“Measuring Up” is a terrible title for a blog. My guess is that it may have provoked feelings of unworthiness, of NOT measuring up. I feel that when I read it aloud.
Creating goals and striving for better ways is generally good for us. What can be a slippery slope, is when our striving becomes laden with judgment and a quest for always needing more, more, more (us “doers” of the world can easily fall victim to this). A constant fixation on achievement impedes us from enjoying the here-and-now and does not allow for self-acceptance and self-compassion to flourish. Living in the present does not mean that you need to discard your goals. Working towards something is an important way for us to derive a sense of meaningfulness, purpose, and long-term stability. Living in the present means remaining oriented to the here-and-now as you work towards your aspirations.
“Self-improvement” is a term that I try to avoid using as I believe it can trigger feelings of unworthiness; it can awaken that annoying inner critic who keeps us up at night – you know, the one that tries to convince us that we are faulty and unworthy, and therefore in need constant improving.
Research has taught us that living in the present is the only place that we can truly experience peace, love, and happiness. If we are constantly busying ourselves with self-improvement, we will forever be missing out on the joy that can be found in the present moment. Believing our happiness will be gifted to us when we have perfected ourselves is no different that the addict who continually seeks the delight experienced in his first high, or the person who believes her happiness will be achieved when she reaches a desired weight. Such pursuits are futile. Hating and criticizing yourself brings forth increased suffering, as does measuring our worth by our productivity.
To quote Alice in Wonderland, sometimes,
The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.
How to Avoid the Trap of Self-Improvement:
Resist becoming fixated on goal completion. Working hard and accomplishing our goals is rewarding. Reaching our goals requires self-care. Self-care is more than just exercise and eating healthy, it is also prioritizing our social, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial well-being. Make time and space to enjoy the journey, rather than making it all about the destination.
Cultivate a self-compassion practice. Self-compassion is compassion directed inward. Operationalized self-compassion consists of three main elements: Self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), a sense of common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. overidentification). These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.
Self-compassion enables us to take care of our emotional needs in a healthy and self-sufficient manner. Self-compassion can help you when experiencing personal inadequacies, mistakes and failures, as well as confronting painful life situations that are outside our control. The practice of self-compassion has empirically been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, rumination, negative self-appraisals, and self-harming behaviours including substance misuse, while increasing motivation, wisdom, curiosity and exploration, optimism, initiative and emotional intelligence, as well as acceptance of Self and others. For more on self-compassion: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/03/mindfulness-self-compassion/
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. There is a French proverb that states, Gratitude is the heart’s memory. If you are wanting to live more wholeheartedly*, gratitude is going to help you do so. Research shows that positive neuropathways are developed in as little as 28 days with just a simple gratitude practice.
* Brené Brown states
wholehearted living is about engaging our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), p. 10
For more on the practice of gratitude: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2018/01/gratitude/
Increase your shame resiliency. Shame is one of the toughest emotions we contend with. While we cannot eradicate shame in our lives, we can shift debilitating shame into “healthy” shame (guilt instead of shame). Shame grows exponentially in secrecy, silence, and judgment. To counteract shame, it helps to bring it into the light – it sounds intimidating, but the more we talk about shame and (labeling our adverse emotions), the sooner we can move through these distressing emotions and halt them from festering.
Identify what you are feeling is accurate. Many people think of shame and guilt as the same thing. They are not. Guilt is “I did something bad”. Shame is “I am bad”. If you feel “bad” as an embodiment of Self, you will feel incapable of changing, or doing better. The remorse and regret that comes from guilt can motivate us to make reparations or embrace a more adaptive way of being. Other emotions that can feel like shame are “humiliation” or “embarrassment”. No one willingly signs up for feeling humiliation or embarrassment, but they are not as toxic as shame is on our self-worth. Humiliation comes from external sources likes being bullied or someone reprimanding you in front of others. While we often call it a “shaming” when someone chides us in public, we should not be embodying shame (rather, identify that it was undeserved – an example of someone externalized their own inner shame) – the more accurate label should be embarrassment or humiliation.
For more on shame resiliency: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/09/shame/
What we tend to, is what will grow in our lives. If we practice self-judgment, then our neuropathways will become entrenched with negative self-appraisals. If we practice self-care, self-compassion, gratitude, and shame-resiliency, our neuropathways will become more adaptive, gifting us with increased ability to “not sweat the small stuff”, boost appreciation and positivity, and achieve a greater sense of presence and joy in our lives.