I've spent nearly a year intentionally working on myself, my mental health, going to therapy, reading, and learning so that I can unravel the things that are hamstringing me.
I don't have it figured out yet but I've learned a lot more about myself, why I operate the way that I do and I've gained greater clarity about myself.
I'm not really a goal-oriented person. Setting goals, making calendar appointments, settling into cultivating new habits annoys me—I don't like it. I don't like the feeling of having to develop a discipline when I'd rather do literally anything else. The process of goal setting seems linear and lacks creativity. Why not just live the way I want to live?
To understand those questions, I need to start with why I feel the way that I feel about being more intentional about goal setting. Goals make me feel nervous like I'm setting myself up for failure and that's because I'm only thinking about the end result. Let's say I want to become a fluent Spanish speaker. I begin to think how long will it take to develop fluency? How much practice will this require? What will I have to give up to achieve this goal? When instead I should think about the very next step. What's that first step to figuring out how I'm going to become a fluent Spanish speaker? Maybe that first step is setting aside thirty or fifteen minutes per day and blocking it out on my calendar three days a week. Or maybe it's simply downloading Duolingo or maybe joining a Meetup group that engages in conversational Spanish (yes, these meetups exist).
And maybe reframing would help. Rather than thinking about these things as goals maybe I ought to think about these things as projects to work on. I do this when it comes to technology—why not do the same when it comes to setting a goal or objective.
I'm a runner and since the pandemic began, I haven't been consistent. I used to run three days a week and on weekends I'd commonly run 10+ miles throughout LA and I loved it. But I fell off my consistent practice of running. I would do one day a week, sometimes two, but almost never three. My sustainable mileage began to decrease and on some days I would force myself to run seven, eight, or nine miles and because I hadn't trained back up to that distance my body felt it, I felt like shit, I ached and my body was out of it for days and I would miss other days to run. It sucked.
A couple of things have come to mind. I needed to develop a stronger sense of kindness to myself aka compassion, I was so hard on myself you used to knock out ten miles easily, don't be a wuss. That was the internal monologue and I wasn't being fair to myself, I was knocking myself down for no good reason rather than appreciating the mileage that I could run. Thinking about all the runs it would take me to get back to ten miles was daunting, it would take weeks, maybe a few months to get to a point where I could run an easy ten again.
I talked with one of my running buddies and she was down to do a ten-mile challenge with me. Having an accountability partner is super helpful but not always necessary. In this case, it helped me to develop not only consistency through making commitments, but it helped me to understand that the end goal is not the thing you chase—no. The thing you chase is the first step, then the next step after that, and so on and so on.
Yesterday, I ran eight and a half miles (8.42mi according to Strava), and when I look at it, I love the fact I did and even more I loved how I felt. I felt strong, I felt like I could go longer. But it didn't suddenly happen, I didn't just bust out eight miles. It took two months of running to be able to comfortably run that distance. We started at three miles, then four miles, eventually seven miles, back down to five miles, and then eight miles. But it took sequential steps, a commitment (or more specifically betting on yourself).
Setting goals or making projects is an important thing to set structure for one's life and this isn't a secret, a lot has been written about the benefits of goal setting. Sometimes what you need is a reminder—a book I read recently has helped me to remember this.
I struggle with my self-image. I always have. The struggle I have with my self-image is a trauma response, I believe, that developed when I was young. I grew up in a traumatic environment and I developed a self-belief that the bad things that happened to me as I child were my fault somehow—and they weren't, I was a kid, the things that happened to me were not my fault. The benefit of therapy helped me to break down my thought patterns and understand better.
The practice that has helped me was first to understand that my thoughts are not always reality, that my subconscious is sending signals/thoughts constantly. With that understanding, I can pause and call out those negative thoughts hold them up to the light of scrutiny, and ask Are these thoughts based on reality? Is this even true? Am I just beating up on myself for now reason? This practice has been helpful as it's helped me to dump less on myself and to begin cultivating a better understanding and, more importantly, self-compassion which has long been absent from my self-image and perception of myself.
This practice has also allowed me to see my mistakes and not completely shit all over myself for the things I've done that I regret. Specifically, I can look at the past, see my errors, acknowledge them and let them be while also learning the lessons that are there to learn. Being able to self-correct and move forward has been helpful especially since I have had such issues with living in my past and beating myself up for those things I regret.
Being able to acknowledge a mistake or a behavior pattern that needs changing isn't enough if you don't act on it. And I've acted on it by learning more about myself, reading and increasing my knowledge, and talking to a therapist. But also, being able to slowly tune my behavior and actions to act in ways that are in step with my personal values is an important set of actions as well.
All of these things begin to work, over time, in shifting my self-image. I've begun to see my power, my value, and not only condemning myself for my past mistakes but also being able to appreciate the good things I've done—I've done far more good than bad. And with all of this, I understand that no one else sets your value. YOU set YOUR value; you control your narrative (h/t EC3, if you know you know), no one else does. When you empower yourself with that knowledge it makes it easy to break from behaviors (and relationships) that no longer serve you.
Putting it All Together (aka Willingness to Make Mistakes)
This is the area where I need to do the most work. The example I have for this is buying a house. I've spent the last several years building my savings, investing money, and putting myself in a position to buy a house. During the Summer of 2021, I went through the preapproval process for a mortgage. I was approved for an irresponsibly large amount of money for a mortgage (yes, that's a flex and it's cool because I never thought I would be approved for such a thing).
I searched around for houses and, in Los Angeles, houses are expensive. Instead of seeing the opportunity of being a homeowner in the city I've fallen in love with, I could only see failure. What if I can't keep up with the mortgage payments? What if my business fails? What if my house breaks down and I can't fix it? What if I can't repair anything in my house? I psyched myself out of buying a house and I went through the process of a mortgage for pretty much nothing.
The thing is this: to get the things we want for life, to develop our own happiness, we have to have the courage to do so. And, more often than not, I haven't had the courage to go after the things I really want—I've been complacent, I haven't tried, I've let fear get in my way. It's not just fear, there's a combination of things at play here, some of it is negative self-image, fear of being financially destitute, and unresolved trauma.
What I've learned is that to love and to accept love requires a lot of bravery, it also requires the ability to love yourself, and it also requires healthy doses of compassion for others (and yourself). I've also learned that one must be willing to take risks, be willing to make mistakes, and be willing to fuck up. When we take a step forward, build momentum, it becomes easier to course-correct as opposed to sitting still and not doing anything, not making any momentum. I've had a lack of bravery and compassion for myself (and others). I can acknowledge that and I can file that away to the past and the person I was for whom these things were true. I can be nostalgic for a future where I am a bit more bold and brave and more accepting of myself.
I'm not there yet, I have a little more learning to do, I need to make some decisions about my life and take some action on a few different things.
Maybe you're like me, in a similar place, maybe you are a few steps ahead in the journey. I'd like to know what you think and what you've developed to get the things you want from life or to at least begin taking the necessary steps to get there.