Commit to yourself

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I appreciate the irony of the title of this piece given the name of this website, but here goes anyway.

I’ve talked here about the forgiveness and patience we need to have for ourselves when our efforts at self-improvement don’t go according to what are normally completely unrealistic schedules.

The flip side of this I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while (and for which I now forgive myself for the delay on haha) is that real change takes commitment. It means finding things that still seem meaningful to you even after they let you down the first time, or the first time you fail to follow through.

Things they don’t tell you or don’t tell you enough in self-improvement: you are going to fail. Your new outlook on the world is going to go out the window the first and third and fiftieth times you face an old trigger. You will wonder what the point of any of this is.

I think it’s safe to say that Buddhist monks are just about the non plus ultra of self-improvement, at least in the contemporary West. But we’re not looking for the years of commitment. We’re looking for the easily translatable technique that will distill a religious tradition and a lifetime of devotion into a TED talk, scrolling past which on Facebook is supposed to change our lives forever.

In another piece I discussed finally being struck one day by the fact that it even took the Buddha 7 years of doing literally nothing else to reach enlightenment, and that’s how I finally understood I needed to forgive myself for not being instantly transformed by whatever meditation technique I had read about that day.

But also…think of what 7 years of anything could get you. 7 years of playing an instrument or speaking a language or not constantly eroding your own self-esteem by judging yourself for your lack of growth.

You can make a different kind of commitment when you understand that you don’t have a performance review tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Despite all the Instagram tags we follow, it’s not now or never, and you are not doomed if you’re not crushing it.

The things we believe have to be big enough to let us down, and we have to be big enough to be let down by them. Most of all we have to be big enough to be let down by ourselves. I’m not here to tell anyone what to believe, but if your belief system isn’t big or bold enough to account for a bad day or even a bad five minutes, you’ve trapped yourself inside a new anxiety. You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect. Here, let me say that again:

You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect.

Most people for most of their lives will experience challenges and they will also have reactions to those challenges. Finding it inside to try again is how you stop the cure from being worse than the symptom.

Don’t buy into ideas that say they’ll cure your anxiety or depression today, tomorrow or next week. They will use your guilt and sadness about them not working against you.

Instead, do those things that slowly, day by day, erode the rock of what is hurting you. And then do more of them. Make good habits, including the habit of seeing tomorrow as another day not to have bad habits. Anxiety is a habit that becomes a disease. Disrupt the habit. 

You have probably spent most of your life up until now building the habits that make up your anxiety, depression or other illness, so you have no reason to expect an instant turnabout. Your old school friend is wrong, and so is that guru: you can’t just stop being anxious or depressed. But you can make every second a chance to change course.

TLDR: Long-term commitment to yourself is worth it. Identify the things that make you feel better without also asking you to feel bad about yourself and then make habits of them. Everything else is clutter that isn’t really contributing to your growth.

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