We live increasingly busy lifestyles in our modern age. The speed and immediacy of the Internet, the plethora of options, instant gratification sensory input available at our fingertips, and competing objectives and obligations all bring us to a point of living in a constant state of hectic-ness. In such a life, being gentle with self has become of paramount importance if we are truly endeavoring a life of balance.
An awareness I have come to with crystal clarity is that how I am with myself on any given day is to evaluate myself based on how much I’ve accomplished each day. Each day I will start with thoughts of what I would like to accomplish, and no matter how much I do end up accomplishing, my end-of-day self-evaluation is that I’ve never accomplished enough. I will even set myself up for this form of self-disappointment by establishing a task list that is not possible to achieve in a day. Or even if I have a doable list in front of me, there are always unexpected things that will come up in a day that requires my immediate attention and those other things to be moved to the back burner.
So I begin each day with a framework that causes self-disappointment. This comes from years of working corporate jobs as a type-A over achiever. I worked so hard for so many years that over-doing has become a habit. Yet, while I have been gradually and consistently moving away from this mind-set for the past few years, what has recently bubbled to the surface is an acute awareness of patterns of thought that cause emotional discomfort that result from unreasonable expectations based on a belief system that my value in the world is, in part, determined by how much I accomplish.
The tasks I set myself to are not all grandiose and significant like writing a book, starting a consulting business, or even just writing a weekly blog. They can be as mundane as paying bills, weeding the garden, getting the oil changed, staying up on email or scooping the cat box. The point is not so much about the nature of the tasks, but just that I’ve carried a belief that my value equates to doing things—lot of things, all the time. In fact our society reinforces such a belief by the nature of the fact that we look down on lazy people—that they are not responsible, engaged or adequately equipped for life.
However, when I think about the people in my life that I hold in a place of high respect, my respect for them doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how much they accomplish in a given day, but rather by their essence, their warmth and compassion, their presence, and by them having a well developed sense of self. Though when it comes to our own selves and self-talk, there seems to be little to no filter on how we give ourselves such a hard time for the silliest of reasons. If we spoke to others the way we often speak to ourselves we would be deemed the proverbial ass.
In this thread of recognizing defeating self-talk, we must recognize that this process is very subtle and barely perceivable. It became this way though years of habit. We all have habits of self-talk that hold us back, create emotional discomfort, and keep us from more fully being the persons we truly are in the world.
The starting point for overcoming these limiting thoughts is to dedicate ourselves to being gentle with ourselves, which means that we allow ourselves to feel as though we are doing enough when we are doing our best. If we can be gentle with ourselves this way, then the absurdity of our self-talk begins to become apparent, and we can begin the process of retraining our minds to accept and honor who we are in the world—regardless of outward appearances and accomplishments.