Hi Friends. I hope your Monday has been really lovely.
- I am grateful for a super productive day off, and for having shared it with wonderful friends
- I am grateful for Warby Parker
- I am grateful for kind-hearted people who care. About things. About the people around them. About the impact they make on the world.
Every now and again, do you feel like there is a particular phrase that keeps popping into your life – something you find yourself saying to others, or that other people say to you with increasing frequency? An idea that becomes a common denominator between yourself and groups of friends who don’t even know each other? Then you happen to read about it in books, hear other people saying things related to this concept on the street, and find yourself meditating on the idea in a variety of situations? For awhile now, this has been one such phrase, in my life. If you spend any time with me at all, and struggle with self-doubt even remotely, you’ve probably even heard me say it:
“We never see ourselves the way that other people do.”
This has been bleeding into my life in all sorts of ways lately, and I just want to tease it out in a way that might be meaningful for you, too.
Let’s say that someone were to ask you to talk about about the backs of your knees.
Who would you trust to give the most accurate description – yourself, or your pet dog (assuming we lived in a universe where dogs could talk, and that you are a human who wears shorts or skirts from time to time). Probably the dog, assuming they have good eyesight and a decent vocabulary, would be the better candidate to speak about the backs of your knees. They are part of YOUR body, of course, but you’re not really able to see them so well, not like the dog can, and does. I’m not advocating that we base our self worth on the opinions of others (though dogs are great, because they love unconditionally), or look to other people to tell us everything we need to know about ourselves, but I am saying this: maybe we would do well not to take our own own opinions of ourselves quite so seriously. Maybe we would do well to remember that our view might be just a little bit warped. And that ultimately, our inability to see ourselves accurately can serve as a great unifier, and one of those little things that can make us feel less alone.
How often are you flabbergasted by the way a friend, family member, partner, etc. views themselves?
Pause a moment for this little exercise. To execute, or to just theorize about (because I’ll be totally honest – whenever a book or article has an exercise, no matter how much I love the book, I usually skip ahead and say I’ll come back to the exercises, and never do. So, do as you will – I won’t judge…)
- Think about five of the most important people in your life right now, or the five people you feel closest to at the moment. Or just five people you’re fascinated by
- What are the first five words you would use to describe them, without thinking too hard about it? The most immediate descriptors that leap to your brain
- You could go and ask them for the five words they would use to describe themselves, or for a different angle on this exercise – think back in your brain about their self-talk. When they speak about themselves, what kinds of language do they use? Or just based on their actions, how do you think they would describe themselves?
- How does it add up?
What are some of the most ridiculous things you’ve heard the people you love say about themselves? Maybe comments that seem to you totally off-base, about their:
- Some aspect of appearance
- Ability in any manner of areas
- Etc, etc, etc
How often do you note a major disconnect in their statements with the reality that you observe by spending time with them on the regular? So my theory is – if their perspective isn’t a totally complete picture, chances are that the same is true for us, about ourselves.
And why does any of this matter? It matters because the language we use about ourselves is powerful. The more we feed the negative thoughts and perceptions we have about ourselves, the more that type of language becomes a habit. And the more it becomes a habit, the more it becomes impossible to look in the mirror (literally or figuratively) and recognize ourselves at all. And why waste valuable time and energy punishing ourselves over something that might not even be real?
It’s also problematic because once we’re in deep enough, all that negative thought starts having an impact on our actions. And then once those actions become enough of a habit, we run the risk of becoming the thing we never actually were, but have turned ourselves into.
As in “Oh, I’m a terrible public speaker.” (This isn’t the truth, but we say it is/send this message to ourselves over and over). Over time, this thought turns into active anxiety, shortness of breath, clamminess, freezing up onstage – because we’ve started actually believing we are a terrible public speaker. After enough time, being a terrible public speaker becomes our reality. This is a gross oversimplification of course, but you get the picture.
So what to do.
Here’s what I’m going to be experimenting with, when struck by a bout of negative self-perception:
- Remind myself that this is recycled language, talking. That the criticism I’m crucifying myself with is probably stuff I’ve used hundreds of times. It’s a habit, and nothing more. I can choose to observe it apathetically, and let it go before getting caught up in the emotional part of it
- If I don’t succeed with this, reminding myself that the emotional part of the negative thought is a habit, too. That just because my body is having a strong response to this negativity, that STILL doesn’t mean it’s based in any reality
- Try my best to have a better sense of humor when that mean little voice gets talking
- Remind myself that at the end of the day, when I become obsessed with a negative thought about myself, the best answer of all is almost always to reach OUT, not in. Taking the focus away from the negative thought diminishes its power, and gives me a greater perspective on my very little place in this great big world : )
- Most of the time when we criticize ourselves, it isn’t constructive. It’s just like a mean kid on the playground shoveling out dirt that isn’t helpful or meant to do anything other than harm. Name your kid. Send him to detention where he belongs
- None of this takes away from the fact that most of us are striving to be self-aware individuals. And maybe some of us are, in certain respects. But I think the main thing is to recognize that even the most self-aware people are still subject to an inaccurate view of some parts of ourselves
Also, I really enjoy reflecting the good I see in other people back to them – because chances are, they don’t see it – not in the way that I do. Not in the way that you do. And sometimes just letting a person know what we see can bring a great deal of good. When we are caught up in ourselves, illuminating the beauty we observe in others – in a sincere way, reroutes that energy into something positive, and often healing. Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists – you’re worth it : )