Every year, around my birthday, I write a post about myself. When I wrote regularly about self-improvement, it would usually be a reflection on how I’m achieving my goals.
Yet, when I reflect on being 25, within the context of our current world, the only emotion that comes to mind is anger.
I am angry. I am hurting.
I am hurting for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am hurting for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – respect.
I am angry for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am angry for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – equality.
Anger, in these times, is arguably the most appropriate reaction to the death of George Floyd and all our brothers and sisters before him. We cannot always control how that anger is expressed and we certainly cannot tell people to not be angry for that only works to silence their pain.
Demanding “cool pragmatism” simply says “take a number, we’ll get to you” then closing the shop indefinitely.
Must we come to sit at your table for justice? It is not as though we do not have space at ours. Our invitations are simply not accepted or acknowledged.
As I’m writing these words, Kendrick Lamar’s I Hate You has popped up…
Let me start off this letter saying I don’t like you, scared of you but I will fight you
I stare at the ceiling and think about you
Curiosity killing me, thinking of when Ima meet you
You introduced yourself to so many others, mothers, sisters and brothers, children
Kendrick Lamar – I Hate You (Letter to Death)
There are no black people who have not experienced racism, whether it is explicit or implicit or even been harmed by unconscious biases and systems that work to disadvantage them on a daily basis. Whether they are in the UK (as I am) or anywhere else.
I am simply lucky that I haven’t been pinned to the floor with a knee behind my neck.
Even though I’m 25, Tamir Rice will never be 25. Nor will Mike Brown. Nor will Trayvon Martin. Nor will… who is next?
We all have a responsibility to make the world better, to rid it from injustice and to not only look for the helpers – be a helper.
Even if it isn’t our fault. It will forever be our responsibility.
Mindfulness is really easy to not practice it because at first it can be boring, intimidating and seem pointless.
But – it is a practice, not a solution. It takes time but it pays off. I want to help make it easier for you.
Here are 5 methods you can use to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.
Pockets of peace
Meditation for most people can be pretty daunting. It’s tough to just sit in a room for 10 minutes and observe your thoughts if you’ve never done it before.
Instead, try 30s to 2 minutes of paying attention to your breathing or your surroundings. I recommend having nothing in your hands (especially your phone).
You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. This way it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming obligation you’re tempted to skip.
Treat yourself to “pockets of peace” throughout the day.
Mindful eating is an important technique to keep in your toolbox.
When you’re eating, for the first few spoonfuls (forkfuls… whatever, you get the point), try to appreciate the flavours and textures of the food. If you do this, you can actually appreciate food much more, especially if you made it yourself.
Another technique is… I pretend I’m a chef who’s figuring out what spices are in my food. Even if I know all of them in advance.
It’s silly but it’s fun, and I like to pretend.
Similar to the pockets of peace earlier, when you’re cleaning the house, instead of treating it as something you hate or want to run away from, try this:
Your house, your body, whatever you choose to clean, is important because you spend a lot of time with it.
When you clean it, you’re helping it get back to its best.
You’re making your environment better. Whether it’s one dish, a fluffy afro or folding away one shirt.
The morning can be extremely hectic because
1) Who wants to be awake in the morning
2) It’s time to prepare for work
But, stay with me now, you can do some stretching for 30 seconds, and do them without any distractions.
Not only do you get to treat your body well but you get to practice mindfulness at the same time.
Every year, I publish a post on my birthday looking back on the year and asking myself whether I’ve lived in accordance with my values.
This year, I want to keep it short and ask two questions:
Do I love myself?
What am I grateful for?
Hopefully, there’s loads of life ahead, more people to meet and great food to eat. Let’s begin.
So, I love a lot of people. I’m quite generous with my love. I try to value my friendships with relationships with people because they’re often what makes life worth living.
Seeing my girlfriend laugh at my amazing jokes (if you ask her she’ll say something like “no, he’s not funny… ah his jokes are terrible” then roll her eyes and laugh at the idea that I was ever considered funny, but really, that’s just her way of saying “He really is the funniest guy I’ve ever been around”).
Knowing my friends can rely on me to listen to them in times of need but not get to a restaurant on time. Or getting positive feedback from people on my writing (but only rarely because I rarely write) is all beautiful.
Do I extend that same courtesy to myself? No.
Maybe “self-love” doesn’t need to be as intense as the love we have for other people, but I think it would be helpful to be more compassionate towards myself.
Perhaps I can try being compassionate towards myself with regard to my actions rather than thoughts.
Thoughts come and go. Negative or positive. Actions can be slightly more long-lasting – like eating well and exercising.
By the time I’m 24, perhaps I’ll love myself a bit more.
I am grateful for…
Friends and family
I’ve surrounded myself with a bunch of really dope people and I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t without them. Even those I’ve lost contact with.
I never posted it here but I recently raised £480 for Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie UK and Diabetes UK.
It involved a lot of swimming (about 25 miles over 3 months) but I was going to do that anyway so why not raise money will doing it?
We (the donors and I) were successful in the end. We helped a great cause and I got fitter in the mean time.
I’m always grateful that I simply have the ability to exercise. If my back had been slightly worse, I may not have had proper use of my legs! Even if that happened, I still would have found a way to exercise.
It’s great. It’s like a free way to feel accomplished and non-sluggish.
I recommend you appreciate your body, regardless of its flaws and try some light exercise. When you get into the groove of it – I demand an ultra-marathon.
Ok, I’ll explain.
In short, I’ve been eating more vegetables and they’re bloody great. It’s like free food that makes your plate look like a rainbow.
Vegetables are just dope, man. I feel sorry for those who still say things like “I don’t eat vegetables” because they just remember those sad what-even-is-flavour, I’ve-been-steamed-for-too-long, I-am-pure-trash looking veggies they had in primary school.
Books are the best investment possible. Unless you’re an American college student.
I can read words. That’s really great.
There are millions of really good words in a beautiful order out there and it’s a pleasure to be able to experience the worlds other people create.
There’s probably more but I was meant to keep this short.
For everyone that’s read my work over the past year or longer, thank you. I love you too.
It’s that little voice in your head which tells you “I want this and that and everything in between!” or “I don’t want this because it’s horrible!”
It isn’t a kind voice but one of consistent temptation. It’s a quiet and smooth voice which can infiltrate your thoughts without a problem. And when we’re bombarded with advertising and deals designed to make you panic, the voice comes out in full force, puts on its lawyer suit and starts justifying everything it possibly can.
Unfortunately, the Want Monster is also dumb because wanting is all it can do. It doesn’t disappear once we have what we apparently desire. Rather, it presses the snooze button and waits for another opportunity to wake up again.
It’s an unquenchable thirst.
Tanha – the Buddhist idea of the self-focused desire to want more and more. We justify it by thinking that we will have a peace of mind after it appears.
But nah. That doesn’t happen.
I Want What You Have
I was eating lunch with my sister when I was about 7. We were having chicken wings with rice and stew. I finished mine, she hadn’t finished hers. And I sat down and ate the rest of my food in peace.
Ok, of course not. I stared at her plate of food until my gran gave me her wings and replaced my sister’s food with a boney piece of meat.
She held a grudge for years. Hell, I’d be mad too because those wings were magnificent.
This somewhat comical example of just wanting what other people have. Kids do it all the time. Adults do it too but with things more ambitious than chicken wings and toys.
Here is the science.
Lebreton et al in Your Goal Is Mine: Unraveling Mimetic Desires in the Human Brain, explores this in a lot of detail but I want to get to the important part for our purposes.
First, it’s really easy to start mimicking the desires of other people. The authors simply showed the participants pictures of sweets that looked slightly different and had an unseen person pick one. Uniformly, the participants preferred the sweet picked by the unseen person.
Second and most importantly, we don’t want something because someone else has it, we value something because someone else values it. This means that we believe the reward given by the item is greater because other people have it and we value highly valued things (sorry for the mouthful).
What does this mean for us?
The Want Monster will always have something to feast on and desire!
How can we want less?
I’ll say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting things. Rather, it’s a source of suffering because our desires are ever changing and we can never seem to satisfy them.
Even if we get what we want.
So clearly, giving into our desires every time they pop up, isn’t a healthy way to address them.
What are your values?
When we notice the Want Monster knocking on our door, we may want to ask if what it is offering matches the values we want to live by and the long-term goals we have for ourselves.
We don’t always need to tell the Want Monster to click its heels three times and disappear. Addressing it with some calm can resolve the conflict the quickest.
If you haven’t thought through your values and long-term desires, you may want to take a few minutes from your day to think about it. Here is the example I wrote at 21.
The “If/Only” test
Another helpful pointer from Toni Bernhard (bloody love every word she puts on paper).
It helps us find out – do we think we’ll be completely satisfied if we got this one thing?
If only I had my sisters chicken wings, I’d be satisfied.
If only I wasn’t ill, I’d be completely happy.
If only I had new shoes, I’d feel better with my shoe collection.
If only I had this new job, I’d feel useful again.
Looking over these things, it seems odd to think that one new thing can put an end to the desires that we have. That isn’t to say they can’t help but I suggest we try moving away from believing that satisfying the Want Monster is the way to get it to leave.
After I had my sister’s chicken wings, I went back to the kitchen to look for more. There weren’t anymore.
Our happiness quickly gives way to new wants and don’t wants.
Focus on the desire rather than the object of the desire
The above test helps gently shift our attention towards mindfully thinking about the fact that we’re desiring something rather than what we are desiring.
It is helpful to realise that satisfying particular desires doesn’t lead to sustained happiness because more appear in its place.
When we notice this desire, we can simply let it be. With time, it’ll pass. That’s why it’s said, “if you want something, wait a week and see if you forget about it”. (OK, it’s probably more elegant than that but I’m an amateur.)
Desires aren’t all bad.
To end, I want to clarify something that could be easily mistaken. Don’t take this as me saying all desires are bad.
I’ve used the term Want Monster because unchecked desires can often lead us down a dangerous path.
We begin to follow our desires blindly rather than let our desires be guided by our values. If we want junk food but we also have a greater aim to feed your body good foods, it is the Want Monster guiding us to make decisions, for example.
Generally, the Want Monster is much more focused on the short term rather than the long term.
Mindfully addressing our desires and remembering the unquenchable thirst will allow us to live closer to our personal values and get things that mean the most to us.
If I could go back in time, I would give my sister’s chicken wings back and enjoy my rice and stew in peace.
As always, thank you for reading!
No question for today. All I ask is that you share your thoughts on this topic!
Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.
~ Toni Bernhard
The act of greeting whatever confronts us with an even temper and steady reaction.
Cultivating this state is how we stay calm regardless of whatever confronts us rather than adding on top of our suffering with the emotions that come from clinging to joy and resisting sorrow.
When we face particularly difficult emotions or situations, without any training, it can be very easy to pile suffering on top of our experiences without realising it.
Toni Bernhard says:
Grasping at what is pleasant sets us up for impermanence dukkha because change is inevitable.
Resisting what is unpleasant serves only to add stress to what is already a difficult situation.
When I was first told by my doctor that there wasn’t much to do about my pain, I came home and was so angry I kicked a hole in my door.
During a summer, I had a few days when I didn’t experience any pain and it was so strange but I became extremely happy thinking that my pain had solved itself.
In both of these situations, I didn’t treat them with an evenness of temper. Rather, I allowed myself to become overly consumed with them which led to suffering later down the road.
Calm in the pleasant
Please don’t mistake what I’m saying to mean “evenness of temper means to kill hope”. It does not. As Martin Luther King Jr says:
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to fully experience the good times but not to expect it to last forever. When we remember that pleasant moments don’t last forever and they’re simply one of the ten thousand joys we’ll experience, it gives us the opportunity to savour the present more!
If anything, it’s simply a reminder of the truth. However, it’s not a depressing one when we come to understand that when one joy ends, it means another will come again! If I worry that the happiness is leaving, then I’m only adding to the extra sadness that I’m going to experience. It’s a funny little paradox.
“I’ll enjoy this experience while it lasts, knowing that, like all phenomena, it will pass and another experience will take its place”
Calm in the unpleasant
Now, this is more difficult.
Tough emotions tend to bring out sadness, fear or anger. All of these emotions have the uncanny ability to pull us into the darkness they create and keep us there. While we remember that these emotions will change and leave, it still seems hard to keep ourselves out of its gravitational pull.
However, in order to explore your emotions, you will first need to have some kind of calm and the ability to look inwards.
The main thing to realize is that the emotion won’t going to last forever. It never does.
How to stay Calm during pleasant and unpleasant experiences
Sit down with some alertness. If it’s more comfortable, lie down.
Asking yourself “what emotions am I experiencing right now?”
Then describe it neutrally. If you’re angry, try saying “Anger is present”. If you’re sad, try saying “sadness is being experienced”. If you’re happy, try “Happiness is in the air”.
Whatever it is, your aim while meditating isn’t to solve anything.
While we meditate, we want to acknowledge how we’re feeling and simply experience it. If you find your mind running away again (because that’s what minds do), calmly bring yourself back to the moment and see what happens.
If we go in with no expectations, then it’s going to make the entire process smoother. If we go in with expectations that we’re going to screw up or that we’re going to come out an enlightened person, we’ll only be disappointed.
This releases us from the burden of trying to keep sadness from ever infiltrating our lives and from straining our best to keep happiness from leaving. They both leave. They’ll both return at some point.
2. Utilise Positive Self-talk
Meditation is like practising before kick-off. What about when we become angry or sad, what do we do then?
Describe emotions neutrally.
Like mentioned above: Take yourself out of the equation and just describe the emotion. This removes the force that personal attachment has when thinking about how we feel.
“I am sad” -> “sadness is happening”
“I am in pain” -> “pain is present”
“I’m really happy” -> “happiness is in the air”
2. Acknowledge ups and downs come and go.
A common theme recently – emotions come and go. To remind us of this, we can say the following:
“May we accept with grace both our successes and disappointments”
“This is only one of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”
“We can experience things without needing to fix them”
“Let’s not get lost in this moment but engage with it meaningfully”
Talking in terms of “we” rather than “I” helps reinforce the idea that I can talk to myself as though I am my friend. It’s worthwhile.
Equanimity is a small practice on the face of it but also remarkably difficult. It’s not something I have down completely but I can thank myself for the small times when I do manage to get it done because it helps me enjoy happier moments and not add suffering to the times I’m in a lot of pain or remarkably tired.
Some days it’ll go well, some days it’ll suck. Other days we’ll forget about it completely. We don’t hate ourselves for these fluctuations in progress. We treat these realizations with calm then move on. With time and practice, it becomes easier.
We’ll appreciate more that we’re simply a working draft with flaws, mistakes, sorrows, and joys.
2. Start with those we do not have a complicated relationship with
Oddly enough, it’s those closest to us which may cause us the most sadness. The self-comparison is often that bit more intense.
But when we start with people our relationship isn’t too complicated with, we reduce the chances of feeling envious or frustrated because we see less of their lives (and have less to compare ourselves too).
So this can be a distant friend or an acquaintance. We take ourselves out of the equation and simply experience the happiness that comes from someone else’s joy.
When we start practising appreciative joy towards people who are closer to us, that feeling becomes more intense and valuable. We’re likely to understand just how much someone wanted that job or how hard they worked to achieve the results they did.
The extra context, instead of inspiring envy, intensifies the joy.
3. Keep your ego in check
Ego is the Enemysays Ryan Holiday and in many respects, I agree. Especially when it comes to being happy for other people.
When the feelings of jealousy and frustration arise due to someone else’s happiness, much of it can be attributed to our ego being starved for attention and jealousy is its way of taking it back.
It doesn’t care whether it brings sadness or happiness, all it wants is attention.
It’s incredibly difficult to be genuinely happy for another person and at the same time be completely self-absorbed.
So when you notice those feelings arise you can ask yourself: am I simply craving attention? The answer is likely “yes”. If it is, you can gently return you attention to the other person’s happiness.
4. Enjoy being happy
It may be tempting to think something along the lines of “I don’t deserve to be happy because someone else is happy!”
That’s just the comparison monster creeping in again. And it’s speaking complete tosh.
When do you deserve to be happy, then? When you’ve crushed everyone around you with your unwavering financial success? When everyone in the world is happy for you and you’re too cool to smile and say thanks?
Forget about whether you deserve to be happy by rejoicing in someone else’s joy.
What you’re doing is a lovely act of compassion. You’re allowing yourself to calm the feelings of envy and you’re directing even more happiness and pride in someone else’s path.
How wonderful is that?
And that is appreciative joy. A remarkably simple practice but one which brings plenty of happiness to everyone who experiences it.
We’ll experience different emotions all the time. And that’s perfectly fine.
2. Greet your sadness as a friend
I first came across this idea from Toni Bernhard who recommends that we see our emotions as friends that have come to stay – usually uninvited.
Even though we may be annoyed by this in real life, we can still treat them with kindness and in turn we treat ourselves with kindness.
The idea behind this is simple: if we treat our emotions as friends, we treat ourselves with compassion. Sadness feeds off sadness. With compassion, sadness gets bored and leaves. Maybe next time he won’t stay as long!
3. Don’t order yourself around
“I shouldn’t feel sad!”
“I shouldn’t feel angry, it was a meaningless interaction!”
“I shouldn’t feel this or that – I should only feel that!”
Now imagine saying this to a child about happiness … or anything else.
Why should we feel any kind of way? We can literally just experience emotions without trying to invalidate them.
Plus if we order ourselves to stop feeling a particular way, it’s just a first class ticket to feeling sad again!
Try removing the word “should” from your sentences when talking about how you feel. Accept them and with time, it’ll leave.
(That’s why stuff like “just be happy!” is pretty meaningless or worse yet, detrimental to actually feeling happy. Who wants to be under pressure to smile!)
4. Let yourself be vulnerable
Often, a reason why we struggle to accept different emotions is because we’re trying to present ourself in a particular light. Whether that’s to our friends or family. Or towards ourselves.
But with some privacy, we can experience whatever we want.
Dismiss the “I must be strong” mindset because sadness, crying, frustration aren’t signs of weakness!
If you fall, we’ll catch you :)
And with this, we can find some peace in sadness. We don’t exhaust ourselves running away because that just means it’ll keep chasing us. Rather, we accept it’s a normal experience and most importantly:
Sadness, like all moods and emotions, are impermanent.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
How do you handle sadness? Do you think it’s healthy?
Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.
A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?
I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.
I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.
I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).
So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.
Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?
What does it mean to be OK?
Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.
We say it to our friends all the time:
“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”
“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”
“You’ll survive this tough patch”
Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?
There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.
Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:
Life with chronic pain is bad
I have chronic pain
Therefore, I have a bad life.
There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.
We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.
Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.
I don’t know
Let’s look at it differently.
Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.
Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.
It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.
Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.
Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.
Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.
Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.
Will I be OK?
And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!
But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.
If there’s anything close to a bible in the self-improvement sphere, I’m sure there will be two verses which seem completely contradictory.
1. Accept yourself.
2. Never stop trying to improve.
Acceptance doesn’t seem to mesh well with the desire to improve.
Acceptance gives us the impression that we can be happy with how we are now.
Improvement implies there is something wrong with us and it needs to be bettered. If we accept ourselves and our flaws, then we reduce the motivation to become a better person at the same time.
A large reason why “acceptance” of personal flaws and so on may be taught is because it reduces the amount of needless self-criticism we throw at ourselves. Many efforts to improve ourselves come from a dissatisfaction with how we view ourselves. I’ve tried to show that it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
But, if we accept ourselves, how do we stop ourselves from becoming complacent?
Are acceptance and complacency the same?
I view it as scale. If you have Dissatisfaction on one end and Complacency on the other, Acceptance is around the middle:
Scott Miker makes the subtle difference clear (he uses content instead of acceptance):
Being content means being happy. Being complacent means refusing to work to improve.
There’s more to this than meets the eye – I believe you can accept your situation without being happy but that’s for another blog post.
However, it is helpful enough for now. With the definition above, complacency implies reaching a comfort zone and taking it for granted. We may even see something that we dislike about ourselves or the external situation, but because we are just comfortable enough, we refuse to do anything about it.
We can liken it to choosing to stay in bed all the time, while disliking the idea that we aren’t being productive.
Acceptance on the other hand is an active emotion. It involves gratitude and honesty. And, quite frankly, it can be incredibly difficult to accept things. It’s normal to resist things that don’t go 100% our way even if all it causes is more mental anguish.
Acceptance is tough because it forces me to see the limits of my days and the limits of my abilities (at the moment).
We don’t always realise it but failure to accept things is often a problem with the ego. “I don’t want to accept that I am finding this more difficult than expected.” Really, there isn’t anything wrong with that and it might help us to address these problems if we accept they exist first.
Returning to the main topic:
Improvement is just what you do.
To understand what it is like to mesh acceptance with self-improvement, imagine yourself as a plant.
Plants just grow. They look at the sun, ask “hey can I have some food”, then stretch as much as they can to get it. The sun says “yeah sure, just give my human friends some oxygen” and bam, the plant grows.
If the sun is taking a day off, the plant chills for a bit. It’s just fine being a plant.
I may be off with a few details. I haven’t taken biology since 2011.
The point is, you can accept yourself at each stage of your development while continuing to grow and better yourself. It’s just what you do.
Self-improvement (and I’d hope, improving the world comes along with it), does not need to stem from negativity or hatred centred around a particular aspect of your life. It often starts that way, but it doesn’t need to continue that way.
Like a plant, you can just enjoy being a plant.
Like a plant, you can also just keep on growing.
I’m going to leaf the plant analogy alone now…
How can I accept myself without becoming complacent?
Now we can appreciate what it means to practice self-acceptance without becoming complacent and never choosing to improve.
What does this look like in practice?
1. Leave the ego at the door
Your ego will tell you, in all sorts of ways, that you’re perfect and shouldn’t find things difficult.
It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in some kind of narcissism. You can prevent yourself from improving because you refuse to see yourself make mistakes. It’s safer to never try if you never want to make a mistake.
The end goal doesn’t always define you. Sometimes, they’re out of your control. What you can control to the best of your ability is the process you use to reach your goals.
If I’m trying to lose weight, I can set a goal but place all of my attention on ensuring I have a good diet and workout regime.
If I’m trying to become a better writer, I can set a goal of some kind but I can make sure I sit down and write every single day. When I write every day, I can make sure I keep on challenging myself.
3. Take time to be grateful
Intertwined with acceptance comes gratitude.
You can find something, however small, to be thankful for. So despite our challenges and moments of difficulty, we can still find people, events or things we value deeply.
It helps us stop becoming overly disappointed with every tough time we experience and blame everything either on ourselves or something external to us. When we do this, we yearn for our comfort zone because it’s the easiest place to be. It shields us from potential failure and criticism.
Yet, when we take the time to be thankful for something, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to acknowledge something we want to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.
A person who keeps growing.
Acceptance to me is seeing the limits you have at the moment and using them to your advantage.
Complacency is giving up in face of them.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
What progress have you made towards accepting your flaws?
“If you notice any uncomfortable feelings while you’re trying to meditate, just invite them in”
Now why on earth would I want to do that?! That’s stupid.
“Inviting discomfort is one way to learn how to stop fighting against them and accept them”
Well I don’t want to accept this – that makes me feel like I’m giving up. Plus, it’s just shitty.
That was my thought process while listening to a guided meditation during a group session. Thankfully all of these thoughts stayed in my head – otherwise I would have disturbed a lot of people… and insulted the teacher.
The little dialogue above demonstrated the personal resistance I had towards living in the present when the present becomes difficult. It’s normal to mentally check out of difficulty when we come across it because it’s normal to want to do the easier thing.
However, it isn’t always better for us. It can quickly lead to more stressful thinking patterns that make us feel worse. If I feel sad, it might be easier to start thinking about why I feel sad and what could have caused it and dig our way down that rabbit hole. Or I may try to distract myself and never address the thinking that consistently causes me to feel bad about something.
You may become angry because you feel that you should be able to control something but with a bit more thinking, you’d find that most of it was out of your control.
And it goes on. How do we manage this?
How to stay mindful when the present isn’t pleasant
Acknowledge it’ll feel uncomfortable
You can say this aloud if you want. Negative emotional or physical feelings suck but we often begin our resistance here by refusing to admit that sometimes you’ll just feel uncomfortable.
It’s not always fair nor does it always have a grand lesson at the end. Acknowledging the discomfort is the first step to prevent our mind from running away from the uncomfortable.
This does not mean you’re giving in. It’s like observing a fact that’s simply happening.
“I’m in pain, yes but this does not mean I want to be in pain”
2. Remove yourself from the story and remove judgement – make everything neutral
Toni Bernhard in, How to Live with Chronic Illness, teaches a skill that I’ve found simple but useful.
Stop judging the moment and just describe it.
If you’re in pain try saying “pain is happening” rather than “I am in so much pain”.
If you’re sad, try “Sadness is present” rather than “I am in the darkness again”.
If you’ve experienced disappointment, try “Disappointment is present” rather than “I was really let down by my friend”.
I’ve found this takes away some of the bite from the negative emotions that arise and reduce the suffering that we can easily add-on top of ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to watch the emotion rather than feed it with more negativity.
This isn’t lying to yourself.
3. Ask yourself these four questions (and another one at the end):
To help halt stressful thoughts, it may be worthwhile to asking yourself these questions offered by Byron Katie:
Is the thought true?
Am I absolutely sure it is true?
How do I feel when I think the thought?
Who would I be without the thought?
Then turn it around – what if something else is the case?
This helps us respond skillfully to stressful thoughts that make the pleasant moment uncomfortable. Let’s go through this together with an example:
My thought here is that I am incapable of creating good work so I should never try.
Is the thought true?
Yes, I’m writing this right now and it’s terrible – so many mistakes!
2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?
Perhaps not – I have a bad habit of being a harsh critic who refuses to see the good.
3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
I feel disappointed and angry. I’m trying my best to create high quality work but my efforts don’t pay off. I become angry because I seem to be wasting my time.
4. Who would I be without the thought?
A person who creates without expectation. A person who tries their best because they believe that is the most useful way to stick to their own values.
5. The turnaround – how can the story be changed?
Here, we change the story slightly just to see what other possibilities are out there. Then think of reasons why it might be true.
Now, what if I’m a person who creates helpful work and has the ability to get better if he keeps trying?
My blog posts have improved from a few years ago and I’m more comfortable in my own voice.
If I never try, I’ll never have the opportunity to improve.
My academic writing is better than it was when I started.
Will you always believe this turnaround? No. Sometimes you’ll need someone else to tell you these things. But it’s a start – and a reminder that the negative thought you have now isn’t the only possibility in the world.
4. Remember, it takes practice.
I’ve written these pointers in the hopes that you’ll be able to live in the present even when it’s difficult. With time will come acceptance and a clearer mindset to make useful change happen.
Yet, it doesn’t all come instantly. I try to remind myself of points like this regularly because negative thinking, when times get tough, is a difficult habit to break out of.
We all have positive and negative thinking habits. This does not mean our ways of thinking are permanently broken.