Grow Yourself! (so you can take control of your life)

Ok, so we’ve made our New Years’ resolutions and it’s now the end of February. Most of us want to improve our lives—by improving ourselves, our health, physical and emotional, our relationships, and our effectiveness in life. We know what we “should” be doing, but…

Making changes in our lives– changing routines, habits, and overcoming dysfunctional patterns— all involve learning to think differently. In doing so we can become more efficient and effective, more focused and deliberate; healthier both physically and emotionally.

Why do we put off what we know is best for our body physically and emotionally? The things that we know would help us function more effectively?

How Our Beliefs About Ourselves Can Hold Us Back

We fall into patterns of thinking, beliefs, and behaviors that take work to change. Setting behavior-change goals without changing the way we think is usually frustrating. Our beliefs, our judgments and biases become fairly fixed as we grow up, and become our reality. These beliefs include how we judge our self, how we believe others would judge us and what that means. These beliefs are usually very black and white and tend to box us in mentally. They cause insecurity, distract us, and limit us from realizing our full potential in life. One consequence of that is we resort to more chemicals to establish equilibrium, whether that means caffeine for more energy, medication to sleep or de-stress, alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to “unwind”, disconnect, “release” or numb-out.

Accepting Outside Guidance

When we learn to step outside of our box– examine the way we’ve been thinking, and challenge our belief system– new efficiencies and opportunities open up. To do that we usually need outside feedback, guidance, reading, workshops etc. and to be coachable- willing to take in different perspectives. The most important tool in that process is Mindfulness Training (MFT) which increasingly trains us to step back from our automatic thinking, judging, and acting.

Stop Thinking In Terms of Black or White Because We’re  All Normal

A very common example of unproductive thinking is something based on our beliefs while we are growing up—that we are either normal or abnormal. “Good or bad”, “strong or weak”, “okay or not”. That’s twisted! All black or white! Along with that come beliefs we’ve made up as children about what it “means” if we are normal and what it “means” if we are not. Think about it. ALSO VERY TWISTED! No matter how much you may try to convince me (a Psychiatrist) otherwise, there is no valid definition of what makes a person normal or not. A person with diabetes is normal, as are people with depression, anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder. Same goes for good versus bad, and down the line. We all have “good” and “bad” in us. We all have strengths and weaknesses. No one has a right to judge another as a human being. You can see that if a person believes that they even could possibly be worthless, or “abnormal” or “bad” then a lot of energy is wasted worrying about that, avoiding the possibility of exposure or confirmation, and afraid of trying something and failing. Compare that with a person who tells his/her self: “There’s no way I can be worthless, or “a failure”. We all have strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. In fact, if I’m not failing sometimes I’m not pushing myself to my fullest potential”.

When we try to look at the black and white beliefs (and fears) from childhood, we can see on some level that they’re irrational, but they still have a hold on us since we’ve grown up around them. They “feel real” and we take them as reality for us, even though we may apply different rules to others. The mistake most people make is waiting for those beliefs to change. They won’t, they’re wired in pretty firmly. However, you can work to separate yourself from them and neutralize them.

What We Can Gain From Letting Go of Judgment

Judging—about whether or not we’re ok, or whether or not someone else is normal—is toxic. The language involved is very damaging, shaming, and debilitating. Criticism, blame, and negativity rob us of motivation and inspiration. How many of us do this to our self? It’s very automatic, but we can learn to break out of those cycles. It really doesn’t matter why we do it. Learning to be non-judgmental—towards yourself and others- will free you to take risks, self-correct and adapt, and inspire others.

What you can do NOW to feel better and get more done:

I have distilled and simplified important guidelines and principles that help us all function better and suffer less. I’ve learned them both as a psychiatrist and as a human being. In my writing I call them Mind Gems. The number at the end of the paragraph refers to the related Mind Gem.

  1. Practice stepping back (as often as possible) and asking yourself “What’s happening now? … What am I thinking? (Is there any “Black or white” going on?)… What am I feeling?… What are my priorities?” Look for your judging, tag it, and set it aside. This IS Mindfulness. {2,11,13,18}
  2. Practice NOT REACTING to your thoughts, feelings, or impulses. A thought is just a thought, a feeling is just a feeling. Take time to work them through before choosing the best action. {3}
  3. Start a process to decide the following for yourself:
    1. What are my values? What character traits do I want to work toward as goals? {6}
    2. What are my priorities in life. Be sure they aren’t someone else’s agenda for you. {6}
    3. What are my strengths? My weaknesses? {most}
    4. What are my basic needs in life, Biologically, Psychologically, Socially, and Spiritually? {1}
  4. Learn humility. {5}
  5. Sort out what you have to do, versus what you want to do. Happiness comes from increasing the things we want to do and decreasing the things we don’t want to do. Working hard developing skills usually helps pay off with more power to make choices later in life.
  6. Develop the habit of doing what you have to do before doing what you want to do. It feels a lot better that way. {7}
  7. Start changing the language you use to talk to yourself. Criticism, negativity… not very motivating, to others or to our selves. Try compassion, non-judging, supportive, encouraging… make deals with yourself! {22}

The Brain and Mindfulness

Newer imaging techniques can now show what happens in the brain when we feel strong emotions, or when we are utilizing one part versus another. While we do most of our thinking in our “cortex” our emotions and impulses come from our “limbic” area, which is deeper inside. We can be most effective in our lives when we learn to step back from our automatic thinking, our emotions, and our impulses, as we go along, in order to make the most objective decisions for action. There is a part of the brain called the “Orbito-Frontal Cortex” (OFC) that integrates the information coming in and helps choose the best action at the moment. Mindfulness Training (MFT) strengthens the OFC.

What Is Mindfulness?

MFT is not meditation, nor relaxation, but more of a “centering” and “clarifying” of what’s happening in the moment, internally and externally, without getting distracted by judgments, while staying focused on what’s important. As you learn and practice MFT (see resources on my website) you will be identifying and gradually eliminating judging. THAT FEELS WONDERFUL! It will help you start clarifying what is important to you, your values and priorities.

The Promise of Mindfulness

It’s enlightening and liberating to shift from a life of “trying to keep up with what I have to do” to a more internally-guided life (“what I want to do”). In addition to combating judgmentalness and learning to be present, you will want to understand your emotions so that you can “hear” your inner self, in order to decide what you want and don’t want. You can give yourself permission to decide your own life values, priorities, and character traits that you would like to build in yourself. You can learn to regulate your emotions and how to calm yourself when anxious or upset. This helps with confidence and willingness to try new things. A lot of this happens when you change the language you use in your head.

Rather than worry about whether or not you’re good enough, or normal or not, or how others might judge you, decide for yourself what your Biological, Psychological, Social, and Spiritual needs are. Prioritize them, and you will have more to put in to life.

Mindfulness practice helps us break free and stay free!

The Lifehacker article that inspired this post

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