humans love to build little worlds around them.

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This quote is just a segment of a long post I read on Tumblr this morning about the fear of mediocrity. It was so cathartic to realize that other people struggle with their creativity in the same ways that I do. I identified so much with what this person wrote. I can remember criticizing my own art for as long as I’ve been creating it, even back when I was a child. Nothing I drew or made was ever “good enough” despite the fact that I had always been praised by the adults around me. My sister and I both always performed above the developmental level of other children at our age, especially when it came to drawing and art. But given that my sister is three years older than me, I still compared myself to her and felt that I wasn’t good by comparison.

I allowed this self-criticism to stifle my creative energy for many years of my life. That fear of failure can become crippling. It keeps you from trying new things. It holds you back from the hobbies you love, but aren’t “exceptional” at. I still remember reading something before that was talking about the way other cultures find it odd when people from America for instance say they “can’t sing.” What we mean to say is we don’t sing well enough to be comfortable doing so. But this idea is simply bizarre in other places in the world. Singing is just a natural part of being human. Just as all birds sing, all humans are capable of song as well. So why not allow ourselves to? The same can be said for dancing, writing, drawing, building, etc. All of these creative endeavors are a natural part of human existence. It is terribly sad that the vast majority of us seem to cut ourselves off from our own creative drives out of shame or fear.

If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me that they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. It truly breaks my heart to hear that. Yoga isn’t about doing fancy, impressive poses or having a perfect, flawless body. Yoga is a spiritual act of self-love. Yoga is about presence and healing and showing up for yourself as you are. Yoga is a beautiful journey inward, a dance with your own soul. I’m tearing up right now just imagining how many people have denied themselves the right to practice yoga because of how they look or the real/perceived limitations of their bodies. I was nearly one of those people myself.

I can only imagine that this strange and sad phenomenon has gotten worse with the advent of the internet. It has certainly made me feel worse about my own creations. Before the internet, I may have seen incredible anime or animal drawings in books or something, but even though these images were far out of my league, it never bothered me on a personal level. The people who contributed to these books were much older than me, I could tell myself. They are professionals. It is their job to draw. There is no need to compare myself to them. However, now with Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Pinterest, etc. we are able to see the best of the best from people around the globe that aren’t necessarily older than us, or professional artists. For some reason this is much harder to cope with.

DeviantArt particularly was a place I used to love to visit. At first I was inspired. How incredible it was to see the vast amount of amazing artwork regular people like me were creating and sharing with the world! But soon it became more about how far away my skills were from theirs. I started to feel that I would never be able to create anything as good, so I should just stop all together. It made it hard to find the fun in drawing anymore.

Even though for the past year I’ve been working to incorporate creativity into my everyday life again, I still struggle with this fear of mediocrity. I constantly have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter at all how good my art is compared to other people. It doesn’t even matter if what I drew yesterday is better than what I’ll draw today or tomorrow. It is the act of creation itself that matters. It is the beauty of making something where there was once nothing at all. That alone is something to marvel at, something to be so grateful for being able to do. Everything else is just a distraction, a misdirection, insignificant chatter of the mind.

I don’t write these posts to be the best writer in the world, or even a good writer, to be honest. I do it because I am a writer. I like to write. It brings me joy. And that’s enough. I don’t draw to compete with anyone else, even the person I was the day before. I don’t do it to make money or to prove something to anyone else or myself. I do it because I am human. I do it to manifest my unique, miraculous consciousness into the world. Because we are all here to create, no matter our skill level or medium. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough, especially yourself.

Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥