Do you ever notice the way we sometimes talk to ourselves?
For instance, “I have to stop saying sorry.”
“I should eat better.”
There’s a lot of intensity behind these sentences.
I’ve talked in the past about perfectionism and how it can make us brittle, and I recognize that for me, these expressions often come from the same place.
What is that place?
It’s where you think that you can force yourself to be better than you are.
Does it work? Well, I suppose the honest answer is, “it depends.”
We wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work sometimes.
The problem is that it puts us in the posture of being our own bully.
And bullies are all about control and shame.
First, let’s establish how shame is different from guilt (although they can certainly work together).
Guilt is about something that you did. Shame is fundamentally about who are as a person.
Brené Brown’s work is all about the impact of shame on our sense of self and our behaviors. Give this talk a listen, if you haven’t had the pleaure of seeing it before.
The thing with shame is that it can actually be a motivator for short durations.
We can shame ourselves into working harder or showing up on time, just as someone might be able to shame us into not picking our noses in public.
(I wonder, does this work because it touches on a deep fear of being abandoned by the group? Is that why we have shame?)
Regardless, I like to start from the place that we do these things because they’ve worked for us in the past.
Telling yourself that you will fail the exam (and by extension, be a failure) if you don’t study more, probably worked for you in college.
Is it still working now?
Pressure doesn’t invite ease of spirit.
Much of what I write about in terms of presence, self-confidence, and communication center around this idea that the key is in relieving the internal pressure that we feel.
The more pressure we put on ourselves, the more tension we bring to our bodies and our thoughts.
The more tension you bring to your body, the harder it is to convey (or feel) a sense of ease and confidence.
When you say, “I have to relax,” the opposite effect is usually what happens.
What we want to do instead is to create spaciousness.
The more spaciousness we feel, the more relaxed our bodies and our minds are.
When your body and mind are relaxed, there’s more opportunity for awareness to occur.
Awareness (without judgment) is a powerful path to personal change.
Quieting the bully.
Try this experiment.
Every time you find yourself starting to say, “I have to” or “I need to” see if you can exchange those words with “I want to.”
For example, rather than saying “I need to exercise more” or “I have to get back into meditation,” you experiment with saying “I want to exercise more.”
Notice what you feel.
Chances are that you might feel like you’re a liar. 😆
This is because, for many of us, we don’t actually want to do these things, rather we feel that if we did these things, we would be better.
The reason for the experiment though, is to try out wanting to do them instead of forcing them to be a priority.
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to meditate?”
It’s likely that you want the benefits of meditation, like calmer thoughts.
When we quiet the bully, we create more space to be curious about what we want.
We gain more insight into what might be motivating us to do this action in the first place.
And intrinsic motivation is far superior to guilt or shame at motivating us into action.
(I appreciate Kris Windley’s blog on this in terms of the writing process.)
Freedom to want change.
This is the goal of this work.
What if the key to unlocking your own power were already in your hands?
Tap into the spaciousness and freedom that comes from choosing to do the things that give you more courage, calm, and confidence.
Be more aware of the ways that you try to bully yourself or force yourself to be a better person.
Take a deep breath and let that stuff go.
Notice that the bullying probably stopped working awhile ago, and that it’s mostly just making you feel anxious.
Create more space in your thoughts by changing the way that you talk to yourself.
You might find that you want to do many of the things that you’ve always felt that you have to do.
All you have to lose is the feeling that you’re doing something wrong, or that you should be doing something else.
Trust yourself. Be curious.
And experiment with the power of choosing yourself.