Posts Tagged With: opinion

Day 12: Confessions of An Obsessed Blogger

On the 12th Day of Blogging, my true voice said to me:

I’m kind of obsessed with this  blog.

I’m thinking about it a lot. Not just what topics to write about. I’m thinking about How I’m Doing.

In other words, I’m thinking in terms of Success/Failure.

In my work, I like to invite people to consider the possibility that “Success” and “Failure” are constructs  —  ultimately meaningless and unhelpful.  I ask questions like, “What if failure did not exist as a concept?”  I love asking that question.

But here’s me — The Zen-like Questioner of Failure — on the 12th day of blogging, and Success/Failure thoughts are creeping in.

Creeping?  Hah!   They’re up-right, running around, and screaming.

I’m not thrilled about those thoughts, but what’s REALLY bothering me is how I’m behaving.

That is, I’m checking on how I’m doing, throughout the day and night.  I do a circuit — a roundelay among WordPress statistics, Facebook, and  e-mail — to see if anybody else has liked, commented, followed, or responded in some way.

Click: WordPress.

Click: E-mail.

Click: Facebook.

Repeat, as needed.  And I seem to need it,  a LOT.

I don’t like that. And I’m labeling it.   Narcissistic. Self-absorbed.  Solipsistic (my favorite way to say the same thing).

Hey, I know it’s human to want to be important — to dream that once you put your precious thoughts out there, that the world will care — and be riveted.

However, that’s a part of my humanity that I have to work — really hard — to accept.

I’m working on it.

Like right now, dear reader.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 11: You might as well be the hero of your own story.

(Note:  This post is an adaptation of another chapter for a potential book.)

(More important note:  If I ever refer in this blog to somebody I’ve worked with, I will have changed the name and any identifying details.)

In her first therapy session with me, a woman I’ll call Selena told me how she had stopped using crack cocaine 10 years ago, after years of addiction starting when she was only 14.

I could see Selena’s shame and regret as she told me how unavailable she had been to her children when they were young.  She also told me about her mother, who had raised her children for her. Her mother had been — and was still, the day of our meeting — very disappointed in Selena.  Selena said, “She always talks to me like I’m no good.”

 
As Selena told me her rich, complicated story, she looked weary and sad, and her language about herself was painfully judgmental. She was owning responsibility for the consequences of her choices, but she also seemed beaten and hopeless about the future. She seemed to agree with how her mother saw her. I waited for her to say something positive about herself — at least to show some pride about how she’d stopped using drugs on her own and had been sober for a decade. Also, I could hear that she was doing so much to repair the relationships with her grown children, and how that was going very well.

And she revealed so many admirable qualities in her first meeting with me, including empathy, humor, and creativity.  But when I asked her to name her positive qualities, which I do during every first session, she couldn’t name a thing. She said, “There’s nothing positive about me.” When I reflected back those positive qualities I had witnessed in her already, she didn’t buy it.  She said, “I’ve screwed up so many things in my life, how could I see myself those ways?”

While I wanted to respect where she was — and certainly not invalidate her experience —   I also wanted to invite her to see things a little differently. On impulse, I said to her,  “This is what I’m thinking, Selena.  Why not see yourself as the hero of  your own story? You might as well. It’s your story, for heaven’s sake.”  And we talked about stories in movies or books, where a hero could screw up, alienate people, and even make a total mess of things at times. But the hero was always the hero.

 
The way I invited Selena to be the hero of her own story is straight out of Narrative Therapy, one of my favorite ways of working with people. Narrative Therapy focuses on the stories we tell about ourselves, including how we describe and present ourselves as the protagonist — the main character of our story. There are so many different ways to tell ANY story, and as we tell the story of our lives to ourselves and others, we are constantly making choices. We are  picking and choosing different details and interpretations, as we make meaning of our complex lives and the parts we play.

I have to admit that, as I’ve told the story of my life to myself and others over the years, there have been times where I haven’t seen myself as The Hero of my own story. Instead, I’ve been the The Loser. Or The Villain.  Or The Victim. Or some unimportant cast member, like Girl in Crowd with Squint.

Not being the hero of your own story may very well be the hardest thing to endure. We can always, somehow, meet and move through anything — including pain, suffering, and tragedy. But not  if we’ve torn our best selves out of the picture, leaving behind a void — a powerless, scorned creature stripped of possibility.

My most unbearable experiences of this — of not being able to see myself as the hero of my own story — were two  clinical depressions, at ages 22 and 45. During both bouts of depression (each lasting about six months, though they seemed much, much longer), my critical self judgment went through the roof. I found it impossible to see myself as worthwhile in any way, much less the hero of anybody’s story.

Actually, when I was depressed, I rewrote the positive parts of my story up until then, to make them fit my new narrative conclusion — that I was a worthless, weird, and pathetic person. For example, I was pretty well liked in high school and got elected to class officer my freshman and senior years. When I got depressed at 22, I rewrote that story completely. I decided that I had been such an object of ridicule and dislike, that my classmates had voted me in as practical jokes, laughing at me all the while. ( By the way, I came up with that imaginative and dastardly plot device on my own, about the same time that Stephen King was using a similar motif in “Carrie”) (although in King’s version, the humiliation was real, not imagined, and pretty much everybody got killed).


When my clients concoct such false, negative stories about themselves, I often acknowledge and admire their creativity, but I also invite them to look at the consequences of their negative narrative choices, which can be so miserable and painful.

Think about the stories you tell about yourself, dear reader, and how you describe yourself as a “character” in those stories. Do you tend to tell certain types of stories about yourself?

And if you’re  accentuating the negative, could you tell those same stories differently?

Think about it. You might already be telling the story of yourself quite differently at different times — depending on your mood, your distance from the events, and  how you happen to be seeing and judging yourself (and life in general) in the moment of the telling.

Inviting somebody else in — to hear your story and to give you feedback — can often help you tell the same story quite differently.  Different people add very different  perspectives.  (See, for example, “Rashomon,” a movie built on just that.)  Some people have perspectives that might be helpful, while others won’t (like Selena’s mother).

How about you? What stories do you tend to tell about yourself and how do you present yourself as a character? If you tend to tell stories about screw ups and disappointments, how does that make you feel?  Compare that to how you feel when you tell stories showcasing your good qualities (or something you love, something you’ve accomplished, or somebody who is important to you).

In every negative story you might tell, there are the seeds of a thousand different ways to tell it, authentically and with more positive shadings.  This isn’t an Everything is Beautiful,  rainbows-and-unicorns claim on my part — it’s  always true. There’s no way to tell any story completely and perfectly, capturing all the complexities and nuances of all the characters and details involved. Therefore, every story we tell contains different tales with different conclusions, and we make choices at each point in the telling.

So, again, why not make yourself the hero of your own story?  I don’t mean a simplistic, perfectly good hero, but a complex hero who makes mistakes. A hero who feels not only “positive feelings” like  joy and optimism. but also “negative” ones like anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, and despair.

I hope, I hope, I hope  that you can see yourself as your own hero,  as much as you possibly can.   Because it HELPS, more than anything else I’ve ever seen.

© 2013 Ann Koplow

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Day 10: I’ve learned to leave the house before I feel ready

This is something I’ve been working on lately, and it’s helped a lot.

Mind you, I’m not leaving the house any earlier than I ever have.  And I’m still getting to the first targeted location of my day (e.g., work, my son’s school, a dental appointment, whatever)  almost right on the dot. (I could definitely write a blog entry about all the machinations and skills — conscious and unconscious — that go into that kind of pin-point timing.)

Of course, with that kind of razor-edge timing, sometimes I screw up.  Sometimes I’m late. And I hate to be late. So there have been many mornings where I’ve been in an oh-so-familiar turmoil of anxious thoughts —  when I’ve cut it too close and I’m on my way to a destination where I may be (or am definitely going to be) late.

Here’s a sample of what it can be like To Be Me when I’m running late:

Why didn’t I leave earlier? Why didn’t I set my alarm earlier?  Why did I get so caught up in (writing my blog, coming up with ideas for groups, reading my e-mail, whatever)?  Why did I take such a long shower?  Why didn’t I nag (anybody else involved in my leaving the house) more skillfully?  Why didn’t I watch the clock more closely?  

Also, I can easily and smoothly shift into another Gear of Despair, from freaking out about past stuff I can’t change to catastrophizing about the future, which is usually some variant of the following:

Everybody is going to hate me for being late.

And another gear in this lovely torture machine involves shaming myself, which would involve words to this effect:

When will I ever learn?  What’s the matter with me?

I’ve been working hard on letting go of thoughts like that. And one thing that’s been helping is the title topic of this blog.

I’m leaving the house before I feel ready.

And I’m going to characterize that as an act of bravery. It’s brave to leave the house before I feel ready, since the morning preparations always include an Appearance  Enhancement portion, which can easily expand to the limits of (and beyond) the available time.  Getting dressed is mandatory, but there’s a lot of optional decision-making about What To Wear and How Good  I Have to Look before I leave.  And I’ve got a history of having lots of judgmental thoughts during this process, including my particularly annoying tendency of projecting judgment about how I look and how I’m dressed onto people I may encounter during the day.

(I’m not going to write more about that now, because I don’t want to waste any more time doing that, EVER, even for the purposes of writing this blog.)

For the past month or so, as I’m getting ready every morning, I dismiss every judgmental or worried thought that comes up about whether I’m Put Together Enough. I don’t have time for them!  I even head off  worries about any unobserved present or potential Shaming Wardrobe Malfunctions (e.g., inside-out clothes, price tags still attached, unobserved rips) with some What-The-Hell thoughts:

The people I see today will just have to deal with how I look, no matter what!  And if they’re going to judge me on that only, screw them!

Boy, that was fun to write.

And the mornings have been much more fun (and a lot less stressful).

So now, dear reader, I’m going to post this blog before I feel ready, too.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Day 8: Too ____, too ____, or just right? (Thanks a lot, Goldilocks.)

Oh, no!  I’ve been struggling, the last day or so, with certain types of judgmental, uncomfortable thoughts running through my mind.  (See how the title of this blog is deceptive? Maybe a  more accurate title would be “A Year of Living Judgmentally, AGAIN, But Maybe A Little Less So, I Hope, Because I’m Paying More Attention To It.”)

Anyway, this increase in judgmental thoughts are — I assume — bred by my fears about putting myself out there in new ways. I’m referring to my writing this blog and  — during the last couple of days — inviting a lot of people I know to follow it.

These lovely thoughts have included the following questions (with a certain recurring 3-letter word that starts with “t” and ends with “o”):

Am I posting too much?

Am I getting too caught up in how many friggin’ views I’m getting here?

For that matter, am I getting too few friggin’ views?

Are people going to get annoyed because I’m posting too often?

Are the “motifs” I’m using so far in each blog entry  (e.g., calling people “dear reader”) too goofy?

Have I invited too many people I know to follow this blog?

That last fear — about inviting too many people to read — led to quite the snowballing of “TOO” questions. I’ll put them in parentheses to try to contain them: (Have I made those invitations too indiscriminately? Are people going to feel too obligated to read what I write?   Are they going to start avoiding me because they’ll think they’re reading too little? Are they going to get sick of seeing too many e-mails about this?  Am I being too much of a bother?  Am I deluded and think I’m too important? Will my fears and expectations be too much for people, and will it damage my relationships?)

Arrrghhhh!  Shut up, all you “TOO” thoughts!  You’re too annoying!

And too painful.

The Fear of Being Too Whatever.  Yet another rampant Psychological Epidemic.

When I facilitate therapy groups, I hear this at almost every meeting: “I feel like I’m talking too much.”  At the end of a session, if I invite people to say how they thought they did during the meeting, almost everybody thinks they said either (1) too much or (2) too little.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say “I said just the right amount.”

It’s like there’s a razor-thin territory of Just Right, which is so difficult to reach and impossible to stay on.  That territory seems especially skinny in interactions with other people  — I guess — where  (1) there are no clear rules, (2) we don’t really know how we’re coming across, and (3) we don’t know what other people expect.

Have you had any fears lately about being TOO something, dear reader?

I’m planning on taking a vacation from those thoughts for the next few hours, or however long I can pull that off.  That’s going to be great — vacationing in a land where the word “too” does not exist.  While I’m sunning myself there,  I won’t worry about whether this post was too long or too short, too shallow or too deep, too anything!

Ahhhhh.

I hope that vacation doesn’t end too soon.

Ooops!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Day 7: The P-word

Okay, so on Day 3 of this blog, I wrote about “Feeling Too Good”, and I ended that post with a preview of coming attractions. I promised: Stay Tuned For More About This Tomorrow!

And then I wrote about something else the next day. However,  this wasn’t a clean break of pure avoidance. Oh, no.  Day 4’s writing included my writing about the fact that I wasn’t writing about what I had said I was going to write about. (Yes, these things can get convoluted.)

Since then,  I’ve continued following my muses-in-the-moment here. That is, I’ve written in this blog each day about something that has seemed more important and present. However, this avoidance of my previous promise has not been free and blissful, either.  My awareness of not having written that follow-up  piece has crept into most of the entries I’ve written since.

So this is making me think about the P-word.

PROCRASTINATION.

Procrastination is definitely a judgmental word, isn’t it?  Is it a useful one?

I know it’s an old one for me. Family members would sometimes describe me as a procrastinator. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because I’d wait until the last minute to do some things  (usually things I didn’t want to do).

And I’m still guilty of that, plenty of times.

However, if I AM going to wait until the last minute to do something, I wish to heaven I could block that procrastinated task totally out of my mind. But that’s not how it works for me. Usually, I’m exquisitely and uncomfortably aware of what I’m avoiding.  Geesh.  There’s got to be a way for procrastination to be more fun.

As I’ve gotten older, I have become more forgiving about my procrastinating tendencies.  I’ve also realized that procrastination for me often has to do with insecurity.  For example, I almost always wait until the last minute to do something that I think I might conceivably suck at doing — or, at least,  where I might fall short of my own expectations and wishes.

One thing I’ve historically procrastinated about is …….. writing.

I was an English major in college, and I hated writing assignments, because I knew what the process was going to be.  No matter what my intentions or attempts were to change my pattern, I WOULD wait until the last minute.  I would consider writing something ahead of time, start it, find it too hard, and get discouraged. I would find my paltry beginning attempts to write any paper too awkward, too trite, too obvious, and always too distant from what I wanted to express.  And I would stop.  Put it off. Until the last minute.

And then, I would have no choice. I would pull an all-nighter, struggling just to put coherent sentences together.  It was a miserable experience.  It was like psychological blackmail.  But that was the only way I could bring myself to write anything then. I had to back myself into a corner where I had no time, no wiggle room to judge.  It was like dulling the pain of insecurity with the drug of necessity.  Write it, even if it blows, because TIME IS UP!

As I got older, I stopped pulling all-nighters, but I still struggled with that almost unavoidable judgment of my writing, which made procrastination irresistible. Even though I’ve always liked a lot about writing and even sometimes believed I was pretty good at it,  when it came time for the rubber to hit the road — for the words to hit the writing surface — judgment and self-criticism would prevail.  And procrastinate I would, again.

So here’s another example where judgment hasn’t served me well.

And I find as I try to let go of judgment, I tend to procrastinate less. As I’ve striven towards a non-judgmental stance,  I’ve even reduced  my use of the word Procrastination.  Instead,  I seem to be using a different P-word instead.

Process.

I’ve tried to have faith in my own process.

And if I do seem to be avoiding something, it can actually help to tell myself this:

You have all the time you need.

Instead of telling myself I have to hurry up, that I better stop procrastinating, I tell myself the above phrase, instead.  And, somehow, that helps me move ahead.

That’s quite a concept, isn’t it, dear reader?

And you know what?  I’m not procrastinating writing for this blog.  I’m writing it at all times of the day.  I’m not waiting until the last minute. And I’m enjoying the Process.  As a matter of fact, I wrote this post THE DAY BEFORE IT WAS DUE!

Wow.

Here’s another P-word:

Phew!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

Day 6: The Ascending Coil

Note: Today’s blog entry is an adaptation of the intro from one of the books I’m working on. Also, it’s the first time I’ve tried to use an illustration in a post!

In my work as an individual and group therapist, there’s an image I like to use when someone is discouraged about a personal setback. A client might say, “I thought I was making progress, but now I’m back to square one.” Or “I was feeling so much better, and then I started feeling bad again. What’s wrong with me?” Or “I’ve already learned this! Why do I keep making the same mistakes?”

When I hear people say these things, I often draw a spiral or coil that looks something like this:

(Honestly, what I draw might be sloppier than that, but it does a better job implying onward and upward movement.  But, hey!  the above is the best  coil  I’ve been able to find online, so far.)

I tell people this image is based on the work of Carl Jung, who described the ascending coil as the typical way that people grow, learn, and develop through life. Jung said that people keep going over similar territory, encountering similar issues along their way. And those circles can feel like we’re stuck in a pattern, going through the same damn thing over and over again.

However, notice that every time we circle around, we’re also in a different place. Jung said that the same time we’re going around, we’re also simultaneously moving up and ahead. Each time we come around, we’re further along, with experiences and knowledge we didn’t have before. Therefore,  we can never go over the same exact territory the same way. It’s impossible. We simply cannot  fall back to square one (or square anything). We may be re-visiting similar territory, but we’re different,  and we’re doing it differently every time.

I’ve drawn and shown this ascending coil  to many people over the years. When I talk to people about it for the first time, I often see reactions that look similar to how I felt when it was first shown to me. When I first saw and thoughts about that coil,  I felt recognition. I felt relief. I realized that I was not alone in struggling with (and often judging) my progress through life.  And, best of all,  I felt a reassuring acceptance about where I’d been, where I was, and where I might be going.

Each of us has our own ascending mortal coil, our own path of learning and growth.  For most of us, the  early, crucial go-rounds included some difficult passages.  Perhaps we encountered some unexpected calamities, too early. Perhaps we didn’t get some things we really needed. Perhaps we lost track of our basic worthiness.  Not surprisingly, those early go-rounds tend to influence and shape what territories and lessons we re-encounter  as we move upward.

For me, those early, formative passages included my being born with an unusual heart, which resulted in my being hospitalized a lot when I was a kid, and my needing a cardiac pacemaker when both I and pacemaker technology were quite young.  (Bragging point: I am the longest surviving person with a pacemaker, in the world.) (Yes, I am.)*

A lot of those early hospital experiences have lingered for me in challenging ways — making hospitals places I’ve tended to avoid, whenever I’ve had that choice. Yet, I have recently chosen to return to the hospital in a different way:  as a treater, not a patient, and doing work I love.   Do those early memories add fearful echoes to my current experience? Of course they do.  But I’m getting to do things differently this time around, and it feels great (if exhaustingly scary at times).

Whatever your formative passages were, wherever you are in your life right now,  I assume you also have re-encountered certain important issues in your life — learning and re-learning  lessons as you move up your own ascending coil of Life.

These issues may cause pain, they may create self-judgment, they may be an incredible pain in the ass, but they are undeniable.  They’re important. They’re difficult lessons to swallow or learn. Otherwise, we wouldn’t keep bumping, slamming, and stumbling into them.

I know it always helps me  to imagine moving up, always up, as I wend my way around my progress through life — my personal ascending coil. It helps to visualize myself on that path, moving slowly but surely, especially when I feel lost, confused, stymied, disappointed, angry, fearful, and judgmental of myself and others.

I hope it can be a helpful image for you, dear reader, too.

© 2013 Ann Koplow


* Actually, no, I’m not, which I found out in 2014. See here for more about that.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Day 5: What I SHOULD (and SHOULDN’T) be doing

Here’s something else I like to rail about:

Should’s.

Another psychological epidemic that does not help, I passionately believe.

Examples of some recent Should thoughts for me: “I should write that second blog entry about Feeling Too Good, already.” “I shouldn’t have promised I’d write something the next day and then not followed through.”

Those are pretty mild Should’s, actually, causing manageable discomfort. I can shrug those off pretty easily.  But here are examples of More Painful Should’s I Have Known (personally and witnessing in others):

I should have known better.  

I should be at a different place in life.

I shouldn’t feel this way.

Painful.

Do you notice how Should’s are often about something we can’t change in the past? And do you notice how Should’s can be sticks we use to beat ourselves up, as a way to motivate ourselves to do something? If you use Should’s in that way, let me ask you this: do they work?  And if they do “work” at times, what toll do they take?  What effect do they have on you? Are there ways you might motivate yourself more gently, less overwhelmingly, less exhaustingly, more effectively?

A friend said the other day that he has just started noticing the Should’s in his thoughts, and, with some shock, he’s realizing how constantly they come up. He’s noticing an endless stream of these suckers running through his head: I should know this already, I should have gotten more done, I shouldn’t be doing that this way, should this, shouldn’t that, should should should ALL THE FRIGGIN’ TIME.

Like I said, a Psychological Epidemic.

Okay, so far in This Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, I think I’ve identified three Psychological Epidemics.  (I’m now going to re-read my own posts  and double-check this) (and increase the views but not the visitors, I’m newbie-ly guessing).

Yep!  Here are the three I’ve identified so far: (1) Caring What Other People Think, (2) The Fear of Feeling Too Good,  and (3) Should’s.

By the way, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  has a term for  what I’m calling Psychological Epidemics. CBT calls them Cognitive Distortions.   Should’s are one of the 13 Cognitive Distortions identified by CBT. (Another cognitive distortion is Mindreading, which, as you can see, is related to Caring What People Think.) (The topic of Mindreading, I’m SURE, will reappear in future blog entries.) (And by predicting that, I’m not just Fortune Telling, another one of the 13 distortions.)

I think that term — “Cognitive Distortion” — can sound pretty judgmental. Somebody might feel like they’re being called “distorted” for thinking in Should’s. That’s  why I sometimes use the term “unhelpful thoughts” instead.

But whatever we wanna call ’em, we all have ’em.  Or let me be more precise. I’ve yet to meet anybody who doesn’t think in Should’s.

And here’s another Should I witness all the time: “I Shouldn’t Be Thinking in Shoulds.”

Arrrghh!  Look how endless and self-perpetuating the judgment can be!

So I believe that — no matter how we try — we’re not going to stop thinking in Should’s.  However,  noticing and naming Shoulds — and other unhelpful thoughts — can help. A LOT.

Let me put it this way: if you don’t notice an Unhelpful Thought/Cognitive Distortion,  it will feel like the TRUTH. An unchallenged and indisputable truth.

And it’s not, dear reader.

(Should I have ended that way?)  (Yes!)

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day 4: What is this blog, really, anyway?

In the previous post, I promised that I would say more about the rampant fear of Feeling Too Good and the consequences thereof.  I felt pretty happy and clever yesterday about using a “cliff hanger” at the end of that post, which — I thought — would help invite you, dear reader, to return the next day and read again.  I also thought that device — that link, that Preview of Coming Blog Attractions — would help motivate me to write something the next day without too much effort.

But the downside of that clever plan was the restriction inherent in that, which I’m encountering now.  My heart is not really into continuing that topic right now; other issues (including “How do we balance our needs with other people’s needs??”) feel much more present for me. So I could write about THAT.  Hmmmm.  That brings up more questions for me: Should I show some “discipline” and continue with the roadmap I had laid down the day before?  Or be more loyal and true to What Feels Important In The Moment?

And THOSE Questions are now bringing up something even more fundamental (and probably “developmentally appropriate”) for somebody starting their First Blog Ever. That is, something else I’m bumping up against right now is a lack of clarity (for myself) of What This Blog Is.  I was able to write an “About” description yesterday, which was real and authentic (and thank goodness I realized that I needed to write an About Description, rather than  letting the default non-description “This is an example of a post …” continue to scream Clueless Newbie for much longer).   But I’m still figuring out the details about What This Blog Is And Could Be, for myself and for you.

Is it going to be very personal?  Am I going to use this to write about difficult memories?  Am I going to use it as a way to work through issues as they come up?  Am I going to excerpt stuff that I’ve been writing for my book(s), to see how those thoughts work in this kind of format?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know what this blog is going to be, because I’m just starting it. And I know it’s going to change, take shape, develop norms, structure, and motifs as I go along.  But those haven’t emerged yet, and anything is possible at this point.  That’s something I love about beginnings,for sure.  But what’s scary about beginning anything, though, is that I’m Not Good At It Yet.  And how could I be?   I’m not practiced or experienced. I haven’t discovered enough yet.

This brings to mind another lesson I keep learning. I just can’t be good at something before I’ve done it.  I’ve got to make mistakes, try different things, stumble, bumble, and learn.  I’ve got to have faith in my process, and not expect myself (or anybody else) to be Great Right Away.

I’ve been writing down some helpful phrases lately, for myself and others. I added a new one the other day which has been helping:

It’s good enough right now AND I can make it better.

It applies here and everywhere, doesn’t it?

Thanks for visiting, dear reader.

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Day 2: Other people’s thoughts.

Hey!  I started a blog and wrote an entry yesterday.  Tres cool.  And, look at me, I’m writing another post, the very next day!

But I have to confess: some judgmental thoughts have crept in about this already.  Big surprise. And a lot of those have to do with what other people might be thinking. For example:

Did people like what I wrote?  Did they understand what I was trying to say? Did I come across as (smug, unhappy, too whatever)? And what will people think of this post? And how will I keep them interested in future posts?

Geesh. It’s exhausting.

I don’t know about you, but when I mind-read — that is, when I guess or assume what somebody else is thinking — I tend to go to the negative.  I recognize why that is — why not be prepared for the worst?  If you assume that people are going to judge what you do, maybe that will make you do a better job.

Nah.

In the individual and group therapy I do, we talk a lot about judgment. And sometimes people will make a case for how expecting the worst can be useful — as a way to protect ourselves and to Be Prepared.

I don’t think so, though. I constantly see how assuming the negative gets in the way. It’s draining and it screws up your ability to experience what’s actually happening.  If you assume that other people are thinking judgmental thoughts about you, that’s likely to make you more self-conscious and invite your own self doubts.

Caring What Other People Think, and the pain that often accompanies that — it’s rampant.   But what power do thoughts  — just thoughts rattling around in people’s minds — really have? ? I’m not talking about the fear about the thoughts — which can have a huge effect — but the thoughts themselves.

There’s an exercise I love doing in groups. This exercise, among other things, shows how other people’s thoughts and opinions are not as powerful as we might fear.  (This exercise is adapted from something that David Burns, a Cognitive Behavioral therapist, describes in his book, “Feeling Good.”)  Here’s what I do: I tell everybody in the group to think the best possible thoughts they might have about ME.  I wait while they’re doing that and try to look modest.  Then, I tell them to have the unkindest, most critical thoughts they can have about me.  After I let that go for a little while (people often avert my eyes as they’re getting into that), I then say, “Okay. You had the positive thoughts and the negative thoughts about me. You know what? Here’s the deal.  NONE OF THAT TOUCHED ME.”

Man, I love doing.  Not only does that BLOW AWAY any worries I might have had about what other people might be thinking, I have seen some people look transformed as they realize this: those thoughts they feared in others (and maybe also in themselves) are powerless. Powerless!  Just air!

So that’s always great.

One more thing before I post this sucker:  when we assume what other people are thinking, no matter what it is, that gets in the way of our seeing those people clearly, in all their complexity.  And that’s a loss, isn’t it?

For example,  I started out writing this blog entry imagining you, dear reader, as a potential judger and dismisser. And when I had insecure moments about what I was creating, I could even imagine you having negative facial expressions — impatience, boredom, skepticism, etc.   THAT didn’t help me write this. What helped me was to let go of those limiting assumptions about you. As a result, I could enjoy the amazing opportunity of welcoming you — a complex human being,  having lots of different and shifting thoughts, opinions,  reactions, feelings, expressions–  to spend a little time with me here.

Much better!  Thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Day 1 in The Year of Living Non-Judgmentally

I’m going to start this first post in my first blog (a post where I  WILL explain what this blog is about) by writing about a couple of bad days I had last week — the week before my self-dubbed Year of Living Non-Judgmentally.

Twice within the last week, I  felt bad about myself and judged many things about the way I am.  I felt shame about what I call “hubris”  (that is, the hope or belief that I matter to the world and to others).  I also spent hours playing a mindless computer game (Peggle, for any fellow mindless computer game enthusiasts out there) as a way to self-soothe and to try to feel better.  But that didn’t work. I just felt worse.

During these bad days, I seemed to be playing Peggle compulsively as a way to avoid doing some things that I Should Be Doing, including (1) working on the book that I had finally gathered enough hubris to start writing last August, (2) finding out more details about how to start, write, and share a blog,  and (3) figuring out ways to celebrate A Big Birthday, coming up fast in February.  But I didn’t want to work on any of these tasks. When I forced myself to think about them, I couldn’t come up with any ideas I liked.

The few ideas that occurred to me seemed inadequate.  Problems, concerns, anxieties, and even possible disasters were foremost in my mind, like these: How am I going to make sense of all the disorganized stuff I’ve been writing for my book?  How can I — who seems to know less about blogs than anybody else I know — learn enough to begin writing and sharing by January 1?  How can I celebrate my birthday in ways that are meaningful and fun for me and also for the people in my life  (that is, won’t insult, inconvenience, or otherwise bother them)?

And, this was the Big, Painful Thought that kept occurring to me:  Who Did I think I Was — that a blog, book, or birthday of mine would be worthwhile or matter to others?

So I had a couple of bad days last week, in a typical, very familiar way.  That is, I felt paralyzed, shameful, and negative about the past and the future. Also, I felt embarrassed and confused about how great I had been feeling during some recent  good days, where I had felt confident, hopeful, pleased with the way things had been going where I work, grateful for the people in my life, and lucky and thankful for what I had.

Going through this series of “bad” days and “good” days over the last week has brought up, again, a lesson I keep learning these days. (The book I’m writing has the working title of “AFOG:  Another F***ing Opportunity for Growth”, and this lesson is A Very Important F***ing Opportunity for Growth, apparently.)

And here is the lesson:  When I am having a bad (hopeless, judgmental, depressed, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) day, I WILL come out the other side, AND I will have gifts (ideas, knowledge, wisdom, solutions) that I can use. (Among the gifts I got this past week were some things to write here, in this first post of my first blog.)

I forget this wonderful lesson — which I’ve encountered hundreds of times, it seems —  EVERY TIME I’m having a bad day.  I just can’t see that another side exists, when I’m immersed in the shame, judgment, and confusion of the bad times.

I’ve been working really hard lately trying to remember this lesson, as well other things that help.  Indeed, another possible title for my book is  “Doing More of What Helps and Less of What Doesn’t Helps” and that — in a nutshell — is one way I see the process of growing and healing, for myself and others.

So here it comes, folks. Why I’m Writing This Blog. It’s simply this:  I’ve learned that Judgment Doesn’t Help, and Letting Go of Judgment Does Help.

What do I mean by judgment?  Judgment is that oh-so-human way of thinking where we focus on what should be, rather than what is. It’s when we focus on outcomes rather than on process or journey. Since I’m human, I’m not going to stop judging this year (or ever). The Year of Living Non-Judgmentally is an ideal, an unreachable heaven of a goal, a wonderful reach that will exceed my grasp (I’m quoting Robert Browning, a poet I love).

The best I can do in the year ahead is to notice when I’m having judgmental thoughts and to gently let go of them. The more  I let go of judgments  or regrets about what’s happened in the past as well as judgments or anxieties about the future, the more I can be present to what’s going on RIGHT NOW (including the possible joy and beauty in this moment).

Now, I know this blog has taken a turn for the gloopy (my son and my bofyriend sometimes use that word about me), but, honestly, there’s no way to talk about letting go of judgment without sounding gloopy, schmaltzy, New-Age-y or (insert your own adjective here if you’re not crazy about this kind of stuff). Yes, there’s gloopiness ahead in future posts,  but also — I hope — some humor, insight, and other ways to engage you, dear reader, as the year unfolds.

So I hope you can join me along the way, in My Year of Living Non-Judgmentally.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

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