It’s that time of year again! There is less than a month until the new year, and people are already thinking about their resolutions.
New Year or not, most people want to progress. They want to grow and be better than they were previously. Here’s the problem. I think on the way to personal growth, many people try to change everything about themselves without ever examining the whole person. Instead, they see a few things that need to improve and decide it’s best to just start over; be someone else. It’s like we are all shopping online for a new body, wardrobe, and personality.
Me: Alexa, send me Taraji’s body, Gabrielle’s wardrobe, J. K’s career success, Joyce’s spirituality, Maya’s wisdom, and Erykah’s vibe. Oh, add Michelle’s presence and drive.
Alexa: Would you like that shipped in Prime?
Me: Why, yes, please! New me in two days!
I’m going to ask you why?
Let me ask a better question. Do you like yourself?
When I fell into depression, I did not like me as I was, so I went online shopping for a new me. I saw too many flaws, and, at the time, nothing about myself was redeemable. The woman in the mirror was sad, kind of gray, lifeless with dead eyes, and looked vaguely like a Teletubby when seated. She was also boring, lonely, and dreamless.
I did a virtual vision board and literally looked for women that I thought I should be. Not women I wanted to emulate, but women I thought I should be. It could not have been good for my mental state that I was always telling myself, “You’d be better if you…”
After a lot of self-reflection, and some not-so-helpful self-improvement books, I began to ask myself a crucial question. Is the issue who I am or what I am doing?
Turns out, I love me! Even depressed, I loved myself as a person. Dammit, I’d be my friend! I sing too much—often off-key—and I never know all the lyrics. Other than that annoying facet, I’m a decent friend.
So, the problem was never with my personality. It was all about my actions. Or, in many instances, my lack of action.
I was a Teletubby because I stopped being active and did a ton of emotional eating. I had no vision because I had stopped doing the things I love. I felt stuck because I was focusing on the minutia instead of the big picture. I was lonely because, in the haze of depression, I had secluded myself, shutting everyone out.
These are all perfectly correctable pain points. More important, none of them have a thing to do with who I am as a person. These are not character flaws. The pain points are byproducts of behavior patterns. And everyone knows behaviors can be changed.
You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.
People say things about themselves like I am fat; I am depressed; I am broke; I am unhappy; I hate my life; I never win. All these statements assign an attribute to the person instead of the present state or behavior. These statements say the person is damaged and unrepairable. They ascribe permanency to something that is most likely just a state.
A state is temporary. It is ever-changing. Think of people as buckets of water left outside all year. The water will go through several states, sometimes in the same week, depending on the conditions. Melting, freezing, evaporating, and getting low, getting murky from stagnation, clearer with fresh rainfall, etc. But it is still water. It’s still useful. It is still essential to life. A human can’t drink from a bucket of dirty water, but bugs can breed in it, birds can bathe in it, and it’s an excellent place for a frog or two. Dirty, clean, hot, or cold, it doesn’t change its basic properties.
Now, I am not one to wear rose-colored glasses. Sometimes, the changes required of a person are not state-based. Sometimes a person needs to make changes to how they perceive and interact with the world to counterbalance an unproductive personality trait.
If you are mean to everyone, pessimistic about everything, and have always been that way, that is not a temporary state, it’s a personality trait. You may want to consider doing some inner work to improve that.
Before you start thinking of resolutions and working on your list of things to change about yourself, really meditate and reflect on these questions. Do I like who I am? Do I like what I am doing? How and what are my behaviors and choices contributing to my life? The answers should guide your growth journey to-do list.
Do not fall into the trap of asking if you like your life, or you are satisfied with your body. Chances are the answers will vary by the day. Wednesday and Thursday, you’ll hate your job, but by Friday you’ll remember why you love it or why you are staying. And the question “do I like my life?” is not easily quantifiable.
Experts in relationships and child development always caution to name the undesirable behavior, not impugn the individual. People seem to get this when it comes to others, but it is forgotten when turned inward. We tend to see ourselves as hopelessly, irredeemably flawed, and unworthy. Not talented. Not smart enough. Not fit enough or at all. Not motivated or ambitious because otherwise, you’d be a millionaire. Not kind enough. Not enough. And this happens with or without the image distortion often associated with mental health illnesses.
Long before my depression, I often felt I fell short of “just right” when it came to my performance and work. My poems were never good; they were tolerable. My stories were generic. I worked hard, but I could never reach my desired level of productivity. For example, it took me three weeks to complete a project when I felt it should have only taken one. While I had never considered myself a perfectionist, I exhibited the behaviors of perfectionism, and I was constantly berating myself for not doing enough.
The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.
I’ll ask again. Is the issue who you are or what you are doing? Is the issue who you are or what you are not doing? I’m going to give you a hint, the answer is the latter. Your problems come from what you are doing or not doing, not who you are as a person. And what you need to work on is the specific set of behaviors you take issue with, instead of attempting to revamp your whole being and personality.
If we were kinder to ourselves, we would name our undesirable behaviors and stop condemning ourselves for being flawed and human.
I am discovering self-love cures a lot of ailments, but we need more than love. In no instance is love enough. I have always loved myself, but I am not always kind, compassionate, and present. We need acceptance. Acceptance for what is. Acceptance of the process. Acceptance of self. Acceptance of the past. Acceptance of the path you are walking. Acceptance of reality. We also need hope, not fear. Hope for the future gives you a boost of optimism that things will work out. It’s the buoy in the storm. Fear forces you to fret. Fret opens the window for insecurity, pessimism, and anxiety.
So, before you make your laundry list of things to work on, I challenge you to sit and meditate on your life.
First, accept what is, and make peace with it because unless you invent a time machine, you cannot go back and change anything. And I’ll bet at least 50% of what you’d like to change isn’t under your control to change anyway. Accept the past and accept the present.
Second, take an honest look at your choices and behavior patterns. How do you react during adversity? What defense mechanisms are in play?
Third, connect the dots. How are your behaviors and choices influencing the current state of your life? What can you do differently that will make incremental but impactful changes?
Fourth, make a plan. Decide how you want to change. Visualize it, make a plan, and ensure that, even if you get a little off course sometimes, you are always moving in the direction of your vision.
There are ten days left of this year. Ten days left of this decade. To be completely real, 2020 may or may not be the year that changes everything for the better, but it can be the year you put the ship back on course so that the next decade can be your best yet.
Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.
Photo by Simon Migaj